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The Crucible of Change

A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future is a report produced by the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic. Engagement. The Task force was appointed and funded by the Department of Education, and the White House endorsed the subsequent report. It carries forward Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign vow to “transform” the nation, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s 2013 pledge to do the same to education.

A Crucible Moment (ACM) is available on the Internet and should be widely read, but the chances of that aren’t good. The national media ignored ACM just as it did Common Core. Beyond the rarified world of leftist academics, few Americans are aware of its existence and fewer still have read it.

What Would The Founders Think is indebted to Academic Questions, a journal of the National Association of Scholars, for bringing ACM to our attention (September 2012 issue).

Space does not permit a comprehensive review of A Crucible Moment. Instead, excerpts are provided for readers to draw their own conclusions, along with insightful comments (drawn from the pages of Academic Questions), contesting ACM’s version of civics education, and occasional outbursts from this blogger.

Out with the Old, in with the New

The justification for the Task Force, and the urgency with which ACM is presented, is that the future of democracy depends upon restoring civic education to classrooms at all levels. Not mentioned is that leftist academics are responsible for its enfeebled state.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s especially, the left largely held that the aim of education was a defense of “multiculturalism” and, increasingly, embracing and achieving “diversity.” Education was thought to move us beyond mere “civics,” and rather to be the avenue of liberation from what was considered at once a narrow emphasis upon American history and institutions and the dangerous endorsement of a set of shared national ideals.  “An Unbalanced Crucible,” Patrick J. Deneen

Having essentially dismembered the old civics, the Left now champions a replacement, albeit in a form that bears no resemblance to its predecessor.

Civic education, as it has been understood since the founding, is very different from its reincarnation in A Crucible Moment.

A proper, rigorous, and liberal (in the classical sense) course in civic education doesn’t tell students what social justice is and require them to embrace and practice it. It has students read classical contemporary and conflicting conceptions of social justice and equips students to make up their own minds responsibly and rationally. “Civic Literacy,” Mark Bauerlein

The new civics is not so much a curriculum as it is a call to action. Deneen points out:

In its stated set of forceful endorsements of particular outcomes, the report would forestall the actual activity of civic life by importing substantial goals into the educational process, with the expected result of uniform political opinion. Rather than seeking robust civil civic discourse – even disagreement – it smuggles substantial commitments into its “educational” activities, thereby effectively seeking to forestall actual civic activity.

The 69-page report is best described as the operating manual for inculcating American youth with the progressive ideals of egalitarianism, globalism and “planetary stewardship.”

This supposedly “broad coalition” that produced a “National Call to Action” (26), though, never entertains the possibility that American civics education is not about alleviating “inequalities.” The redistributive agenda behind “sustainability” is an assumed good. There is no acknowledgment that scientists disagree about climate change, nor that the free market, despite its fluctuations (“volatility”), is preferable to planned economies. The fact that students are to—in their words—“do democracy” (13–14) through  “community service, collaborative projects, and consensus-building,” reveals that the new “norms” of scholarship are decidedly anti-intellectual. “Beyond Reason” Mary Grabar

The Agenda

chairsA Crucible Moment calls for transformations necessary for this generation. A daunting one is to eliminate persistent inequalities, especially those in the United States determined by income and race, in order to secure the country’s economic and civic future. But the academy must also be a vehicle for tackling other pressing issues – growing global economic inequalities, climate change and environmental degradation, lack of access to quality healthcare, economic volatility, and more. To do that requires expanding student’s capacities as civic problem solvers using all their powers of intellect and inventiveness. (ACM19)

If indeed we seek a democratic society in which the public welfare matters as much as the individual’s welfare, and in which global welfare matters along with national welfare, then education must play its influential part to bring such a society into being…(ACM 26)

Although the definition of civics is “the study of the rights and duties of citizenship,  the nation itself is rarely mentioned.

…… There is much talk of “local and global generative partnerships” and “transformative” alliances, but the United States itself is oddly absent. This is not a civics that has as one of its aims the fostering of a national loyalty. “Patriotism” is another word that never appears…. “Civics Without a Country,” Diana Schaub

Transforming Higher Education

Among other directives, universities are to foster a campus-wide “civic ethos.”

The new civic education requires more than civic action, it requires “right” attitudes. The authors envision college graduates “who approach the world with empathy, and who are ready to act with others to improve the quality of life for all.”

Colleges and universities need to provide far more enabling environments than are now in place through which students can expand their critical abilities to make judgments about issues and actions, their powers to investigate and analyze, and their wisdom and passion to seek justice with keener insight into how to determine what is just, for whom, and under what circumstance. (Emphasis WWTFT.)(ACM 31)

Apparently, justice is no longer to be blind and the rule of law is insufficient for the “greater good.” But none of the above is left to chance or choice. “Civic learning” is to be a component of “quality standards at all levels.”

We are not suggesting that colleges implement a single required civics course. That would hardly be sufficient. Rather, we are calling on colleges and universities to adopt far more ambitious standards that can be measured over time to indicate whether institutions and their students are becoming more civic – minded. (Emphasis WWTFT) (ACM 14)

Thus conformity will be enforced at every level of education bureaucracy.

Review and strengthen the federal standards that govern accreditation to ensure that preparations for democratic citizenship become integral rather than optional in educational institutions. . (ACM 34)

Review state and/or state system learning outcomes and program standards for post-secondary study to ensure all students will be prepared for democratic participation and for knowledgeable involvement in the global community. (Emphasis WWTFT)(ACM 34)

Review academic standards for regional national and specialized accreditation to ensure they address preparation for democratic participation in the global community, in ways appropriate to its educational mission. (Emphasis WWTFT)(ACM 34)

No Stone or Course Unturned

ACM provides examples for spreading civic education across disciplines such as inserting:

… political voice in a political science course, the ethical and moral dimensions of a world citizen in a Holocaust literature course, the civic “response – ability” in a communication course, or the practical civic consequences of numeracy in a math course. (ACM 53)

nostoneSuggestions for incorporating political action are included as well. Among them is student involvement with The One Campaign to allocate at least 1% of the GDP to alleviate global poverty. (ACM 45) Incorporating extra curricular organizations is also suggested.

Evaluate the feasibility of establishing a Civic Action Corps at our nation’s colleges and universities that functions like ROTC, with scholarships, focused courses, and expectations for public service after graduation…(ACM 37)

Every student’s records will include compliance/non-compliance with the new civics. The latter would be consequential for education advancement and careers because civics enforcement does not end with graduation. Employers are urged to:

Include key civic and ethical competencies as requirements for hiring (ACM 40)

And if these competencies, or lack thereof, skew students’ dossiers, unwitting employers may comply without realizing it.

Tracking Students

Monitor progress in students’ civic development and support research on the correlation between student engagement and civic learning and other priorities, including persistence, completion, in preparation for further study and careers. (ACM 35) (Emphasis WWTFT)

Include civic learning in U. S. and global contexts as expected student learning outcomes in public reporting frameworks – national, state or state system, and campus – specific. (ACM 35)

Disaggregate the data on participation in civic learning programs and pedagogy is to ensure students from all backgrounds are participating. (ACM 35)

Report regularly on the levels of civic and democratic learning, set national and state goals for student achievement in civic learning, and make such outcomes measurable expectation of schools and post secondary education in public, private, and for-profit degree-granting institutions. (ACM 36)

doe“Give me four years to teach the children and the seeds I have planted will never be uprooted.” (V. Lenin)

Without K – 12 education laying the foundations for civic responsibility and developing students’ understanding of democracy’s history and principles any hopes of raising national civic literacy and civic agency are likely to be undermined, both for college students, and even more so, for high school graduates who may never enroll in college. (ACM 28)

To Incorporate K-12 in the civic education dragnet, universities are to:

Work with traditional and alternative teacher preparation programs to insure newly credentialed K – 12 teachers received the necessary training to advance civic knowledge, skills, values, and action at what ever level they will teach and across differing subject areas (ACM 38)

Coordinate with higher education, parents, policymakers, and other locally influential groups to form strong alliances that will chart students growth in civics and history using state accountability data systems; secure necessary funding to support civic learning in schools; and elevate civic learning to the prominence it deserves. (Emphasis WWTFT)(ACM 38)

Other goals for the K-12 system include:

Providing teacher preparation programs to ensure K-12 teachers are prepared to advance civic knowledge, skills, values, and action, whatever level they teach and across all subject areas. (ACM 38)

Transforming America

Civic learning needs to be an integral component of every level of education, grammar school through graduate school, across all fields of study. It should also be an important part of our informal educational practices for young people and adults, woven into every community and region in the nation. (ACM 69)

transformingACM’s requirements to insert “civic learning” in state and national standards at every level and across all subjects should dispel confusion about the mission of Common Core Standards. The proviso that students, from elementary school on, are to be tracked “using state accountability data systems to chart students’ growth in civics and history” reveals the importance of Common Core’s State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) and why third parties need access to personally identifiable student information. It’s the only way to ensure that no student escapes, or as ACM explains: “to ensure students from all backgrounds are participating.” This blogger contends that Common Core and SLDS provide the infrastructure for ACM.

The agenda of A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future “funded,” and “nurtured” by the U. S. Department of Education, is nothing less that an attempt to implement a “transformation” of America by transforming current academic norms about what counts as scholarship…

Let this document be remembered, as the federal government’s official announcement of the death of true scholarship and independent thought…

When reading, contemplation, study, analysis, discussion, debate, writing are replaced by “doing” we can congratulate ourselves on going beyond even the Soviet Union’s use of education for indoctrination. It will be the final blow to an educational system already corrupted by radicalism… “Beyond Reason,” Mary Grabar

Perhaps most disturbing is the number of post secondary institutions already practicing what A Crucible Moment preaches.

The White House event on January 10, 2012, celebrating the release of A Crucible Moment, also launched the American Commonwealth Partnership, a new collaboration between national organizations, colleges and universities, “known for their commitment to advancing civic learning and democratic engagement.”

It is possible, even probable, that some organizations allied with the American Commonwealth Partnership are misled by vague generalities such as “civic learning,” “democratic engagement” and “building 21st century competencies.” The definitions of these terms having been buried in the turgid prose of manifestos like ACM, which are written and only read by the cognoscenti of progressivism. So It appears that Obama’s “transformation” is well advanced.

Meanwhile, what used to be called the “silent majority,” is not so much silent as somnolent. Mark Bauerlein sounds the alarm, for if they do not awaken soon, when they finally do, it will be in a very different America.

… (W)e need an aggressive stance on the part of critics. When one side cast an open issue as a pat truth, it is futile for the other side to reason against it in standard academic fashion (for instance, in scholarly essays and conference papers). It is doubly futile when the one side controls the academic sphere and its forums. A more vigorous opposition carries the point into the public sphere in newspaper op-eds, magazine stories, media interviews, and attention – getting symposia that warn against the biased pedagogy of A Crucible Moment, “Essential learning outcomes,” etc. The stakes have never been higher as public agencies and public debts and obligations press ever more upon private life and wealth. These documents are, ultimately, expressions against private enterprise and personal conscience and they should be stopped.




A Crucible Moment

Patrick J. Deneen is associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN.

Mark Bauerlein is professor of English at EmoryUniversity, Atlanta, GA., and from 2003 to 2005 served as director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mary Grabar teaches English part-time in the Program in Democracy and Citizenship at Emory University and writes about education for several publications.

Diana Schaub is professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore, MD and a member of the Hoover Institution’s Jill and Boyd Smith Task Force on the Virtues of a Free Society


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