David Randall, Ph.D. | August 4, 2021
Oklahoma lawmakers should ban Action Civics
Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed Texas House Bill 3979 (HB 3979), which bans Critical Race Theory and Action Civics in Texas’ public schools. That’s wonderful news and Texas’s new law can be a model for other states—not least Oklahoma.
Oklahoma’s state legislators, its governor, and its state board of education have taken an important first step in banning ideological concepts associated with Critical Race Theory. But there is much more that needs to be done.
Texas legislators based HB 3979 on the model Partisanship Out of Civics Act (POCA), drafted by Stanley Kurtz and hosted and endorsed by my employer, the National Association of Scholars. POCA bans the intellectual components of Critical Race Theory, and also bans Action Civics from history, civics, and other social studies classes in public schools. Action Civics, also known as “protest civics,” replaces traditional civics with vocational training in community organizing. (See my 2019 OCPA article titled “Oklahoma education agency promotes progressive activism masquerading as civics.”)
You see, Critical Race Theory teaches students that they should rise up against “oppressive” America. Action Civics teaches them how to do so. It is Critical Race Theory “in practice.”
These concepts don’t just take up classroom time that ought to be spent in real education. They teach students to reject love of learning and love of country and love of one another. They teach students to close their minds.
To be clear, HB 3979 isn’t perfect. Opposition lawmakers inserted a large number of poison pill amendments, such as requiring that history and civics classes teach about “white supremacy.” There wasn’t much time at the end of the legislative session, so legislators weren’t able to remove these amendments before sending them to be signed by the governor. In effect, one part of the Texas law now requires teachers to teach elements of Critical Race Theory while at the same time it bans teachers broadly from teaching Critical Race Theory as a whole!
Governor Abbott wrote in his signing statement that HB 3979 will be revisited in a special session of the legislature. Texas legislators really need to fix this damaged law and restore it to the POCA model. Hopefully, they will have a chance to do that.
Even damaged, HB 3979 is the first effective ban of both Critical Race Theory and Action Civics. Like Oklahoma’s leaders, Texas’s leaders should be praised for their work to defend civics and history classes from the malicious destruction of the radical education establishment. The radicals want students to hate our republic conceived in liberty. They’d rather groom students to be a rent-a-mob for the radical protest of the day.
All Americans need to protect their public schools from takeover by the radical education establishment, but Oklahomans face an especially urgent challenge. Generation Citizen, one of the worst and most heavily politicized advocates of Action Civics, has put a heavy focus on capturing Oklahoma public schools. Oklahoma has already done great work with its House Bill 1775, which bans many elements of Critical Race Theory. The Oklahoma State Board of Education can and should enact regulations to ban Action Civics. But only a state law will really bar the door.
“Action Civics” is Critical Race Theory in practice.
In other words, Oklahoma state legislators need to ban Action Civics, or their work will be only half done.
Oklahoma state legislators should also write into law a positive vision of what civics and history classes should look like. They might draw on the National Association of Scholars’ model K-12 Civics Code, with a social studies curriculum that includes required year-long high school courses in Civics, United States History, and Western Civilization. These model bills establish a comprehensive outline of how schools should teach students to know and love their country.
Just as importantly, these bills delegate creating the actual curriculum to the school districts rather than to the state education department. Radicals have seized control of virtually every state education department and state bureaucrats can’t be trusted to provide a proper curriculum for the public schools. State legislators must provide the outline of proper civics and history classes, but they cannot entrust state education bureaucrats to enforce their laws.
Neither can Americans entirely trust local school districts. Parents around the nation now realize that their local school administrators and teachers have imposed Critical Race Theory and Action Civics—and lie to parents’ faces when parents demand that they remove Critical Race Theory and Action Civics from the schools. Sometimes they pretend that they have done so. Sometimes they pretend that Critical Race Theory and Action Civics are innocuous.
Teachers also have signed pledges to disregard any state law that bans Critical Race Theory and Action Civics. Teachers teach lawless radicalism on the taxpayer dime, so it’s no surprise they practice it too.
Parents and voters cannot simply rely on their state legislators. They must work themselves to reclaim control of school boards. They must elect civics reformers to majorities on every school board, attend every committee meeting, craft disciplinary procedures to remove administrators and teachers who insist on promoting or teaching Critical Race Theory and Action Civics in defiance of the law, and make sure the schools carry out those disciplinary procedures.
Americans also must reform the teacher education and licensure systems. The radical establishment likewise has used these to propagandize teachers and to restrict teaching employment to radicals. Americans should support requirements that civics and history teachers take a large number of history and government courses, so that they actually know something of their subjects before they get taught the education schools’ anti-American catechism.
More importantly, Americans should support alternate means for teacher licensure, which will allow would-be teachers to bypass the education schools altogether.
Our education system has become a giant series of interlocking bureaucracies. Any educational reform ultimately must expand to address every aspect of this great machine. But we have to start somewhere. Texas has taken a good first step to ban both Critical Race Theory and Action Civics from the public schools. Oklahoma has taken the first step by banning Critical Race Theory. It needs to take the second and ban Action Civics in 2022.
David Randall is the research director of the National Association of Scholars. He earned a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University, an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Columbia University, a master’s degree in library science from the Palmer School at Long Island University, and a B.A. from Swarthmore College. Prior to working at NAS he was the sole librarian at the John McEnroe Library at New York Studio School.