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.
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.
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.
Vol. 25, Issue 32, Pages 5,18