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Radical Right Uncovers Another Conspiracy: A Plot to Teach Kids More About What Makes America Great

By Joe Rothstein — May 17, 2021

A rare piece of bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in Congress proposing a billion dollars in federal grants to beef up the teaching of American history and government in K-12 schools. And boy-o-boy, are the purveyors of right wing politics furious about it.

What’s that you say? How can any American, particularly those who kneel at the altar of making America great again, oppose teaching children about our most fundamental and cherished values? Self-government? Citizen responsibility and participation? The rule of law?

Well, when you view the world as one big conspiracy out to get you, even a plan to teach good government can look sinister. On a par with face masks. Another front in the perceived culture war.

Prominent right wing commentator Stanley Kurtz lays out this argument in the March 15 edition of the conservative magazine National Review, under this war-is-declared headline, “The Greatest Education Battle of Our Lifetimes.” To summarize, Kurtz sees the proposal to support K-12 teaching of American government and history leading to both a federal takeover of education and a training ground for more citizens to take to the streets, particularly for racial protests.

The right-wing echo chamber has been quick to enlist in "the greatest education battle of our lifetimes." A group calling itself "1776 Action" popped up with a pledge for Republican officials to sign, a pledge to bar “action civics” (mandatory political protests for course credit) and critical race theory (CRT) (attacks on “whiteness,” “Eurocentrism,” etc.) from schools.

For the uninitiated, this translates to insistence on teaching U.S. history by downplaying the near 100 years of legal slavery and near 100 years more of tolerance for Jim Crow laws. "Action civics," is code for not teaching that in a free society people of color are able to protest their grievances. This "pledge" has so far been endorsed by Newt Gingrich, Ben Carson, South Dakota Governor (and presidential wannabe) Kristi Noem and others.

In recent past, civics education has taken a huge hit, and it shows. A 2017 Annenberg Public Policy Center survey found that more than one in three Americans could not name a single right protected by the first amendment. Only 26% could name all three branches of government, and 33% could not name any branch of government. For 50 years, from 1960 to 2010, Florida schools didn’t teach civics at all. In 2016, only 23% of eighth graders performed at or above proficient in a national civics exam.

Is it any wonder that lies and conspiracy theories about government and the people who serve in it have found such fertile ground? “Government needs to keep its hands off my Medicare,” is not so much of a joke as it is a sad commentary on how separated so many citizens are from the form of government that actually does make America great.

But there remains a strong constituency of Americans who understand the problem and want to restore the teaching of civics as an important component of K-12 education. Last year Republican poll taker Frank Luntz asked 1,000 respondents “What would have the most positive and meaningful impact on American identity?” Democrats and Republicans alike, at 56%, chose Civic Education for Students K-12. The next highest choice, at 36%, was A Year of National Service, followed closely by Less Money in Politics at 35%.

Recognizing the need to resurrect civics education, starting in 2019, a group of 300 scholars and educators developed a Roadmap that in March was published under the title “Educating for American Democracy.” The proposed Roadmap emphasizes themes that are as basic as the meaning of “We The People,” and as contemporary as America’s place in the 21st century world.

As the authors state up front, “The Roadmap is not a curriculum but rather a starting point for the design of state, tribal, and local standards, curricula, resources, and lessons.”

In other words, it is left to states and communities to decide what to teach and how to teach it. The legislation would provide grants to schools, non-profits, and other related entities to help develop the curriculum materials and to train teachers how to use it.

The legislation was considered so benignly bi-partisan that Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma signed on as co-sponsors. The study was commissioned while Donald Trump was president and Betsy DeVoss was Secretary of Education. Now, both Cornyn and Cole are under increasing pressure from the right to renounce their co-sponsorships. So far, both have resisted. Cornyn defends his support by rightly pointing out that the bill “actually prohibits the Biden Administration from establishing federal curriculum.”

No matter. Nothing positive, useful, fact-based, or essential escapes the right wing radical culture war vortex. No suggestions are offered for ways to fix perceived problems with the proposal’s language, no possibility of a compromise is possible. Only dark conspiracy theories and warning of punishment for any Republican who supports the proposal.

And don’t look for support from Senate leader Mitch McConnell or House leader Kevin McCarthy. McConnell has made it clear that he sees his job as “100 per cent to stop the Biden agenda,” not to work on needed legislation.

And that 100% most certainly will include the closest thing to motherhood on the agenda, helping generations of young people understand and participate in what makes America great.

(Joe Rothstein is a veteran political strategist and author of the award-winning political thrillers, “The Latina President and The Conspiracy to Destroy Her,” and “The Salvation Project.” Rothstein can be contacted at

Joe Rothstein is a political strategist and media producer who worked in more than 200 campaigns for political office and political causes. He also has served as editor of the Anchorage Daily News and as an adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA. Mr. Rothstein is the author of award-winning political thrillers, The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her, The Salvation Project, and The Moment of Menace. For more information, please visit his website at