Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Campaign Targets Perceived Liberal Bias in Schools

Our universities do possess an important function. They are some of the few remaining spaces where controversial issues of left- as well as right-leaning persuasion may be addressed. Clearly, we as academics need to elaborate fully what we want and mean by academic freedom; or else it's going to get defined for us as this piece suggests. -Angela

April 19, 2006
Campaign Targets Perceived Liberal Bias in Schools
By Sean Cavanagh

Having witnessed what they regard as the corruption of colleges by liberals and left-leaning academics, conservative activists say they are launching a venture to eliminate any such bias from the nation’s public schools.

“It’s a campaign we’re beginning today,” said the author David Horowitz, who helped organize an April 7 conference to promote those plans. “This is a very large grassroots movement waiting to happen.”

The conference here was hosted by Students for Academic Freedom, a division of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a Los Angeles-based organization that advocates conservative views among students and the public at large. Mr. Horowitz, the center’s president, said the attendees’ long-term goal is to keep ideological agendas, which they believe have become pervasive on college campuses, from taking hold in K-12 schools, too.

Mr. Horowitz said those involved in the effort are fighting both liberal and conservative bias in education. But many of the speakers at the event complained most vociferously about the influence of left-leaning administrators and teachers. Several college students recalled what they said were attempts by professors, campus administrators, and their former high school educators to promote liberal positions and downplay conservative views.

Organizers of the event presented an award to Sean Allen, a 16-year-old high school student from Aurora, Colo., who became immersed in controversy over alleged political bias in one of his classes. The student made a tape recording of highly critical comments one of his teachers made about President Bush in a 10th grade geography class, an incident that drew national attention earlier this year.

Mr. Horowitz said public schools have a fiduciary responsibility to present lessons objectively because they are financed by taxpayers, unlike, for instance, private colleges. Public anger over political one-sidedness in classes will only rise, he said.

School officials, “out of pure self-interest,” should acquaint themselves “with the principles of academic freedom,” Mr. Horowitz told conference attendees.

Legislation Pursued

Bradley Shipp, the national field director for Students for Academic Freedom, said his organization hopes to encourage state legislators to introduce measures to encourage schools to guarantee objectivity in classroom lessons.

Critics of such proposals are likely to complain—wrongly, in his view—that those measures would restrict speech, Mr. Shipp said in an interview. Those charges will prove to be unfounded, he said, because his organization will encourage lawmakers to introduce nonbinding resolutions to raise public awareness of potential classroom bias.

One legislator who attended the conference, state Rep. Samuel E. Rohrer, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said he planned to call for hearings later this year on political leanings in K-12 schools. Mr. Rohrer chairs an education subcommittee.

See Also
Read the related story, “Students Continue to Fuel Activism on Immigration Policy.”
According to Mr. Horowitz, political bias in schools has been obvious in recent large-scale protests over proposals aimed at curbing illegal immigration. Thousands of students have walked out of their schools to take part in those events, actions that were tolerated, and even encouraged, by some teachers and administrators, Mr. Horowitz said. ("Students Sound Off on Immigration," April 5, 2006.)

Mr. Horowitz has written frequently about his transformation from a 1960s-era radical leftist to a political conservative. He is a frequent commentator on television and campuses today. His recent book Uncivil Wars “chronicles his crusade against intolerance” in academia, according to a biographical description of his work.

Teachers’ Colleges Eyed
Others, however, say recent evidence suggests a push by people on the right, not the left, to influence public schools.

Jeremy K. Leaming, a spokesman for the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, noted the wave of state and local challenges to the teaching of evolution in science classes and the attempts to promote “intelligent design,” the idea that an unnamed creator shaped life’s development. ("Legislators Debate Bills on the Teaching of Evolution," April 5, 2006.)

“I don’t think you’d call those liberal actions,” Mr. Leaming said in an interview.

Sol Stern, who spoke at the Washington conference, took particular aim at teachers’ colleges. Some, he said, promote a slant to the left in their curricula, and through the discussion of “social justice” topics, which, as Mr. Stern sees it, favor political liberalism.

But Arthur E. Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, said those fears were exaggerated. Mr. Wise said his Washington-based group, in a 2004 survey of about 60 teachers’ colleges, found that only a “small minority” of them emphasized social justice as part of their mission. NCATE accredits colleges of teacher education.

Generally speaking, social- justice concepts are most prevalent at education schools at religiously oriented institutions, Mr. Wise said, such as those with Roman Catholic and evangelical affiliations. Different schools, however, were likely to have different notions of what the term meant, he noted.

Mr. Wise scoffed at the idea of a liberal predisposition in teachers’ colleges nationwide, saying those schools were unlikely to follow any political orthodoxy.

“They pride themselves on the uniqueness of their missions,” he said.

PHOTO: Sean Allen, a student who drew national attention after he recorded his teacher criticizing President Bush, helps kick off an effort to keep political one-sidedness out of K-12.

—Susan Walsh/AP
Vol. 25, Issue 32, Pages 5,18


  1. Awareness, respect, understanding of diferent thought.
    What is happening in US today? Why attacking teachers and professors, schools and college of education?
    Why is so difficult to understand different points of views?
    In a democratic society, the key to success is to acknowledge difference of thought. Integration, respect, acknowledgement and dialogue among citizens are necessary in order to continue progress.
    A democratic society allows all citizens to express their feelings in a way that is not offensive to others. The key here is to be able to express what someone feels without being rude, manipulative, or become an indoctrinator. There is a big difference between expressing a different point of view and indoctrination. WE do not need to agree with what others have to say, that is not the point, the point is to allow them to speak, enter into dialogue and try to make reason to what is being said. WE need to be able to acknowledge how an individual understand what others think. WE all have the right to be heard that is the Freedom of speech, a constitutional right that allow us to express what we feel about daily issues.
    For professors, I believe, is necessary in schools and colleges to have academic freedom. This means a time to express their concerns about different issues including poverty, racism, inequalities, generation of knowledge and yes, government issues. If we do not challenge thought, we are making a disservice to students in all grade levels. We need to challenge students to think in broader terms, to question what seems wrong, and question if what it looks right, is in reality a reflection of all citizens thought.
    When academic freedom is executed in a schools and colleges, needs to be balanced. No one side is stronger, equilibrium on both parts is necessary in order for student to develop their own opinions. (but I know that may be a romantic ideal, but can be true with hope)
    If academic freedom is challenged, there should be a balanced response to the challenge. What we need is to say NO to indoctrination, either for the right or left wing. Both have a right to be heard, but we need to integrate, respect, acknowledge and enter into dialogue to present their arguments and provide the student the right to develop their own opinion.
    So my question to the public is why is so hard to acknowledge and enter into dialogue?
    And are we going back in time of the 50 and 60’s were people that had different thought about issues that concerned all citizens were black listed?
    Can someone explain to me what is happening today in the US? Please enter into dialogue with me and present your opinion.
    La maestra

  2. Academic freedom, is one of the most important rights that students and teachers have to express thier ideas and concerns.

  3. The biggest problem with Horowitz's idea is that he wants to legislate this. See my letter to the editor on the subject.--Ben Bayer

  4. Ben,
    Thanks for your response. I also agree that college students need to make thier own decisions based on different points of views an arguments.
    I am tired to be told what I am supposed to think, I want to think by myself and make my own judgements.
    It's embarrasing not allowing students to be themselves! I think is imperative to listen to all sides, to all arguments so I can develop my my views.
    I will get back to this later,
    but thanks for your post and I appreciate your letter,
    Jacqueline Romano

  5. As a senior at the University of Texas, I have been witness to several professors utilizing their classrooms to convince their students into becoming more liberal or anti-conservative. I find it unfortunate that many university professors do not attempt to present an objective point of view or at the very least, both sides of the story. Many students take in their professors words without questioning motive or intent. It is disheartening to sit in a classroom and hear professors and other students tear apart my political beliefs and even worse, make me feel uncomfortable or WRONG for being conservative. My desire is to form my own opinions and not have them given to me.

  6. I agree with the assertion that we must have self-awareness, mutual respect and seek to understand perspectives that differ from our own. It is only then that we can engage in an open, honest discourse on the critical issues facing us today and develop solutions; all key tenets of academic freedom.

    There will be times when we are going to feel uncomfortable. The topics at hand are not for the faint of heart. They are emotional, they spark heated debate, and we are forced to take a stand on either side of the spectrum...there is no "middle-of-the-road."

    Academic freedom involves dealing with such emotionally-charged topics in a respectful, responsible way. I think it is critical to be able to do some self-reflection and ask ourselves why we are having such a strong reaction to others' opinions/perspectives? Could it be that we are not ready to accept anyone's way of thinking other than our own? Could it be that we do not want to engage in a dialogue with people of differing views? Are we being ethnocentric? Could it be that our own assumptions, prejudices and biases are interfering with open communication? Do we dismiss differing views as ultra-conservative, ultra-liberal or someone with an agenda?

    I am a graduate student, have taken multiple classes dealing with cultural/linguistic diversity and issues of equity; I have enjoyed academic freedom. However, I still have "knee-jerk" reactions to opinions expressed that differ from my own. I, too, am indignant when I make the effort to engage fully in expressing my perspective only to find out that it may not be valued or it is in the minority. But I am empowered by the fact that it is always up to me to decide how I feel, how I act/react, and to understand why? Knowing this helps me accept differing perspectives without feeling obligated to adopt them. Rather, I feel obligated to learn from them.