A political firestorm has ignited in the wake of the Texas State Board of Education’s recent revisions to teaching standards in the social sciences. The board voted to approve a host of changes that will render textbooks more sensitive to a variety of conservative positions. Predictably, liberal activists have been decrying the change in standards as an act of “revisionist history” that “politicizes” our educational system.
But what do you end up with if you revise and politicize a narrative that’s been revised and politicized in the opposite direction before? The answer-a slightly more balanced look at the country. So you’ll have to excuse this slightly right of center commentator if he doesn’t get overly rattled by the board’s decision.
Let’s begin by establishing two things that are a near certitude. First, the political leanings of educators clearly bias to the left. A 2007 Harvard University study of college faculty by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons found that only 19.7% of respondents identified as right of center (either slightly conservative, conservative, or very conservative).
Second, the tenants of conservatism aren’t just biased against, they’re often completely ignored. Peter Berkowitz, a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, wrote about this persuasively in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. “Without an introduction to the conservative tradition in America and the conservative dimensions of modern political philosophy, political science students are condemned to a substantially incomplete and seriously unbalanced knowledge of their subject,” Berkowitz says.
Granted, these observations stem from higher education more than K-12, but the same biases still hold true for among the lower levels. And as a former graduate student in Political Science who has interacted with dozens of faculty members in the subject, I have seen these biases firsthand. Of the roughly 50 political science professors I have come to know, only two might count as conservative.
What do you get when you cross a bias of educators with a deficiency in the curriculum? The status quo.
In an ideal world, our educational system would involve bringing up competing views, treating each with respect and seriousness, and allowing the students to individually weigh the pros and cons of each. Such a high minded view is probably a bit Pollyannaish. The next best thing is multiple competing biases, rather than a monopoly of one.
Texas schoolchildren will soon be forced to mentally wrestle with such morally abhorrent concepts as the downside of eliminating the gold standard, the fecklessness of the United Nations, and the failures of the Great Society. Egad! In the hands of left leaning educators who aren’t naturally warm to conservative ideas, the introduction of these topics will push the overall educational experience more close to the sensible middle. If it pushes curricula too far to the right, the problem will surely self correct in college, where students will encounter preachy conservative professors as frequently as they encounter meteorites.
So fret not, America! Our educational system is not crumbling, and Soviet style reeducation camps aren’t resurfacing in the Lone Star state. The pendulum just got nudged gently in the other direction.
“The Social and Political Views of American Professors.” Neil Gross and Solon Simmons. Harvard University working paper. Presented September 24, 2007. http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~ngross/lounsbery_9-25.pdf
“Conservatism and the University Curriculum.” Peter Berkowitz. The Wall Street Journal. June 13, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124484718091311321.html