This could be great.. or not so much.
The Madison City Clerk’s office is adopting a program developed by a national nonprofit. The nonprofit is Made By Us and the program is called “Civic Season.” This is the program’s inaugural year and the idea is for it to run from today (Juneteenth Day, now a national holiday) to July 4th every year.
But what it is exactly is still unclear. Here’s what the official release from the Clerk’s Office says about it:
“The inaugural Civic Season is a collaboration between Made By Us and Civics Unplugged, two organizations who work to present American history in a way that is relevant and provocative in order to encourage and inspire civic participation in younger generations of Americans. The Civic Season will create a new kind of tradition around civic identity that includes a more complete understanding of American history and empowers folks to engage with the events happening right now that will shape this country’s future.”
What caught my eye there was the phrase “a more complete understanding of American history.” I’m all for that and I think that’s exactly what’s needed right now. It is absolutely true that we have not confronted some of the uncomfortable truths about our past (and our present) as directly as we should. Young people are demanding a more full accounting of American history and all the things that have gotten us to this point. They should.
But I was concerned that what might be lurking behind this is Critical Race Theory, the view that the world can be easily divided into oppressors and victims and that one’s race is his destiny. A review of the websites of Made By Us and Civics Unplugged doesn’t suggest that.
Made By Us is run by a group of respected institutions, mostly museums, including the National History Museum. Civics Unplugged is somewhat more vague in its background and origins, but it purports to be run by very young people in their late teens and its mission is to “modernize democracy.” That’s a phrase that makes me nervous, since some young activists seem to want to modernize our democracy by making it much less democratic. But the group’s definition seems to be much more about using technology in some vague way (that’s not a criticism; all technology is vague to me) to make the institutions of democracy more relevant to young people. Sounds okay to me.
Look, I want to guard against paranoia here. On the surface, Civic Season sounds wonderful. Use this period to engage young people in learning and discussion about our history and our civic institutions. Be more honest with ourselves about who we are as a nation, what we’ve done both good and bad, and what needs improvement going forward.
But it also strikes me that this is the kind of thing that could be hijacked by CRT proponents. Let’s hope Civic Season develops into an annual event that helps us deal more forthrightly with our history — particularly our history around race — without undermining the whole American project.
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