In today’s email, I received an advertisement from Harvard University Press for their new titles in education. Among these is Meira Levinson’s No Citizen Left Behind. On first glance, this book’s advocacy of “civic education” seems to be a call for a renewed emphasis on the subject traditionally known as “civics.” The misleading blurb from the Library Journal tells us that “Levinson advocates restoring civic education.” But a closer look at the book description makes it clear that she doesn’t want to “restore” any part of the schooling of American citizens. Instead, she wants to turn public schools into centers for training activist cadres.
According to the book summary, “No Citizen Left Behind argues that students must be taught how to upend and reshape power relationships directly, through political and civic action ... Schools should teach collective action, openly discuss the racialized dimensions of citizenship, and provoke students by engaging their passions against contemporary injustices. Students must also have frequent opportunities to take civic and political action, including within the school itself.”
I do not question Dr. Levinson’s right to go about “upending power relationships” or to define “injustice” as she chooses or to engage in legal “collective action” with those who see things as she does. But I can think of few things more fundamentally contradictory to a free society than using the public schools to institutionalize the organization of an ideological program. That, however, is exactly what the “civic education” movement is all about.