Iowa Can Save Civics Education From Radicalized Teaching

This article was published in The Gazette.

House File 2545 will strengthen Iowa’s social studies standards and free Iowa from the radical materials imposed by extremist organizations who intend to rewrite history.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law House File 2545, which begins to restore and strengthen American History and Western Civilization as part of Iowa’s K-12 social studies standards. Gov. Reynolds has done a great service for Iowa students.

Education is more than just learning technical skills to become workforce-ready. This is important, but education is also about preparing our children to be responsible and moral citizens.

Iowa suffers from a nationwide crisis in civic education. Radicalized education in schools has both softened academic standards and promoted ideologies that are hostile to America’s history and ideals. Iowa’s students have been made increasingly ignorant of the ideals and institutions of liberty that are the backbone of Western Civilization, American history, and American government.

The late historian David McCullough asked, “how can we not want to know about the people who have made it possible for us to live, to have the freedoms we have, to be citizens of this greatest of countries?” As McCullough noted “we are not just known by our failings, by our weaknesses, by our sins. We are known by being capable of rising to the occasion with courage of our convictions.”

Reforming and strengthening Iowa’s social studies standards should not be controversial. Unfortunately, education reform has become a politicized issue and therefore arouses knee-jerk partisan opposition. Gov. Reynolds and the Lgislature were correct to support legislation that embodies a broad consensus of Iowans’ preferences and will reform the state’s social studies standards to emphasize the threads of liberty, republican self-government, and civic virtue that animate our nation’s history and government.

One reason Americans are so divided is that our schools no longer teach our common history and our common culture. “Restoring civic education — from the daily practice of its rituals to real mastery of the elements of Americanism — will not be easy, but such a shared sense of values is critical in such a vast nation that is otherwise not defined by a shared religion, common race, or dominant ethnic affiliation,” wrote historian Victor Davis Hanson.

Reforming Iowa’s social studies standards will ensure that Iowa students learn about the American Founding, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the totalitarian nightmares of Nazism and Communism, and King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” among other important events, individuals, and documents that illustrate the American story.

Critics of this reform argue that it is just an attempt to “gloss over” aspects of American History such as slavery or the Trail of Tears. Iowans who read (for example) “American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Curriculum” will discover a full and balanced coverage of these topics. Such model standards can inform the work of Iowa citizens and policymakers to determine the content of their own standards. Indeed, they can help Iowans free their state from the radical materials imposed by organizations such as the National Council of the Social Studies and Generation Citizen, The 1619 Project, among others.

The next crucial step is implementation of the law. States such as Louisiana, South Dakota, and Virginia recently have revised their History curricula — but they have had to go beyond their normal bureaucratic routines to achieve success. Iowa should follow the precedents established by Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and appoint an independent committee to review Iowa’s social studies standards and submit to the State Board of Education a draft revision of the social studies standards.

Iowa policymakers have given their state a wonderful opportunity by passing House File 2545 into law. Now they can achieve the promise of that law, by championing and overseeing the administrative means necessary to translate that into the detailed language of social studies academic content standards.

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