News and Notes: American Birthright curriculum standards

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By George Francis Kane

Head shot of George, smiling in jacket and tie.

Public schools are a perennial battleground for promoting religion with the endorsement of government. There is always opposition to the teaching of evolution, but for a couple of decades the conflict has been most apparent over the teaching of US history, as Christian nationalists try to exaggerate and glorify the role of Christianity.

At the time that I am writing this the biggest headlines of attempts at a Christian takeover of public education are coming out of Florida. That state implemented its “Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative,” developed with the help of the Bill of Rights Institute, a pervasively Christian advocacy organization founded and funded by Charles Koch. Florida is also the first state to approve PragerU, an unaccredited, conservative advocacy group, as an official vendor. This allows teachers to incorporate its educational/entertainment videos, which downplay systemic racism and promote the idea that the founding of America was based on biblical teachings, as supplemental materials in their classrooms.

Other states are experiencing a legislative push to implement the “American Birthright” curriculum standards. These were developed by the Civics Alliance, another conservative advocacy organization, to focus civics education on Western civilization, American exceptionalism, patriotism and Christianity.

The Civics Alliance educational standards direct that there should be an “emphasis on the equal dignity of all individual humans in the eyes of God.” They even view themselves as a modern incarnation of a biblical mission: “American Birthright is a myriad of slings for the army of Davids who face the Goliath of the education establishment.” The National Council for the Social Studies, the largest professional social studies organization, observed that “we view these suggested standards as an attempt to return to a time when United States social studies classrooms presented a single narrative of U.S. and Western history that glorified selected aspects of history while minimizing the experiences, contributions, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, people of color, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, the working class, and countless others.”

These emphases are intentional: Civics Alliance’s objective is conservative indoctrination. The introduction to their American Birthright standards states that, “We also teach our children social studies so they can learn why their country deserves to be loved, and to learn what we owe to our ancestors—the heroes of the American past who deserve our gratitude because they created a free and prosperous country and bequeathed it to us, their posterity. We teach our children

social studies so they can learn to understand the enduring character of the American nation and to love the customs that should define and unite us as a people…. They should also learn America’s common language of liberty, patriotism, and national memory.”

Clearly, their objective is to churn out little patriots, rather than citizens who understand and resolve the issues that America actually faces. They hope to reverse the influence of modern professional educators, as explained in the Preface to their curriculum standards: Some educators are so caught up in pedagogical “theory” that they have forgotten that facts come first. Some activists in our schools, public and private alike, are so antagonistic toward our culture, without recognizing what they owe to it, that they seek to erase our worthy history of liberty from the curriculum. Instead of an informed and intelligent patriotism, they foster a cynical spirit devoid of appreciation for the richness and complexity of the American past.

The Civics Alliance has affiliate organizations in nine states, and it seems to have made a mark more in state legislatures than Congress. A post on their web site, “10 State Policies to Restore Excellent K–12 Public Education in America,” lays out their battle-plan for a state-by-state takeover of public education.

Samuel Johnson said in 1775 that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” and so it is with Civics Alliance’s American Birthright curriculum standards. They belabor “liberty” as the spark of genius at the conception of the American nation, but deride every movement to expand it beyond the narrow segment of the population who originally enjoyed it.

Categories: Articles

Minnesota Atheists

Positive Atheism in Action Since 1991