A Statement from Together for Public Schools
At Together for Public Schools, we have been working to research the WCASD school board candidates running in the upcoming May 16 primary election.
Through that process, we have uncovered information about Region 3 candidate Alain Oliver that we feel is imperative for the WCASD community to know, especially given that neither Mr. Oliver nor his Back to Basics campaign team appear to have mentioned it in their published description of his background and qualifications.
Mr. Oliver is part of a group called “The Civics Alliance,” a coalition of self-titled “reformers” who have proposed a drastically transformed model for social studies education. Entitled American Birthright, the proposed K-12 social studies curriculum is accompanied by a complete framework of proposed state standards and extensive model legislation, all of which the Civics Alliance claims are necessary because "American civics education is under sustained assault by radical activists." The alliance believes that current social studies curricula "will obliterate from our children’s memory the America worth loving and defending and will create a cadre of trained activists dedicated to replacing the American republic with a Neo-Marxist 'social justice' regime."
A Radical Framework Rejected by Reputable Organizations
In October, the Colorado Board of Education rejected the American Birthright framework for being "too extreme." When one school district adopted the curriculum, teachers and administrators fled and students and parents protested.
The American Historical Association characterizes the American Birthright framework as “radical” and politically motivated, stating: “A handful of politically motivated organizations, including Hillsdale College, Civics Alliance, the National Association of Scholars, and 1776 Unites, have each published their own model frameworks that adopt an approach grounded in rote memorization. In place of historical inquiry, these materials rest on the foundation of a singular message about how students should think and feel about the past.”
The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) released a statement on the American Birthright framework, stating that if implemented in schools, it “would have damaging and lasting effects on the civic knowledge of students and their capacity to engage in civic reasoning and deliberation.” Elaborating further, the group said: "...we view these suggested standards as an attempt to return to a time when United States social studies classrooms presented a single narrative of U.S. and Western history that glorified selected aspects of history while minimizing the experiences, contributions, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, people of color, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, the working class, and countless others. The writers of the suggested standards use outdated language, have a clear political motive, and promote content and approaches to social studies and history education that do not align with those recommended by experts in social studies content areas."
NCSS is the largest professional organization devoted exclusively to the teaching and learning of social studies, and they represent over 10,000 social studies educators.
Shocking Curriculum Goals
Together for Public Schools has reviewed the American Birthright framework. Frankly, it is difficult to describe how extreme and alarming many of the proposed concepts are and the extent to which they erase any perspectives that don’t fit a jingoistic, Euro-centric model of American history. We encourage all WCASD community members to research for themselves, but to cite just a few examples of what appear to be typical perspectives in the framework:
In its “Necessary Principles and Curriculum Sketch,” the American Birthright framework rejects the values of our diverse nation and multi-cultural heritage by declaring that “it is a civic imperative to assimilate America’s adopted children to the manners of the Englishmen who founded the nation.”
The framework downplays slavery by emphasizing that teaching “should situate the American practice of slavery within the pervasive practice of slavery throughout human history and mention how exceptional was the American abolitionist movement.”
The framework appears to justify Native American genocide, stating “Our children should understand that our conquest of half the continent fulfilled the moral imperative to expand the republic”.
Mr. Oliver, WCASD Region 3 candidate and member of the “Back to Basics” campaign, is listed as a founding “Original Signatory” of the Civics Alliance. He is also a member of the alliance’s “Civil Society” group along with Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice.
A Playbook for Activism and Influence
In addition to its framework, the Civics Alliance promotes detailed action plans to influence education policy and legislation at the federal, state, and local levels. In their extensive “Civics Bill Tracker,” the Alliance voices opposition to recently proposed Pennsylvania legislation that would provide for education on Asian-American and Pacific Islander history (HB779); instruction on the Holocaust, genocide, and human rights violations (HB481); and observance of a “Constitution and Citizenship Day” that would allow prevoter registration for eligible high school students (HB403). The alliance inexplicably rejects these and many other federal and state bills as “radical.”
Of particular note to WCASD voters is the alliance’s local policy action plan, which urges its “reformers” to dedicate themselves to influencing policy and curriculum in their local communities, with instructions that Mr. Oliver seems to have followed as a near checklist for activism: attend school board meetings (check), speak at school board meetings (check), run for school board (check).
Civics Alliance reformers are instructed that once elected as school board members, they “should ensure that local education authorities [school boards] exercise proper oversight on the content of civics education and not delegate their oversight role to administrators and teachers. Local education authorities should be willing to condition school financing on proper civics instruction.”
Oddly, neither Mr. Oliver nor the Back to Basics campaign has mentioned his participation in the Civics Alliance nor his endorsement of the American Birthright framework in their published campaign literature. Yet it seems impossible to believe that Mr. Oliver’s curriculum activism would not be a major component of his agenda as school director. In fact, in light of his numerous anti-equity statements at public school board meetings, it seems likely that Mr. Oliver’s curriculum activism was perhaps even the inspiration for his candidacy.
The irony of all this is not lost on us given that the Civics Alliance strenuously condemns the idea of “action civics” and proposes that students be forbidden from partaking in community-based civics activities and even community service as part of their education.
Rejection of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Heavy on its emphasis that “reformers” should dedicate themselves to the task of transforming social studies curriculum, the Civics Alliance’s local policy “toolkit” includes materials such as model letters to legislators, school boards, teachers and administrators, and news publications, all of which rail against the harms of “‘diversity, equity, and inclusion,’ which contradict the ideals of these American heroes. These ideological concepts and pedagogies terribly harm children’s schooling.”
The toolkit also contains a “pledge” that school board members, legislators, and voters should take to fight against the “discriminatory ideology that calls itself ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion.’”
In a “Cheat Sheet for Policy Makers,” the alliance continues to promote a now-cliché and over-memed infographic from controversial professors Peter Boghossian and Bruce Gilley that redefines various terminology in an accusatory “When they say… they really mean” format:
Diversity is equated to “a violation of individual identity”
White Privilege/White Supremacy are redefined as “European moral culpability” and equated to “scapegoating”
Decolonization is redefined as “removing European influence” to “delegitimize the U.S.”
The model legislation proposed by the Civics Alliance is a stomach-turning buffet of harmful, authoritarian rhetoric that would place heavy restrictions on teachers and school districts, making it illegal for educators to generate “discomfort” in students over historical instances of racism and illegal to discuss or acknowledge sexual orientation or gender identity.
These views of equity are in line with what Mr. Oliver has expressed in public WCASD board meeting comments. At the July 2021 WCASD Board meeting, Mr. Oliver said "Equity mows down individuals; it does not lift them up." In the February 2022 Board meeting, Mr. Oliver said "There’s a new glass ceiling and it's boys who identify as girls."
Call to Action: Vote on May 16. Stand Up for WCASD
Together for Public schools emphatically rejects the Civics Alliance and their attempts to radically transform social studies curriculum, to marginalize and erase diverse perspectives, and to forcefully impose perversely caricaturized expressions of patriotism on students and teachers.
We urge voters to reject Mr. Oliver’s crusade to bring this brand of radical activism to our school district, and we are alarmed at the Trojan Horse style approach evidenced by the notable omission of his involvement in the Civics Alliance from published campaign materials.
All WCASD voters can now see clearly what it would mean for our school district to go “Back to Basics.”
TPS enthusiastically reaffirms its endorsement of Mr. Oliver’s opponent Gary Bevilacqua. Mr. Bevilacqua has dutifully served on the WCASD Board for nine years. His voting record and long service to our district have demonstrated that he is a moderate, fiscally conscientious board member with a strong track record of support for robust student services, DEI, and student safety. We know him to be a strong advocate for students, a supporter of teachers, and a partner to parents and stakeholders.
Please vote on May 16.