Debating the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap

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The Educating for American Democracy (EAD) Report states, "We are all responsible for cultivating in ourselves and the young the reflective patriotism needed to navigate the dangerous shoals we now face as we chart a course between cynicism and nostalgia." Does the EAD Roadmap provide an adequate pathway for civic learning to occur in our polarized political environment?

Mark Bauerlein

The sentence quoted above from the Roadmap has all the wit and penetration of a human resources communication. Ah, those "dangerous shoals." Yes, let's work very, very hard to "navigate" our way to that wise and prudent via media between cynicism and nostalgia. Good to know, too, that the EAD Roadmap will inform us of our personal responsibilities. And who could judge that "reflective patriotism" is anything but a noble aim?

One wonders to whom that language might apply. As if your average 16-year-old strives to modulate his commitments in this oh-so-careful way – yeah, sure. Do the designers of the Roadmap really believe that "reflective patriotism" will inspire the young to learn more about U.S. history and civics? Do they think knowing how the First Amendment only covered certain groups and not others will send students to the library to inquire further? Every time the NAEP U.S. history exam is administered to high school seniors, more than half of them score "Below basic" (call it an "F"). They do better in civics, but it's still a constant disappointment.  

This tepid condition of "reflective patriotism" won't push them to learn more about U.S. history and civics. At least nostalgia and cynicism have some spark to them, some motivation, not this lukewarm critical-thinking relationship to the country. We are now in the midst of a cultural revolution – the Woke Movement, a joyless, vindictive enterprise, but a zealous one. The young need an invigorating alternative, one that will give them inner strength and make them swell with pride – not a reflective, careful weighing of the good and the bad in our country, the high ideals and the many ways we have failed to uphold them. This is an academic conception of patriotism, and we know just how patriotic academics are.  


James R. Stoner, Jr. and Paul O. Carrese

We are grateful to RealClearEducation for hosting this discussion and glad to be conversing with Professor Bauerlein. The quoted sentence from the EAD Report leaves Mark cold, and he finds "reflective patriotism" a useless approach for K-12 civics education given our current crisis. Yet a fair-minded reader would find in the immediate context, and in the larger Report, more vigor about the educational crisis addressed and more energy in the remedy proposed.  This sentence falls in the Report’s conclusion, which is entitled "A Call to Civic Duty and Action." We admit that’s not Henry V at Agincourt. Still, it’s not merely bureaucratic, especially given the setup to the challenged sentence: "Passing on a love and understanding of American constitutional democracy to future generations is an urgent civic necessity."

Further, the conclusion recapitulates 20 pages of analysis that opens with a clarion call to educators, civic and political leaders, and serious citizens: "The United States stands at a crossroads of peril and possibility. A healthy constitutional democracy always demands reflective patriotism. In times of crisis, it is imperative that We the People unite the love of country with clear-eyed wisdom about our successes and failures in order to chart our forward path." That call itself develops the patriotism of the Report’s opening epigraph, from Carl Sandburg’s 1945 poem "The Long Shadow of Lincoln," which includes the line: "There is dust alive/with dreams of The Republic." So the Report that is portrayed as lifeless, bureaucratic, and clueless, in fact begins by praising the Great Emancipator for inspiring America toward a new birth of freedom. 

This patriotic approach offered to educators and policymakers, to be transmitted to classrooms and students as local educators deem best, exemplifies what Tocqueville described in Democracy in America as the "reflective patriotism" of the New World. Americans express partly an Old World sentiment about one’s place and people, partly the rational analysis and argument of a self-governing people. By citing Tocqueville, we hope educators might be inspired to explore his great work, as we hope regarding the other great sources, ideas, and questions laid out in the EAD Report and Roadmap. Some conservative and centrist educators might find it reasonable, amid America’s civic disintegration, to utilize a national consensus report offering a plausible path toward greater priority, time, and support for serious civic and history education. This strategy is more effective than yet more battle cries that will lead only to another Hamburger Hill rather than the Alamo the combat-prone imagine.


Design Challenge 1 asks, "How can we help students pursue civic action that is authentic, responsible, and informed?" Section V of the Pedagogy Companion lays out particular projects teachers could promote (e.g., "Authentic writing tasks/media production," "Civic engagement projects leading to informed action"). Does introducing ideas of civic participation strengthen or weaken the goals of civic learning?

Mark Bauerlein

The section of the Roadmap referred to in the parenthesis above should sound a warning to all conservatives familiar with this kind of out-of-class pedagogy. (I do not know if Professors Carrese and Stoner have much experience with K-12 organizations and offices, standards and curriculum, and assessment, but I do.) That section speaks of specific activities that include taking students beyond the classroom and connecting them with "public and private officials," having them “interact with community leaders," and teaching them to "[c]ollaborate with local government, community organizations.” 

Let’s be clear about what this entails. It may impart lessons in civics, showing students, for instance, how local government is structured and how not-for-profit groups engage with it. But it does something else, too. It produces an effect that conservatives have regretted and abhorred for decades: the politicization of learning. Do the Roadmap designers really believe that the politicians and community organizers with whom the kids make contact will not regard the process in wholly political terms? Don’t be naïve. Politics is their business – a school project is, for them, an opportunity. The kids will be enlisted into the political aims of these figures whether the teacher likes it or not. 

Now, that last phrase on the teacher’s preference raises another problem. As everyone knows, social studies teachers lean to the left – not just a little bit, but way to the left. Like the Roadmap itself, when they introduce the Founders and the Founding, we may expect teachers to emphasize their failings and the equality they voiced but didn’t uphold in their lives. In that case, at least those teachers have exposed students to the Declaration and the First Amendment, which constrains the progressive impulse to cast the past as only error and bigotry. But with these out-of-class assignments, the constraint is lifted. Teachers committed to an activist vision can run with it, and they won’t be heading to pro-life organizations or socially conservative politicians.   

Overall, this project-based instruction implies a conception of citizenship with an activist core. The Roadmap itself highlights activism again and again. It never suggests that activism can be a bad thing or that activists in U.S. history have frequently drifted toward illiberal ends and used gangster tactics. No figures who resisted the activist movement are held up as notable; apparently, social change is always good. It is almost certain that in six years, a survey of community and government contacts established in civics classes will reflect the bias of the social studies profession with an all-too-predictable exactness. 


James R. Stoner, Jr. and Paul O. Carrese

Professor Bauerlein reads the EAD Roadmap’s approach to pedagogy as imbalanced toward leftism, and like other critics, indicts EAD through association with a parade of horribles. Read fairly, however, this Design Challenge recommends preparation for civic participation that is "authentic, responsible, and informed" – hardly a call to passion-drenched activism. Each Challenge captures a tension for educators to address and aims to make civics interesting for youth by enlivening the stakes involved in their learning.

Tocqueville wrote that Americans learned democracy through practice. Adapted for students, this might mean participation in student councils which have real responsibility for problems that affect student life. Other well-developed simulations of self-government range from Boys State/Girls State to Model UN. High school internship programs should provide opportunities for students to volunteer with officials of both parties and organizations with opposite perspectives. Of course, parents and school officials should insist that it is unprofessional for teachers to be partisans during any school activities. And, of course, we agree with Mark that organizing protests on school time or for school credit should be precluded.

This Design Challenge balances motivation to practice with a Roman-like call to defend the Republic for which one should be grateful. The setup is conservative: "How can we help students become engaged citizens who also sustain civil disagreement, civic friendship, and thus American constitutional democracy?" Yes, a left-leaning teacher or school could take the Roadmap, and its pedagogy appendix, against their grain to claim cover for training in activism. And? Is it news that even phrases of Scripture can be quoted against their obvious intent? 

Thus behind Mark’s spirited critique lies only a reactive strategy: denounce any national effort to improve civics and history education. But this strategy has only produced seeming conservative victories that cumulatively are Pyrrhic. Despite this call-to-battle approach, the progressive left of which he warns has simply kept advancing. Instead, a conservative presence could move the national debate toward the reasonable center.

We have corrected elsewhere the slander that EAD repudiates America’s Founding. We cited a litany of passages that praise the Founding and encourage its serious study. What is needed is to pull reasonable teachers, schools, and districts toward sensible civic knowledge and civic virtues – the latter, as Aristotle and Tocqueville teach, being developed only through practice.

In theme 7, Civic Sample Guiding Question 7.4 asks, "What is reflective patriotism?" What is the EAD Roadmap's interpretation of patriotism – and is that enough?

James R. Stoner, Jr. & Paul O. Carrese

The EAD Report opens and closes by speaking about patriotism: "A healthy constitutional democracy always demands reflective patriotism," calling Americans to "unite love of country with clear-eyed wisdom about our successes and failures" (p. 8; see p. 22). It defines reflective patriotism as the "appreciation of the ideals of our political order, candid reckoning with the country's failures to live up to those ideals, motivation to take responsibility for self-government, and deliberative skill to debate the challenges that face us in the present and future" (p. 12).

The Report cites Tocqueville's use of the term in Democracy in America, where he distinguishes between two kinds of patriotism: "the unreflective, disinterested, and indefinable sentiment" and a "rational" patriotism that develops through the "aid of laws" and the "exercise of rights" that "intermingles in a way with personal interest." The second kind was characteristic of Americans when Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s. They loved their country as their own because they participated in its government and understood that their happiness depended on its prosperity.

For recent immigrants who seize America's many opportunities, the experience may cohere with what Tocqueville describes, but America is a different place now. If the love of one's home is natural to human beings, then one might expect patriotism to mingle with a typically American calculation of interest. Those for whom the country's history is also their family's cannot be expected to leave it behind as their forbears had.

Reflective patriotism calls for the consideration of American history in all its complexity, as well as molding a forward-looking attitude that is alert to opportunity and attuned to a common destiny. The EAD Report and Roadmap focus on appreciating our political institutions' value moving forward rather than conducting a shared reckoning of the good and ill in our nation's past. Moreover, the documents suggest that a practical appreciation for our constitutionalism includes inculcating shared respect for those who designed those institutions, improved them, or showed how they could be made to work. Our institutions leave ample room for political choice as well as individual dissent and alternative association. Thus a good education in civics requires reflection and results in informed choice.

Is reflective patriotism enough? Probably not on the battlefield or in other circumstances where the common good requires great sacrifice. Still, in a mature, enlightened country like our own, to rely only on a patriotism instilled by symbols, stories, and songs is not adequate. "Like all unreflective passions," Tocqueville wrote, "this [instinctive] love of country pushes one to great, fleeting efforts rather than to continuity of efforts. After having saved the state in time of crisis, it often allows it to decline in the midst of peace." Might we find here the prognosis of our time and a remedy for its ills?


Mark Bauerlein

Why this insistence on a "candid reckoning with the country's failures," the "shared reckoning of the good and ill in our nation's past"? The syntax balances successes and failures as if each were equally worthy of attention. Why, too, the language of "clear-eyed wisdom"? It sounds as if Professors Carrese and Stoner believe there's lots of fuzzy-eyed pseudo-wisdom out there.  

In other words, they have bought into the revisionist outlook. That approach aims to correct an excessively positive understanding of the past that underplayed discrimination and exploitation and outright cruelty, which prevailed not so long ago.   

But to be so scrupulously even-handed goes too far. Patriotism requires that the pluses get a lot more attention than the minuses – and I believe the American record fully warrants that assertion. The Roadmap’s "reflective patriotism" falls far short of this confidence. Professors Carrese and Stoner acknowledge that it is too feeble for the battlefield and other times of great sacrifice. At the same time, they claim it is just the right kind of wisdom for most other practices of citizenship. I disagree. The authors mention the natural love of home, and they're right. But they don't sufficiently connect it to ordinary affairs. That love must operate in smaller, less sacrificial settings, such as school board and community service meetings. Patriotic love should operate whenever one mingles in the public square. Knowledge of past crimes doesn't foster it, especially when we consider the overwhelmingly left-wing bent of teachers who will be assigned to impart those failures. 

If we follow the Roadmap, we will not end up with a generation of Americans devoted to their country, warts and all. The critical wisdom of reflective patriotism will not be measured and prudent – not even close. It will be relentlessly critical. A few years back, Pew Research found that less than half of Millennials (49%) regarded themselves as "a patriotic person." If the Roadmap becomes the model of civics education in the United States, we should expect that number to drop steadily every year going forward. 


Design Challenge 4 asks, "How can we offer an account of U.S. constitutional democracy that is simultaneously honest about the past without falling into cynicism, and appreciative of the founding without tipping into adulation?" Does the Roadmap achieve this goal?

James R. Stoner, Jr. & Paul O. Carrese

The Roadmap offers "an account of U.S. constitutional democracy" by directing teachers toward topics for the class through asking broad questions. Some of the questions, particularly for middle and high school students, can help structure discussions, while others can guide planning lessons. Ultimately, the Roadmap's success will depend on the quality of additional supporting materials, which will be necessary for curricular development.

Teachers who consult the EAD Report as a guide to the Roadmap's intended use will find that this Design Challenge points them toward a mature love of America's ideals and achievements, which a brief tour through some of the Roadmap's themes will demonstrate. Its civic participation theme presumes that civic education should prepare students to fulfill their responsibilities in a self-governing republic. There is little room for cynicism here, although cynical critics see this as promoting political activism, perhaps forgetting the American revolutionaries' strident cries for self-government and the design of the Constitution, which make that right effective and responsible. The themes that follow concern geography and demography, and while the questions here are often those that trouble the modern conscience – about environmental change, or the displacement of indigenous populations, or slavery and its origins and aftermath – there is nothing to suggest easy answers. The tone throughout the Roadmap is constructive, not condemnatory or cynical per Critical Race Theory, nor indifferent to suffering as in stereotypical triumphalism.

The Roadmap's central theme concerns the American Founding, putting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution front and center. The emphasis is not on the mechanical processes of government but on the reasons Americans chose to break free from Great Britain and the ideas that influenced our nation’s constitutional development, including religious belief. Of course, the Constitution's compromises concerning slavery are mentioned, but since everything is raised in the form of a question, they are neither endorsed nor condemned.

The theme concerning "refoundings" discusses the Civil War and Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" then explores reform movements in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. The term "refounding" has been ridiculed as repudiating the initial Founding, but this reading is more than the EAD texts can bear. Of every reform, it can be asked whether it is a "return to first principles" or the introduction of something genuinely new, perhaps derogatory of those principles. To ask this question is much more challenging than to make a lazy progressive presumption that all change is for the better (or a conservative presumption that all change is for the worse). Besides, a chief innovation of the Constitution, as originally drafted in 1787, included a process by which it can be amended. Who can doubt this is one reason it has endured to this day?

Theme six, "A people in the world" – a particular strength of the Roadmap – addresses the challenge of nationhood in an age of increasing globalization. Teachers are invited to consider both America's relation to the world at our Founding and our nation's emergence as the world's leading power in the twentieth century. With the final theme on contemporary debates and policies, the journey concludes where it began, after a grand lesson showing that effective and responsible participation entails moving beyond one's feelings and a few slogans. Through repeated calls, the EAD documents ask students to consider the importance of civic virtues such as reflective patriotism, civil disagreement, and civic friendship that are indispensable for an informed and engaged American citizenship.


Mark Bauerlein

I begin by noting that while the Roadmap places reflective patriotism as the proper via media between cynicism and adulation, there is an even better option: a fervent love of country that is in full recognition of its lapses (but keeps those lapses to a minor part of the American story).

Let me focus on another matter, this one a naive conception of the teaching of "civic participation." Civic participation is the very first Roadmap theme, which Professors Carrese and Stoner characterize as teaching students "to fulfill their responsibilities in a self-governing republic." I and others have judged this goal vulnerable to left-wing proselytizing, an effort to steer students toward progressivist activism. Carrese and Stoner believe this worry is itself a form of cynicism (though another astute conservative supporter of the Roadmap, Rick Hess, acknowledges the danger).

In the eyes of social studies teachers, civic participation calls to mind activism in progressivist causes: the civil rights movement, women's suffrage and women's liberation, the anti-war movement, and Black Lives Matter (how about protesting outside a Planned Parenthood center or taking part in a Donald Trump rally?). The Roadmap's participation motif always turns toward identity groups gaining rights – and those identity groups have a progressivist basis. That's the plot of the Roadmap's story of America.

Conservative contributors to the Roadmap are dealing in abstractions that teacher-practitioners will "concretize" in leftist directions. They believe that they are inserting sufficient conservative/traditionalist content into the Roadmap to restrain teachers' biases. Again, I wish they were right. But the Roadmap contains enough material on marginalized identities, historically disadvantaged groups, dissidents, and protesters that no such restraints will succeed. 

As an early example of that implementation, take a look at these winners of the student art contest sponsored by the Roadmap, and note the race resentments and American guilt that dominate.

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