American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten insists that teachers in her union will and must “teach the good and the bad” about American history — a talking point that has echoed even in the most-local of government meetings as the fight over critical race theory (CRT) in the schools has escalated. In media coverage of the issue, however, a notable question is rarely asked: Are schools actually teaching the good?
A study the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released in June found state standards for the teaching of civics and U.S. history to be “mediocre” or “inadequate” in 35 of the 50 states. In the study’s forward, David Griffith and Chester E. Finn, Jr., suggest that “faced with so many other educational demands… states just haven’t paid enough attention to ensuring that standards for civics and U.S. history are strong, that teachers are well prepared in these subjects, that districts and schools give them their due, and that students actually learn them.”
They note that “as of 2018, not quite a quarter of eighth-graders were proficient in civics, and even fewer — a meager 15 percent — were proficient in U.S. history,” based on results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.
A balanced inquiry into what is actually going on in American classrooms is apparently not of interest to the mainstream media. Of the 62 local and 9 national outlets that Fordham has found citing its study, National Public Radio is alone among supposedly mainstream news sources, although Yahoo News picked up a local story. (The other national outlets include Forbes, The Washington Times, National Review, and a handful of blogs and industry publications.)
Although criticizing neglect of the subjects, Griffith tells Accuracy in Media that his team was “surprised by the lack of ideological bias in most states’ standards, the overwhelming majority of which strike a reasonable balance between the good, the bad, and the ugly in U.S. history.” The push for more CRT-inspired curricula appears to be an effort to skew this balance, while “action civics,” or “project-based civics” moves students away from an emphasis on history and government philosophy and toward left-wing advocacy.
Yet, the mainstream news media narrative continues to be that controversy over CRT is a Republican-manufactured attempt to stir up crowds for political advantage. Weingarten claims it amounts to Republicans “bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching kids honest history.”
At least one of her union’s members, Ramona Bessinger, a middle school teacher in Providence, Rhode Island, believes the aggression goes the other way. She reports that the “2020/21 school year was a sad and worrisome turning point for [her] as an educator.” Bessinger says “new, racialized curriculum and materials focus almost exclusively on an oppressor-oppressed narrative and have created racial tensions among students and staff where none existed before.”
That may be the point. Bessinger’s union local proudly describes itself as “progressive.” If only the American news media would be so honest.