A coalition of organizations and individuals convened by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) has released its model social studies standard, “American Birthright,” to teach America’s foundational history of liberty.
David Randall, NAS director of research and executive director of the Civics Alliance coalition, said as the standard was released in an official statement at the end of June:
Americans of all parties want to take back their schools. The Civics Alliance wrote “American Birthright” to equip governors, state legislators, school boards, and grassroots activists for that fight. Every American needs to know what a proper social studies instruction should be.
Too many Americans emerge from our schools ignorant of America’s history, indifferent to liberty, and estranged from their country.
“American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards” seeks to change that.
— National Association of Scholars (@NASorg) July 4, 2022
American Birthright draws upon several sources, the Civics Alliance states. Of particular importance are the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework of 2003, and Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for Social Studies, Revised Civics and Government Strand, an effort that Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) spearheaded in 2021.
With its focus on liberty, the Civics Alliance notes American Birthright:
… teaches students to identify the ideals, institutions, and individual examples of human liberty, individualism, religious freedom, and republican self-government; assess the extent to which civilizations have fulfilled these ideals; and describe how the evolution of these ideals in different times and places has contributed to the formation of modern American ideals.
The model standard boasts flexibility as well, so that states and local school districts can change its sequence and shorten some topics, while they expand others.
Because American Birthright is not a “curriculum,” but a “standard,” teachers will experience the freedom to teach each topic according to their own professional judgment.
The Civics Alliance notes American Birthright stresses “clarity” more than other social studies standards:
We have eliminated the tangle of skills and crosswalks and concentrated on facts to learn, presented in a simple list of factual items. Each grade’s standards are written in bullet points and it contains only four social studies disciplines. We also eliminated all electives and provided one K-12 sequence of courses. American Birthright’s straightforward structure makes it easy for teachers to use and easy for parents to hold teachers accountable for how well they teach social studies. We expect the states and school districts to modify the sequence we offer—but they can do so knowing with absolute clarity what is the total social studies education we believe they should provide.
One of the primary ways American Birthright differs from current social studies standards is its two-year Western Civilization sequence in Grades 8-9.
“Virtually every state has quietly abandoned teaching Western Civilization and substituted a vague, frequently politicized World History course,” the Civics Alliance notes, adding:
American students no longer learn the coherent narrative of the ideals and institutions of liberty embedded in the history of Western Civilization—a narrative that students must learn if they are to understand the intellectual background of the Founding Fathers, and of Americans who continued to expand liberty in the following centuries. American Birthright champions the two-year Western Civilization sequence and calls on the states to restore it to their social studies standards.
The American Birthright model standards are released as Congress considers a bill, supported by some Republicans, including Senators John Cornyn (TX), James Inhofe (OK), and Bill Cassidy (LA), that could expand Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools throughout the nation.
With the passage of the Civics Secures Democracy Act, the Department of Education could begin to send enormous sums of money to educational nonprofits equally committed to an anti-civics based on “lived experience.” https://t.co/QhhyfgQfVq
— National Association of Scholars (@NASorg) June 30, 2022
In a statement June 30, as DeSantis released the positive results of Florida’s 2022 civics assessments since implementation of its civics standards that emphasize the exceptional nature of the American founding, the governor’s office referenced “the misleadingly titled ‘Civics Secures Democracy Act (CSDA),’ that “would allow the Biden administration to buy off states with $6 billion if they sacrifice American History for Critical Race Theory and Biden’s other political whims of the day.”
“While the Biden administration is seeking to award grants to indoctrinate students with ideologies like Critical Race Theory, in Florida we have focused on Civics Excellence, teaching accurate American History without an ideological agenda,” DeSantis said. “Our students and teachers have worked hard to elevate their Civics Excellence and are proving to the nation that Florida is the national model for cultivating great citizens.”
“The stronger the state standards, the harder for CSDA to ruin state education,” the NAS’s Randall told The Star News Network in response to a question about how passing the Biden administration’s CSDA measure could affect states that might adopt American Birthright.
“American Birthright would provide a partial defense against CSDA,” Randall explained. “But American Birthright won’t be a perfect shield. The best defense against CSDA is not to pass it in the first place. So long as 41 senators stand firm against it, it won’t.”
Describing American Birthright as a model social studies standard “for all Americans,” the Civics Alliance emphasizes its framework is designed “to reject the radical, divisive, and discriminatory identity-politics embodied in such pedagogies as Critical Race Theory”:
Rather, students will learn in American Birthright that America’s ideals, embodied in the steady expansion of liberty that animates our wonderful country’s history, bar no race, sex, or creed. They also will learn the contributions that Americans from every walk of life have made to our shared history of liberty, and of America’s championship of liberty throughout the world. Students will learn of great Americans such as Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ronald Reagan—and learn that we Americans today can build on our shared affection and reverence for these champions of freedom to work together to preserve our nation and our republic, and to deepen yet further our country’s commitment to its ideals of liberty.
“State standards are the single most influential documents in America’s education system,” Randall said. “State education departments use them to provide guidance to each public K-12 school district and charter school as they create their own courses.”
He added, however, that American Birthright “should not just be imposed on states and school districts.”
“The Civics Alliance crafted rigorous standards to make it straightforward for policymakers to create equally rigorous equivalents with different priorities, whether by abbreviating some topics and primary source readings, expanding others, or adjusting the course sequences,” he emphasized. “States and school districts should and will modify American Birthright in detail.”
“Proper social studies standards are a linchpin in the work to educate a new generation of Americans who understand and appreciate their nation’s past and who respect and are prepared to sacrifice for their country,” Randall explained in the statement. “American children should be equipped to continue the work bequeathed to them by the Founders—to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].