Democrats on the State Board of Education this week rejected an effort to base Colorado’s civic education on the conservative U.S. Birthright agenda.
Republican State Council member Debora Scheffel had proposed throwing away the civic standards developed by a committee of teachers, community members and other experts and starting over using American Birthright as the basis.
American Birthright is a project of the Civics Alliance, a coalition whose mission statement says it was formed to oppose a “new citizenship” more focused on global citizenship and activism than understanding American ideals and responsibilities.
“American Birthright teaches about the expansion of American freedom to include all Americans, the contributions Americans of all backgrounds have made to our shared history of freedom, and the American Championship of Freedom around the world,” the site reads. website. “Students will learn about freedom heroes such as Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ronald Reagan.”
Colorado’s social studies standards earned a “D” grade from the Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank. Scheffel, who is dean of the school of education at Colorado Christian University, said American Birthright draws heavily from social studies standards in Massachusetts and Florida, which score much higher.
Although Fordham has not evaluated American Birthright, Scheffel said she encounters many students who lack basic information about American governance, and she believes the program offers more rigorous content and is more comprehensive than the current state standards.
“I just feel like our students aren’t learning what they need to learn,” Scheffel said.
Colorado is updating its civic standards to comply with a 2021 bipartisan law that called for strengthening students’ understanding of the basic workings of government, as well as how to engage with officials and in public processes . It’s part of a broader update to social studies standards that’s unfolding amid a polarized national debate over the teaching of history, gender and race.
Republicans managed to change some aspects of the standards, like crafting genocide standards to highlight the dangers of socialism, despite Democrats holding a majority on the board, but on Wednesday Democrats quickly rejected several Republican amendments to civic standards.
“These standards are too extreme for the state of Colorado,” said Democratic board member Lisa Escárcega, explaining her vote against US birthright standards.
American Birthright calls project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, social-emotional learning, current affairs, civic engagement, and any instruction that promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, or social justice as harmful to learning. Escárcega said she finds parents value these things a lot and would not want them to go away.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational changes in public schools.