Teaching American Un-Exceptionalism: Draft Law for a Mandated Civics Curriculum

Top of the United States Constitution document showing the words "We the People"

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT

Relating to civics instruction, public school students, and instructional policies in public schools.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF _____.

Education Code is amended by adding subsections 1-3.

1) In adopting the essential knowledge and skills for the social studies curriculum, the State Board of Education shall develop each student’s civics knowledge, including an understanding of the fundamentally un-exceptional character of American capitalist quasi-democracy. Specifically:

a) The unexceptional disfunction and corruption of U.S. government institutions.

The U.S. executive, legislative and judicial branches are exceptionally unexceptional. They have consistently failed to provide residents food, housing, affordable healthcare, parental leave, higher education, jobs, worker safety, a secure retirement, and a clean environment. The U.S. has an infant mortality rate worse than 46 other nations, and life expectancy worse than 40 countries, including Turkey, Panama, and Peru. The U.S. is ranked 25th least corrupt nation in the world, below Bhutan, Uruguay, and the United Arab Emirates.

b) The unexceptional founding documents of the United States, specifically the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.

While the Declaration states that “all men are created equal”, it refers to Native Americans as “merciless savages”. The U.S. Constitution begins “We the people,” but proceeds in Article 2 to exclude Indians and enslaved persons from most constitutional rights and protections. The Reconstruction Amendments (nos. 13-15), however, granting slave emancipation, birthright citizenship, and Black voting rights, plus the 24th Amendment outlawing racist poll taxes, are exceptional — except in so far as they have been consistently undermined since first passed.

c) An unexceptionally high level of inequality and racism.

Like France before the revolution of 1789, and the United Kingdom prior to the First World War, the U.S. is deeply unequal and becoming more so. 1% of the U.S. population owns 40% of the wealth. The top 0.1% have the same share of wealth as the bottom 90%. Between 2006 and 2018, 87% of increased wealth went to the top 10%. That disparity increased during Covid when the combined wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by $1.4 trillion. One in three Black children live in poverty. Black family net worth is 12.7% that of white (approx. $24,000 vs $190,000). White workers earn 27% more than Black workers and 36% more than Latinx workers.

2) In the instruction of the essential knowledge and skills for the social studies curriculum:

a) All teachers must discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs.

b) Teachers shall, to the best of their ability, strive to be truthful and accurate, even if the presentation thereby appears politically biased or one-sided.

c) School districts shall mandate – either as part of a course, or for extra credit — service learning with any organization engaged in education, advocacy or lobbying for legislation at the local, state, or federal level.

d) School districts and teachers shall require and award course grading or credit including extra credit for political or environmental activism, lobbying, or efforts to persuade members of the legislative or executive branch to take specific actions.

f) Teachers, administrators, and other employees in state agencies, school districts, campuses, and open-enrollment charter schools shall be taught – for the purpose of imparting to students — the basics of “Critical Race Theory,” the idea 1) that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons; and 2) that whiteness has granted its possessors measurable value inherited over generations, thereby bolstering white achievement and wealth while preventing Blacks and other non-whites from attaining the same social and economic standing. Instructors are free to utilize material from the 1619 Project, as well as legitimate historical criticism of its facts and interpretations. (By comparison, see recent laws in Texas and Florida.)

3) Teachers shall strive to make their students feel uncomfortable about American unexceptionalism and encourage them to take concrete political action to remedy that feeling, for example by protesting to reduce inequality, racism, environmental degradation, and global warming.

a) No teacher, administrator, or other employee in any state agency, school district, campus, open-enrollment charter school, or school administration shall require, or make part of a course the following concepts:

b) That one race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality is inherently superior to any other — or is exceptional.

c) That humans are exceptional or have the right to consign any other species to decimation or extinction.

d) That a corporation or business possesses the same moral rights as persons, notwithstanding a Supreme Court ruling (“Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission”) to the contrary.

e) That the current, neo-liberal order is exceptional and that there is no alternative to quasi-democratic capitalism.

After passage by the state legislature and upon the signature of the governor, this ACT shall be applied beginning September 1, 2021.

Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor of Art History at Northwestern University and the author of The Abu Ghraib Effect (Reaktion, 2007), and The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights (Reaktion, 2015) among other books. His American Fascism Now, with Sue Coe, has just been published by Rotland Press. Eisenman is also co-founder of the non-profit, Anthropocene Alliance.

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