Editor's note. "Elena Callas" is the pseudonym of a teacher in the New York metropolitan area. This article was origianlly submitted as a letter to Academic Questions, in response to Douglas Campbell's article.
I am writing in response to Douglas G. Campbell’s article, “The Classroom without Reason” because I think it is vitally important for people to understand that the doctrines of liberalism are not only taught in universities, but have trickled down to high school, middle schools, and most alarmingly to elementary schools. As an educator of both elementary and middle school children, I have experienced first-hand what David Horowitz aptly calls the “one party classroom” and it is profoundly disturbing. I would like to outline what I have seen, participated in, and reacted against as teacher of children, in a system that has been infiltrated by enemies of true academic freedom and rational thinking. All examples are from my own experience.
1. Truth vs. Feeling
Mr. Campbell begins with the notion of truth, which presupposes that teachers have had some foundation in how to think rationally, make arguments, and engage in Socratic elements of inquiry and debate. Most primary and secondary teacher preparation programs do not have courses in basic philosophy, and skip straight to philosophical issues of education. The assumption then is that college students have been learning to think philosophically in their elementary and secondary schools. Sadly this is not the case. Most teachers are inundated with standardized testing and teach “to the test,” instead of teaching how think critically, the fundamental aspect of advanced human rational thought. Much of the remaining time is spent on the concept of feeling, namely in the form of diversity and social justice. While these concepts are important, how can children be expected to understand them without the development of the skills, processes, and habits of inquiry? In other words, educators are skipping the foundation and building cheap structures that cannot withstand true analysis - which I believe is at the heart of the liberal abhorrence to honest and open debate.
Case in point:
A fourth grade teacher spent several weeks teaching her students about freedom of speech. Teacher A shares several examples of political cartons depicting President Bush as an idiot, a monkey, and a fool. No examples are shown of other Presidents, nor are there dissenting examples. Ten year old children are encouraged to discuss “their” opinions of Bush and then create their own political cartoons criticizing Bush. These are displayed and celebrated as “the right to criticize our leaders.” As a former fourth grade teacher, I understand that ten year olds naturally parrot the beliefs and attitudes of their parents. Most will also say and do what their teacher tells them. So, the lesson learned was not about free speech but that Bush is an idiot and a bad person.
2. Social activism
At the primary level, students are being bred to be social activists. I myself have participated in this. In my early years, the district encouraged teachers to engage elementary students in writing about social issues, never mind that most of them were still struggling with writing in general. All that mattered was getting the prescribed social message across. I have since revisited the topic of social justice with middle schoolers in a literary project about satire. I had no political or social agenda, but sought to teach students how to recognize and analyze satire, including its purpose, techniques of, and its effectiveness as a vehicle for social change.
Case in point:
Third Grade Teacher B is enthusiastic about the 2008 election – so much so, that she puts up a bulletin board display in her room of only the Democratic candidate. The display also contains photographs and memorabilia of other Democratic politicians. Teacher B wears buttons, t-shirts, and hats during the school day proclaiming her ideology. Finally, Teacher B reads aloud a child-friendly biography of Obama. The Republican candidate does not exist in this classroom, except as the antithesis of all that is the Democratic one. The lesson learned was not about the political process and presidential candidates, but that Democrats are good and one should support Barack Obama.
Most young children want to please their teachers and most kids will not dissent from the majority unless they really feel safe to do so. This is especially true of middle schoolers, for whom peer acceptance is everything. This gives teachers a lot of power. They have the ability of the bully pulpit, but more importantly they shape the cultures within their classrooms. During my time as a seventh and eighth grade Social Studies teacher, I made it my practice to never disclose my political ideologies and affiliations. I spent much of my teaching time engaging students in a kind of Socratic seminar. When issues were debated, I probed students to question what they believed to be true, often by taking the opposite viewpoint. What mattered, I explained to them, was not so much what they thought, but why they thought it and how they came to their conclusions. Only by consistent and daily practice of the methods of inquiry did they begin to engage in the habits of skepticism, critical thinking, logic, and rhetoric. It became a kind of classroom “burning question” – was their teacher a Democrat or Republican and I prided myself on the fact that they could not tell. My goal was for students to walk out of my classroom armed with the tools to really think and act for themselves, based on rational thought and not on emotion. It is of great concern that primary and secondary education is not what Mr. Campbell describes as “the triumph of facts, logic and reason.” In its stead, students are the receptacles of the whims, feelings, and emotions of individuals who seek to indoctrinate others into their beliefs.
Case in point:
Teacher X overhears several third grade students talking outside her room. Johnny says, “I hate
.” Other children agree. Johnny says “All people from Texas are stupid.” Teacher X goes out into the hall and asks students why they think this. Johnny replies, “Teacher C told us that Bush is from Texas and Bush is dumb.” Teacher X asks Johnny to explain why that makes all people from Texas stupid. Johnny answers, “Because our teacher told us that all people who live in Texas are Republicans.” The lesson learned was that Republicans are stupid and by proxy all Texans are stupid. Texas
4. Responsibility of educators
Mr. Campbell raises the essential issue of the educator’s responsibility. Much of the time, I feel as though I am alone in my belief that it is my role to teach students how to think instead of what to think. When teachers make flippant disparaging comments about political leaders, they have a captive and attentive audience. That audience listens to everything that teacher says and does not say; they adapt to the teacher’s style and attitudes and eventually a culture is created. That culture often takes on a life of its own and goes beyond the classroom – the indoctrinated act independently of their masters – which is precisely what the liberals intend.
Case in point:
It was lunchtime and eight year old Michelle was crying again. Teacher Y is this week’s lunchtime monitor and has witnessed the continual bullying of Michelle by her classmates. Today’s episode was by far the worst. Michelle had been backed against a fence and was cowering. Teacher Y interrupted the vicious attack. What was Michelle’s crime, Teacher Y wondered? After some prodding, Michelle confided that she was being harassed because her parents were Republicans. When asked why, Michelle explained that her teacher talked to the class about the upcoming election and told the kids that Democrats were for helping poor people and that Republicans were for the rich. Teacher Y went to see Michelle’s teacher. Teacher D rolled her eyes and said “Michelle is weird – that’s why the kids make fun of her. Her parents are religious freaks.” The lesson learned was that intolerance and bigotry is acceptable when in defense of the liberal agenda.
is being taught in the classrooms? Most look the other way; many even subversively encourage the liberal agenda. The whole middle school gathered in the auditorium for Obama’s inauguration and when President Bush appeared on the screen, a chorus of “boos” erupted from the students and some teachers even laughed and clapped. The administrators said and did nothing – their nonaction spoke volumes.
5. Academic freedom
I love to learn and would be a professional student if I could afford it. This is the product of an upbringing that taught me the value of education as kind of freedom of thought and expression. I naively believed that because I understood that all people have the right to academic freedom, that my right would in turn be respected, especially by my fellow educators.
Case in point:
The day Bush was reelected, my school went into mourning. A friend told me that a colleague of mine made a disparaging comment about me because I had voted for Bush. When I saw this same colleague later that day, she refused to speak to me. Because I had known her for years, I decided to call her out on her behavior. In a nutshell, her response to me was that people like me scared her and she feared for the future of our country. I asked her what on earth she was talking about – I said “You have known me for years; you know that I am a good, kind, and decent person.” She responded with, “Tell me the truth, do you even know any gay people? Do you have any gay friends?” The lesson learned was that liberalism is a great hypocrisy – one must tow the collective line in order to be accepted and respected. Dissenters will be attacked publicly and personally.
I used to think that schools and universities were places of academic freedom. I have since learned that this is mostly a sham – that it is the rare teacher who actually allows and facilitates the free exchange of ideas. What is even rarer is a person who speaks out against politicalization in the classroom. Mr. Campbell is to be applauded for his courage and strength of character. My experiences as a classroom teacher have made me tired of keeping my mouth shut. And recently I found myself in a position to speak out.
This fall, I was taking some continuing education classes in history at my local University. My American History professor was an adjunct whose day job was ironically that of a middle school teacher. He was very knowledgeable about his subject matter, but as the semester got under way, he began to insert his political opinions that had no clear relevance to the subjects we were discussing. Each comment was more vitriolic than the last. I sat there and stewed, roasting him in mind as an enemy of academic freedom, as the undergraduates laughed or texted friends, and surfed the internet. Finally, the day came, when he pushed it too far. He went into a five minute rant about “Mr. Bush and his war.” As a way of emphasizing his point, the professor explained that he had once been a member of the Young Republicans Club, before he had seen the light (my words). He warned us all about not being fooled by the Republicans again this election – he was in such a rage at this point that he talked like a preacher – “they’ll tell you, you won’t be safe from the terrorists if you elect Obama, but don’t listen to ‘em. Fool me once, etc.” At this point, I spoke out, saying “That is totally unfair. Both parties engage in this type of rhetoric during elections and it is manipulative for you to present it as one-sided.” My outburst completely stunned the professor and the ensuing silence was deafening. After a few moments, the professor went back to his lecture as if nothing had happened.
And then a very remarkable thing happened. The following week, the professor began by saying that he had been thinking a lot about what had happened in class the previous week. He said that he wanted to issue me a formal apology. He said that when he was in school, he had made a promise never to impose his personal opinions on his students and that my outburst had essentially reminded him of what he thought was his duty. Now it was my turn to be dumbstruck. The lesson learned was that speaking out can make a difference. It was of no small measure to me that a battle was won in the war for academic freedom. It is worth the fight – for the children who become the adults of tomorrow, it is worth the fight.