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It seems the Biden administration will listen to the public when the rejection of their ideas is clear and loud. On April 19, 2021, the Department of Education (DOE) proposed a new regulation to promote culturally responsive teaching and information literacy skills under the American History and Civics Education programs. Under the first priority, the DOE proposal would give preference to grant applications for a curriculum that incorporates ideas laden with critical theories (emphasis added):
American History and Civics Education programs can play an important role in this critical effort by supporting teaching and learning that reflects the breadth and depth of our Nation’s diverse history and the vital role of diversity in our Nation’s democracy. For example, there is growing acknowledgment of the importance of including, in the teaching and learning of our country’s history, both the consequences of slavery and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our society. This acknowledgment is reflected, for example, in the New York Times’ landmark “1619 Project” and in the resources of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.
Accordingly, schools across the country are working to incorporate anti-racist practices into teaching and learning. As the scholar Ibram X. Kendi has expressed, “[a]n antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences—that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities.”It is critical that the teaching of American history and civics creates learning experiences that validate and reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students.
Under the second priority, the DOE wants to build information literacy skills in students when evaluating online information. While this priority sounds like a good idea, the DOE bases it on students reporting that they do not get information from traditional news organizations.
With trust in corporate TV media outlets at an all-time low and lower in the U.S. than in 46 other countries, the idea that teens are getting their news outside of these channels is not surprising. From Russian collusion to the lab-leak theory for COVID-19, these outlets have peddled more misinformation than most YouTubers. This drive for “information literacy” seems to encourage teaching children to attack the source rather than critically evaluate the information. It also seems aimed at turning them into activists, as seen in a quote pulled from the American Federation of Teachers:
Teaching civics should be more than just understanding the structures and functions of government. In an era of “fake news” and Internet conspiracy theories, it is crucial that students learn how to gather and evaluate sources of information and then use evidence from that information to develop and support their ideas and advocacy positions.
On Friday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona opened the invitation to apply for grants under this program. The two priorities are invitational and will not lead to grants that contain them receiving preference. More importantly, the references to preferred ideas and curriculum are gone:
This program, however, has not, does not, and will not dictate or recommend specific curriculum be introduced or taught in classrooms. Those decisions are – and will continue to be – made at the local level.
According to Parents Defending Education:
According to the federal register, 33,967 comments on the proposed grants were submitted to the Department of Education; the vast majority expressed concern over the Biden administration’s support for making racism and slavery the centerpiece of American history. PDE played a significant role in helping parents and other stakeholders expressed their concerns — 11,371 comments or over 33 percent of the total — received by the Education Department were facilitated by our comment portal.
This outcome is good news on two fronts. First, opposition to new regulations proposed by the sprawling bureaucracy can succeed through coordinated efforts with high participation during the comment period. Conservatives should work to replicate this kind of action over the next three years on issues that have broad appeal. There are whispers the DOE will snap back to the horrid Title IX kangaroo courts that trample all over the due process rights of college students accused of sexual assault. Americans should take up a similar campaign to comment when the changes are proposed.
Next, the DOE reinforced local decision-making where parents will still have a say in the curriculum their schools adopt. This news should underscore the importance of grassroots action at the local level, which many of us have ignored for too long. Putting forth candidates for local elections and petitioning local governments needs to become a higher priority. The insertion of critical theories will continue without parents remaining vigilant and involved.