We support the development of a national U.S. History and Civics K-12 curriculum. It should be voluntary for states to adopt this curriculum. The curriculum should reflect the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It should be realistic, and age appropriate, about America’s accomplishments and its failures. It should be capable of gaining the support of a super majority of Americans. Provided that the curriculum meets the above criteria, we would support its mandatory adoption at the state level.
We oppose bans on the teaching of evolution or requirements for teaching “intelligent design.”
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U.S. History and Civics Curriculum
Inevitably, publicly subsidized or publicly provided education puts the state in the position of deciding what will be taught in schools. This has resulted in a number of controversies, most recently about the teaching of American History and Civics. This controversy has also had an impact on the teaching of biology, specifically evolution. It has also affected other, traditionally less controversial subjects, like mathematics.
This is not a question that can be resolved by allowing parents, teachers, or school administrators to decide on curriculum. If all education was paid for and provided privately that might be an option, but no one wants that solution. At a minimum, we need to provide a U.S. History and Civics curriculum that is politically acceptable at the state level. Ideally, we should have a nationally acceptable U.S. History and Civics curriculum for K-12 education. We think that it is possible to accomplish this objective, but not if any of the parties hope to use the K-12 History and Civics curriculum as an opportunity to press their own narrow agenda.
So what can the vast majority of Americans agree on as the basis for a national curriculum for U.S. History and Civics. We suggest the following:
1. The United States of America, unlike most other countries, is not based on a common ethnicity or religious affiliations but on a set of ideas. Those ideas are laid out in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights and the other key amendments.
2. America has been at its best when it has lived up to those ideals. We have been at our worst when we have abandoned them.
With that in mind, we should be able to deal honestly with our history including the pre-colonial and colonial eras, the American Revolution, slavery, the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican American War, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow Era, racial discrimination (both inside the South and more generally), World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War against the Soviet Union. America played a heroic role during some of these periods. In others, there is much to reflect on that is disappointing.
We find that those who object to the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) or using that perspective to guide the creation of an “anti-racism” curriculum at the K-12 level have good reason to complain. The academic field of CRT borrows much of its content from Critical Theory, a Marxist based view of history based on the conflict between oppressors and oppressed groups. Even those who claim that their proposals are not based on CRT often reflect that view. The issue here is not whether the curriculum is labeled CRT but rather whether its content reflects that view of U.S. history and society.
At the same time, we find that it is not appropriate to teach a hagiographic view of U.S. history that fails to note the important failures in our past. Without at least reflecting on these failures, we stand too high a chance of repeating them. We believe that it is possible to do that reflection, in an age appropriate fashion, that will also leave students with a sense that, at its core, America is a good place, when it lives up to its noble ideals.
Teachers will, of course, insert their own views into classroom discussions. The important point is that the sanctioned curriculum reflect a point of view that the vast majority of Americans (not just 51%) can accept.
The Teaching of Evolution and Intelligent Design
We also have had conflicts over school curriculum in the sciences. One of these conflicts concerned the teaching of evolution and “intelligent design.” We do not believe that there is a defensible alternative theory to the theory of evolution. We oppose legislation at the local, state, or federal level that bans the teaching of the theory of evolution or requires the teaching of “intelligent design.” At the same time, we believe that teachers are entitled to state their own views in the classroom, as long as they identify them as such.
Prayer in Schools
We believe in freedom of and from religion. We believe that publicly funded or provided education should be free from efforts to coerce any kind of religious participation from the students or their teachers.
On the Separation of Church and State
We believe that, despite some of the atrocities carried out in the name of religion, religion can be a source of comfort and good in society. However, we also believe that one of the reasons why religious belief flourishes in the U.S. relative to most of the rest of the developed world is because of, and not in spite of, the separation of church and state. We believe that when individuals arrive at their religious views without coercion from the state, they embrace those beliefs more intensely. From a governmental point of view, America is, and we believe should remain, a secular state. Those who believe that religion should play a more prominent role in life are free to use all the powers at their command, other than the inherently coercive power of the state, to promote their views.
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