Taxpayer subsidized textbooks tend to tilt left, often aggressively so. Mary Grabar notes that this is especially obvious with composition textbooks:
Freshman composition class at many colleges is propaganda time, with textbooks conferring early sainthood on President Obama and lavishing attention on writers of the far left—Howard Zinn, Christopher Hedges, Peter Singer and Barbara Ehrenreich, for instance–but rarely on moderates, let alone anyone right of center. Democrats do very well in these books, but Abraham Lincoln–when included–is generally the most recent Republican featured.
Four years ago in Texas, a conservative-leaning state board of education made a push for more balance in high school history textbooks, and at one point it looked as if they had scored a decisive victory. Unfortunately, pinning down a left-leaning education establishment and getting it to implement an even-handed history curriculum is like nailing Jello to a wall. You can drive the nail through the Jello and into the wall, but the minute you step away, the Jello slides away.
This is what happened in Texas. The state board issued its mandates. A news headline declared, “Texas Kicks Out Liberal Bias From Textbooks.” Four years later, the left-leaning bias remains largely intact.
There’s a lesson here. The left marched through the institutions of the West over the past three generations, transforming them from inside. Restoring sanity and balance to our educational institutions will require a similar approach.
That being said, there is policy work to be done. It’d be nice, for instance, if there were more legislative efforts to push back the Washington power grab that is Common Core.
Beyond this, there’s a legislative strategy that could pay huge long-term dividends, though it requires a degree of political leadership and persistence that is rare these days. I’m talking about breaking the taxpayer funded educational monopoly at the elementary and secondary school level by implementing widespread school choice.
If schools were competing for parents’ education voucher dollars, then there would be an incentive to stay focused on teaching the material fairly and competently rather than in using composition and history classes to convince kids that their nation is an awful blight in desperate need of redemption from the far left.
School choice wouldn’t be a cure-all for the bias problem, and a a school choice market would come with its own set of challenges, particularly if the federal government is subsidizing it. But at least it’d be the difference between the incentive structure driving the smartphone market and the one governing the Department of Motor vehicles and the VA hospital.
And, of course, it’s not just a bias problem. Despite many talented and dedicated teachers, the overall return on investment from our public schools is so discouraging that even a group of left-leaning documentary filmmakers felt compelled to dramatize the problem in the Sundance Audience Award winner Waiting for Superman.
The documentary follows several families who are waiting to see if they win a lottery to escape their failed public schools. They and others desperately want educational choice, but as the film shows, the establishment is fighting it tooth and nail.
Going forward what would be nice are some political leaders willing to offer more than lip service to the school choice cause. We need statesmen willing to “waste” some political capital on educational freedom. Win that fight, and the cause of freedom on a host of fronts begins to get easier ten, twenty and thirty years out.
American education is in crisis.While these problems have many dimensions and require reform on many fronts, historian and education policy analyst Kevin Schmiesing identifies the overarching challenge as reinvigorating parental initiative and responsibility in schooling.