Subtler Alternative to the “1619 Project” Appears in Wisconsin Schools

Feb. 20, 2024
Perspective by Michael Lucas

A new civics education program, similar to but far more subtle than the 1619 Project, has launched a pilot program in dozens of Wisconsin school districts this year, and DPI is apparently all on board.

The new program, Educating for American Democracy, is an “initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education…in collaboration with Harvard University, Tufts University, CIRCLE and Arizona State University.” This initiative is a civics and history curriculum that is every bit as biased as the 1619 Project—a curriculum that sought to frame American history in the context of slavery and racial, ethnic and sexual oppression.

David Randall of the National Association of Scholars says the EAD project is “the central political-administrative push to reshape American civics education into a radical mold.” Indeed, one of the goals of the EAD program is to encourage political activism among students: “Content and concept learning…should be solidified by student engagement in practices of constitutional democracy both within the classroom and in the community .”

For example, the fifth principle of the Pedagogy Companion is “Practice of Constitutional Democracy and Student Agency.” This principle encourages political activism within the classroom, which necessarily requires that teachers recommend political events, topics and protests for students to participate in.

“EAD teachers deepen students’ grasp of content and concepts by creating student opportunities to engage with real-world events and problem-solving about issues in their communities by taking informed action.

Understanding American history and how government works is a positive, value-free endeavor; but requiring or encouraging political engagement among children is a dubious aspect of the program that is bound to introduce conflicts of interest.

The program is also thoroughly oriented toward Social Justice and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) principles. The first principle of the EAD’s Pedagogy Companion is “Excellence for All.” The description of this principle states that EAD teachers “appreciate student diversity” and “focus on inclusion and equity in both content and approach.” Social Justice and DEI are age-old socio-political movements that stress the importance of equity and equality of outcome above equality of treatment. The great irony of these movements is that in order to achieve equality we must inevitably treat people unequally. The explicit message of these ideologies is to treat different people differently on the basis of their religion, gender, identity and skin color.

The program also denies being a curriculum or set of standards and instead purports to be a “recommendation” only. Yet, the EAD Roadmap is an extensive and thorough project complete with lesson plans, PowerPoints, readings and textbook recommendations that have already been implemented in five different states.

Among these participants is Wisconsin’s Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) #1. This agency manages and assists 45 school districts in Southeast Wisconsin and received the full support of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) after it won the EAD grant money. Furthermore, despite the DPI not formally participating in the program and mandating implementation throughout the state, it has already issued a Social Studies/Civics Suggested Scope and Sequence report for K-5.

A quick look at the Suggested Sequence report reveals that their Wisconsin Civics Project is “aligned to our Wisconsin Standards for Social Studies…and the Roadmap from Educating for American Democracy (EAD).” The Suggested Sequence reinforces the EAD goal of promoting political activism among students as well: “the scope and sequence promotes active involvement among students in the civil discourse…and supports them in understanding and participating in the process of government, including voting.”

The rest of the document outlines the topics for each grade level and provides teachers with an abundance of resources. Each topic has “Driving and Guiding Questions” that are sourced directly from the EAD Roadmap. For example, questions like:

• How do people describe who they are?
• What makes a community fair?
• How have different groups (e.g. religion, race, ethnicity) shaped our society?

In and of themselves these questions seem benign but their ambiguity—in conjunction with the fact that these questions are being used as lesson guides for Kindergarteners—leaves the door open to malicious actors who would infuse their personal views into curricula. David Randall agrees, saying that the EAD project “introduces a pedagogy that facilitates teachers’ ability to impose their personal predilections on their students…”

Wisconsinites ought to be cautious about the material contents of the EAD project. Classwork materials like the one below are clear indicators of the potential for educators to infuse their “personal predilections” with course topics.

An historian would attempt to understand why some settlers were afraid of some natives—not lecture about the wrongness of prejudice or critique the behaviors and thoughts of settlers on the basis of his moral convictions. Teacher notes like this are a clear indication of bias and show that educators and bureaucrats are incapable of resisting the urge to moralize. If they cannot be impartial then they cannot teach responsibly.