Should the Scientists Say It?

Okay, so you know about the ongoing frouforole in Arizona over its new science standards. Recent developments in the case leave us wondering: How should scientists make their case? Why wouldn’t they make it in the strongest way possible?

dobzhansky quotation

…here’s the most famous Dobzhansky line:

In case you’ve been napping, here’s a quick update: The political landscape in Arizona has led to some woeful watering down of the state’s science standards. Concerned scientists have weighed in, pleading with the state board of education to reject the shoddy new standards.

In their letter, the American Institute of Biological Sciences warns,

The proposed standards fail to properly address important aspects of evolution science and remove climate change science from the high school curricula.

Right on. Thanks to AIBS for weighing in. There’s no doubt that Arizona should maintain high-quality science standards.

This morning, though, we have to ask a question. To back up their point, AIBS offers two compelling reasons, but they leave out an obvious third one. Why?

I don’t think it’s because AIBS chose to stick only with science, their area of expertise. After all, one of their main points is economic. If Arizona wrecks its science standards, it will be shooting its economy in the foot. As AIBS puts is,

Arizona has made important investments in its universities. This has enabled companies throughout the state to hire skilled graduates who can leverage the knowledge generated by scientific research to create new products and expand existing markets. Importantly, in coming years, a growing number of jobs will require scientific expertise, even when those jobs do not require a college degree. Thus, it is important that science be properly taught to all students and at all grade levels.

According to the Arizona Commerce Authority, “Bioscience and health care in Arizona are thriving industries, treating patients and conducting groundbreaking research that will change the world. Arizona research institutions, industries and clinical care facilities collaborate in unique ways to create new products and improve care and outcomes.” The Authority reports on its website that bioscience and health care industries generate $21.4 billion in annual earnings for the state, and in 2015 were responsible for about 320,000 jobs in Arizona. Arizona will jeopardize its prior investments and future economic opportunities if it waters down science standards by eliminating essential scientific concepts and fields of study to placate political interests.

Exactly true. The economic knock-on effects of clamping down on mainstream science and science education will be huge. But that’s not the only reason AIBS gives for keeping good science standards.

As they argue, good education itself demands it. All of us should insist on the best for our kids, including the absolute best science education.

They cite the famous words of leading scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky,

“nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Dobzhansky offered these words decades ago, but they still ring true. Evolution is required to understand biology . . .

So far, so good. AIBS is 100% correct. Good science education is good in itself, and to be good it must include real evolutionary science. It’s also good for practical reasons, such as booming economic benefits.

But why, oh why, did AIBS leave out the other, screamingly obvious, part of their argument?

Dobzhansky meme creationisst

…Why not use the second-most famous Dobhansky quotation, too?

They could easily have added that evolutionary science does not deserve its reputation as an attack on religion. They could have simply added that Dr. Dobzhansky himself identified as “a creationist and an evolutionist.”

Why would AIBS do so? Consider their audience. If they want to stick to the science, fine. But clearly they don’t. They use economic arguments to speak to all Arizonans. Why not use the obvious religious argument as well? Why not point out that lots and lots (and lots) of creationists have absolutely no religious problem with real evolutionary theory?

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History by Design

No more Helen Keller! Out goes Hillary Clinton! The Texas state school board conducted another purge of its history curriculum recently. It’s tempting to see this as another right-wing curricular coup, but the winners and losers are a little more complicated. I gotta ask: Is this really the way we want to choose our history lessons?

Here’s what we know: The Dallas Morning News reported on the recent conclusions of the Texas state board of education. SAGLRROILYBYGTH may remember other famous flaps on the board as captured by the fascinating documentary The Revisionaries. Back in 2012, conservatives on the board cut out “hip-hop” and inserted “country music” on the list of essential school knowledge. They wanted more Reagan, more NRA, and more conservatism in general.

These battles aren’t limited to Texas. Back in the 1990s, when Gary Nash and his colleagues tried to introduce new national history standards, they were accused of left-wing indoctrination. As one US senator complained, their suggested standards had more Bart Simpson than George Washington.

Today’s board has cut the requirement that schools teach about Helen Keller and Hillary Clinton. But they have also cut conservative icon Barry Goldwater. Plus, they have inserted stronger language that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War.

How did these decisions get made? A work group was tasked with evaluating historical persons and terms according to a list of questions. As the Dallas Morning News reported,

The 15-member work group came up with a rubric for grading every historical figure to rank who is “essential” to learn and who isn’t. The formula asked questions like, “Did the person trigger a watershed change”; “Was the person from an underrepresented group”; and “Will their impact stand the test of time?”

Out of 20 points, Keller scored a 7 and Clinton scored a 5.

By way of comparison, “Texas Rangers” got 16 points and “local members of the Texas Legislature” got 20. The state board didn’t have to honor these recommendations. For example, the work group recommended the removal of Billy Graham (4 points) but the state board decided to keep him.

So here’s the real question: Why are history lists composed this way? Why do political boards compile list of essential terms and facts that teachers must teach, even if no student really learns them?

How Creationists Win

For those of us who want secular public schools and mainstream evolutionary science only in public-school science classes, the news from Arizona could be either a glass half-full or half-empty. Either way, though, it serves as a clear reminder of how creationism wins.

Here’s what we know: In Arizona, the superintendent of public instruction picked Joseph Kezele to serve on an eight-person board reviewing state science standards. Kezele is the president of the Arizona Origin Science Association. He is an ardent young-earth creationist. In his work on the board, he has nudged the standards toward more skepticism about mainstream evolutionary theory.

To this reporter, the story reveals the most important reason creationists win. As I’m arguing in my new book, it’s not really about evolutionary science itself. Before we get to that main reason, though, let’s look at some of the contributing factors:

1.) Creationists win by being polite.

Kezele’s fellow board members don’t like his radical creationism, but they do like him. As the University of Arizona’s William Roth told the Phoenix New Times, in all their interactions Kezele was “polite and thoughtful.”

2.) Creationists win by taking advantage of their grandparents’ work.

In this case, Kezele has credentials as a faculty member at Arizona Christian University. A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Education specifically identified Kezele’s faculty status as the main reason for Kezele’s inclusion on the board.

Though Arizona Christian University itself was founded only in 1960, it is part of the evangelical higher education network I described in Fundamentalist U. Since the 1920s, creationists founded their own network of universities specifically, in part, to provide a home for creationist scientists like Kezele.

These days, creationists like Kezele can only have higher-ed credentials because of the work of their parents, their grandparents, and in some cases, their great-grandparents. The fundamentalists who stormed out of mainstream colleges and started their own schools built a network that is still providing credentials and paychecks to radical creationists today.

3.) Creationists win by not asking for much.

In Arizona, according to Professor Roth, Kezele never tried to “foist any kind of creationism” on the committee. As Roth put it,

I never got the impression that he was really arguing for the inclusion of creationism in the standard. . . . I think he was pretty aware of the court rulings that religion is not going to be taught in science class.

Kezele did nudge the committee, though. For example, Kezele put his feet down to insist that the language be changed. Instead of explaining evolution as “THE” explanation for speciation, the new standards call evolution “AN” explanation. It’s a huge difference, to be sure, but worlds removed from actually adding any specific creationist content to the standards.

Historically, compared to the anti-evolution campaigners of the 1920s who sought to impose theocracy on America’s public schools, today’s creationist activists are fighting for curricular scraps and crumbs.

4.) Most important, creationists win these days for reasons that have nothing really to do with evangelical theology or evolutionary science.

It’s just politics. The superintendent who appointed Kezele wants creationism and evolution both to be included in public school science classrooms. But if she had not been elected, someone else who also favors creationism probably would have. As Arizona Central reported, Superintendent Diane Douglas was re-elected sought re-election from among a field crowded with creationism-friendly candidates. [Thanks to GB for the correction!]

Of the five Republican candidates for the job, four ardently supported teaching some sort of creationism in public schools. They may have had their personal reasons for wanting it, but they also made an obvious political calculation. If anyone is going to be elected in Arizona, that is, she must promise to make public schools creationism-friendly.

The reasons the candidates gave for supporting creationism in public schools were all about culture-war politics, not theology or science.

Candidate Frank Riggs, for example, argued that students needed creationism to be good Americans. As he put it, high-school students

should know what our founding fathers believed and put in our founding documents . . . “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” . . . We can’t skip over that, or we do a huge disservice to our students.

Another candidate, Tracy Livingston, poured some unadulterated MAGA rhetoric into the mix. Why should public schools include creationism? In her answer, Livingston bemoaned the “fact” that

Schools don’t even allow Merry Christmas anymore.

Why support creationism in public schools? For candidate Livingston, at least, it was part of a culture-war playbook. To Make America Great Again, schools needed to give Christianity a special spot. Children needed to be taught in a vaguely Christian atmosphere, one that included creationism.

It’s not science. It’s not even really religion. Instead, the main reason for creationist victories is simple, ugly, culture-war politics.

How do creationists win? Lots of reasons. They win if they are polite. They win if they take advantage of the long work of previous generations, establishing creationist institutions that can provide credentials. They win if they don’t ask for much, but insist on a little.

Most importantly, though, they win because they own the Republican Party in some locations. To win election as state superintendent of public education, candidates raced to out-creationist one another. Creationism has become yet another culture-war red flag. It’s not really about theology or science, but about what side you want to be on.

But What Do Conservative Students Think?

The headline caught my eye, but the actual survey sidestepped the main question. From what I can tell, we still don’t know the most important data of all.

CHE conservative students

Conservative students doing their thing…

At Chronicle of Higher Education, Steve Kolowich followed up on the political poopstorm that enveloped the University of Nebraska recently. SAGLRROILYBYGTH might remember the story. A conservative student activist felt berated by a progressive grad student and faculty member. The story caught the imagination of both local conservative politicians and the national culture-war paparazzi. The university was called to political account. Did they mistreat and abuse conservative students?

Apparently, as part of the process, the university teamed up with Gallup to conduct a campus climate survey. They wanted to know if students, faculty, staff, and alumni valued free speech. They wanted to know if conservatives felt free to speak their minds on campus. From what I can tell, however, it seems like they avoided the main question.

gallup u nebraska

Conservative students SHOULD feel free to talk…but DO they?

Most respondents thought that liberals were definitely able to “freely and openly express their views.” A large majority—though not quite so large as for liberals—thought that conservatives were too.

Maybe I’m reading the results wrong, but from what I can tell the survey avoided the main point. It asked respondents to identify as students, staff, faculty, or alumni. It asked respondents to identify by race, gender, and sexuality. But it didn’t ask students to identify by ideology. In other words, we might know how 4,403 student respondents felt, but we have no idea how conservative students felt, compared to liberal students.

To my mind, the survey missed the main point. We don’t only want to know how ALL students thought conservative students should feel. We really want to know how the conservative students themselves felt, and, importantly, if there was a meaningful distinction between how conservative students felt and how other students thought conservative students felt.

In other words, I’m not interested in what the campus as a whole thinks about conservative students. I want to find out what conservative students themselves think.

Gay Students and the New Fundamentalism

The distinction between “new evangelicalism” and “fundamentalism” was never all that clear. As a story from my neighborhood this week shows, though, it is getting easier to see the difference on the campuses of evangelical colleges and universities. We seem to have a new fundamentalist checklist, not of policies necessarily, but of institutional attitudes on certain key issues.

campbell csu

Out and out.

As I described in Fundamentalist U, the split between fundamentalists and new evangelicals was not a clean break on evangelical campuses. Between the late 1940s and, say, the late 1980s, there were a lot of continuing close connections between evangelical schools that remained with the “fundamentalist” branch of the family and those that had moved to the “new evangelical” side.

These days, generally, the “fundamentalist” label is out of fashion, even among fundamentalist stalwarts such as Bob Jones University. But the meaning remains, and these days we are seeing a clearer and clearer dividing line between evangelical colleges and no-longer-fundamentalist-in-name-but-fundamentalist-in-spirit institutions.

How do you know these days if a school is fundamentalist? It’s not necessarily a question of policies, but rather a spirit in which certain hard-line positions are maintained and a zeal with which they are publicized. ALL evangelical colleges and universities will be creationist, for example. And all will—from a mainstream perspective—have discriminatory policies against LGBTQ+ students and faculty. All conservative-evangelical schools will also tip toward conservative politics and cultural traditionalism.

The fundamentalist branch of the family, though, will insist on the hard edge of these positions in a consistently aggressive way and they will go out of their way to publicize their hard stand on these issues. Fundamentalist schools will trumpet their insistence on the following:

  • Young-earth creationism ONLY;
  • Political and cultural traditionalism;
  • And, most relevant for our purposes today, a loud, publicized hard line against any whiff of homosexuality on campus.

Consider the news from Clarks Summit. A former student has tried to re-enroll. Gary Campbell dropped out in 2005, only six credits shy of his degree. After a rough stint in the Navy, Campbell now wants to return. The school says no.

According to Campbell, the Dean of Students contacted him to let him know Campbell won’t be allowed to return, because Campbell is homosexual.

To be clear, from a mainstream perspective, all evangelical colleges discriminate against LGBTQ+ students and faculty. Even firmly non-fundamentalist evangelical institutions such as Gordon College and Wheaton College have issued reminders recently that gay is not okay.

But Clarks Summit University’s stance has a hard edge to it that helps define the new fundamentalism. Campbell’s sexual identity was apparently revealed to administrators by a fellow student, at least according to Campbell. The school could easily have re-admitted Campbell quietly.

Instead, the school’s administration chose to use this case as a chance to publicize its hard line. When journalists called about Campbell’s story, the university issued the following statement:

As a Christian college, we expect all students to act in a way that is consistent with our biblical belief system. We have always clearly stated those beliefs and have exercised the freedom to uphold our faith. . . . To prepare students for worldwide service opportunities, CSU clearly affirms biblical sexuality. We clearly communicate to all prospective students that we adhere to biblical truths, and expect them to do the same. That is part of what has made CSU a successful educator for more than 80 years. We would be happy to assist any former or prospective student who does not choose to agree with those faith standards to find another school in order to finish a degree.

These days, to be a fundamentalist institution means flying and flaunting the fundamentalist flag. It means taking every opportunity to enforce hard lines on sexual identity.

We see the same phenomenon in other issues such as creationism or political conservatism. In order to remain attractive to fundamentalist students and parents, school administrators take drastic steps to ratchet up their commitment to young-earth creationism or knee-jerk political conservatism.

What does it mean to be “fundamentalist” these days in evangelical higher education? As has Clarks Summit University, it means taking and, importantly, publicizing a hard line on issues of sexuality, creation, and political conservatism.

Fundamentalist colleges want their level of commitment to be known. They hope students, alumni, parents, and donors will recognize their positions and reward them with continued enrollments, donations, and support.

Will Liberty Get on the Ozark Train?

For those people who still think evangelicalism should primarily be defined by theological distinctions, consider the news: Yet another conservative evangelical college is considering dropping its Nike contract over the anthem-protest issue. How does theology explain that one?

falwell on nike

Football, America, and God too.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH will remember that the College of the Ozarks already announced its anti-Nike stance in the wake of Nike’s Colin-Kaepernick ad. They may also recall our point here at ILYBYGTH that such staunch knee-jerk conservative patriotism was not the exception, but the rule for evangelical universities in the twentieth century.

Some might say that COE’s uber-patriotism is just an odd outlier in the world of evangelical higher education. Today it looks like COE might have more company. According to President Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University in Virginia is considering scrapping its sponsorship deal with Nike. Unlike College of the Ozarks, Liberty is a cash-rich up-and-comer in the world of NCAA athletics.

As Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. told USA Today:

We’re exploring the situation. . . . If Nike really does believe that law enforcement in this country is unfair and biased, I think we will look around. If we have a contract, we’ll honor it, but we strongly support law enforcement and strongly support our military and veterans who died to protect our freedoms and if the company really believes what Colin Kaepernick believes, it’s going to be hard for us to keep doing business with them.

But if it’s just a publicity stunt to bring attention to Nike or whatever, that’s different. We understand that. We understand how marketing works. But they’re going to have to convince us that they’re not proactively attacking law enforcement officers and our military. If that’s the reason behind using this ad, we’re going to have a hard time staying.

For many Americans, Falwell’s defiant conservative patriotism makes sense. For a lot of people, it’s probably even admirable. But how is it part of evangelical religion?

In short, it’s not, if we try to define evangelicalism only by theological notions such as a reverence for Scripture and an emphasis on soul-winning.

But! If we understand American evangelicalism—the Falwell/Liberty kind, at least—as a conservative cultural mish-mash, including conservative ideas about religion, but also about race, the South, gender rules, sexuality, and so on, then Falwell’s aggressive militarism fits perfectly.

An Exception? Or a Rule?

Conservatives are cutting up their socks in protest. And at least one evangelical college has dumped Nike over its defense of Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests. Some in-the-know commentators think this is way out of bounds for evangelical schools. Historically, though…not so much. Is knee-jerk patriotism the rule or the exception at conservative evangelical colleges?

nike sock protest

Take that, anti-anthem mega-corp!

As I argued in Fundamentalist U, during the twentieth century aggressive conservative patriotism played a large role at all the evangelical colleges I studied. At some, such as The King’s College and John Brown University, it became a central focus. In the mid-1960s, at least, notions of fusing traditional patriotic conservatism with evangelical conservatism held a lot of appeal for many evangelical academic types.

A “Freedom Forum” planned at Gordon College in 1965, for instance, offered the following rationale:

What philosophy shall give direction to the material world we are developing?  Shall the long-felt influence of the Christian ethic be brought to bear on current history?  Dare we succumb to the seemingly plausible suggestions that in our time government-over-man is preferable to America’s long proven concept of man-over government?

Can we survive as a people, even with our unparalleled abundance of things, if our thinking excludes our traditionally motivating intangibles . . . . [sic ellipsis in original] reverence for God, total human concern for the individual, an abiding dedication to preservation of our Constitution and a cherishing regard for personal Freedom? [sic]

The Christian educator occupies a unique position of leadership from which emanate those spiritual emphases which give salutary meaning and purpose to life, not only individual but national.  Waiting for that leadership are millions of earnest Americans who need help in their endeavor to ‘prove all things and hold fast that which is good.’ . . .

Objective: Inclusion in the curricula and teaching emphasis in Christian colleges of a pervading high regard for Freedom in its spiritual, economic and political dimensions and to create an informed student-citizen leadership needed to safeguard and extend Freedom in the years ahead.”

In the end, under pressure from Gordon faculty to avoid too close collusion with the political “extreme right,” the vaunted Freedom Forum didn’t happen. But there was always—and I think still is—a very strong push among many evangelicals to tie their conservative patriotic impulses to their religious beliefs.

american studies conference 1966 program

For God and Country…or Country and God…?

This is true not only for uber-patriotic schools such as Harding, John Brown, and the College of the Ozarks. Giants like Liberty University and smaller schools such as Mid-America Nazarene still have a hard time figuring out the relationship between religion and patriotism, with patriotism often coming out on top.

In this case, College of the Ozarks certainly seems like a Nike-hating outlier. But is the impulse to in-your-face conservative patriotism really so out of bounds for other conservative evangelical colleges? I don’t think so.

The Even-Less-Sexy Truth about this Sexy Scandal

Sometimes the devil doesn’t wear Prada. Sometimes she wears clunky oversized glasses and ostentatiously kitschy t-shirts. At least, that’s the lesson I’m getting from the sad stories oozing out of New York University’s latest scandal. What I don’t understand is why so many academic commentators think the situation is somehow unique to elite academic life. To this reporter, it seems that condemnations of grad studies as “cultish subjection” seem to sidestep the most important point.

Here are the basics: NYU’s comparative literature department is roiled by accusations and counter-accusations in the case of Professor Avital Ronell. Ronell is accused by former graduate student Nimrod Reitman of harassment and abuse. The accusation is littered with kooky emails [here are some examples] and trainwreck-level details about their relationship.

Adding even more complication, several top scholars have come to Prof. Ronell’s defense, claiming special status as feminists.

avital ronell

…you are under my commaaaand…

Former students of Ronell’s have gone public with their additional accusations. According to former student Andrea Long Chu, Ronell really was a mercurial, dictatorial, needy oddball. She insisted her grad students relish their status of “cultish subjection.”

Is this a story a condemnation of elite academic culture? As Corey Robin has argued, is this about more than sex, more than feminism? Professor Robin has argued the case was really about

the question of power. This is a grad student trying to make his way in an institution where everything depends on the good (or bad) word of his adviser.

To my mind, that sounds true enough, but I don’t see how this problematic relationship is unique to academic life. It seems to me that anytime employees are dependent on their boss’s good opinion, exceptions like this will pop up.

I don’t see how this sad scandal tells us anything that we didn’t already know. Namely, in any job in which the employee is willing to do anything to get ahead, some exceptional bosses will take cruel advantage.

Does This Help?

We all know it doesn’t help much to know someone’s religion. That is, just knowing that someone is Catholic, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Protestant doesn’t really tell us much about them. We want to know what KIND of Protestant someone is, what KIND of religious person. The folks at Pew have taken a stab at a new way of grouping religious people. Instead of denominations, sects, or faiths, Pew offers new “typologies.” Do they help you understand American religious and culture better? And do they confirm Professor Hunter’s twenty-five-(plus!)-year-old prediction?Pew typologies

Here’s what we know: The typologies cluster Americans into three categories and seven groups. Some people are “highly” religious, others are “somewhat” religious, and the rest are “non-religious.” The highly religious folks are subdivided into “Sunday Stalwarts,” “God-and-Country,” and “Diversely Devout.” The somewhats are broken down into “Relaxed Religious” and “Spiritually Awake.” The non-religious are cut up into “Religion Resisters” and the “Solidly Secular.”

In some ways, these categories point out surprising facts. For example, as Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta pointed out, the Solidly Secular are surprisingly similar to the stereotype of the GOP: Richer, whiter, and maler than the American average.

In other cases, the categories seem to confirm culture-war stereotypes. As the report notes,

Although no political measures were used to create the typology, arraying the groups from most to least religious also effectively sorts Americans by party identification and political ideology. Republicans make up a majority of Sunday Stalwarts and God-and-Country Believers, while even larger majorities of Democrats comprise the two nonreligious groups. Similarly, self-described conservatives prevail among the two most religious groups, while, by comparison, the two nonreligious groups lean left.

Certainly, when we look at the three “highly” religious typologies, they seem to tilt hard to the cultural right. For example, they are more likely than average to think homosexuality is morally wrong. They are more likely to be leery of immigrants. And the Sunday Stalwarts and God-and-Country folks are more likely to think racial inequalities are a thing of the past.Pew typologies 3 very religious

To my mind, these typologies are much more useful than traditional labels such as “evangelical.” Lots of self-identified evangelicals, for example, cluster in the Sunday Stalwart, God-and-Country, and Diversely Devout types. But there are also plenty of evangelicals who are more “relaxed” about their faiths.

In part, these types seem to confirm what sociologist James Davison Hunter predicted back in the early 1990s. His claim at the time was that traditional religious labels would become less and less important. It would matter less and less, Professor Hunter argued, if someone was Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim. Instead, people would tend to cluster around the culture-war poles, either “orthodox” or “progressive.”

Does it work for you? Do you feel these types are more useful than traditional labels to understand religious and cultural life in America? Do you fit into one of these typologies, or do they seem too simplistic?

Teachers as Culture Warriors? …Really?

Have you hung out with a schoolteacher lately? In general, we are a pretty mild-mannered set. Sure, there’s the occasional Thursday-night margarita/gripefest, but by and large the teachers I know are mostly interested in doing their jobs well and eventually paying off their student loans. So why, oh why, have teachers always been at the forefront of our educational culture wars? For at least a century, teachers have been the darlings of the Left and the demons of the Right.

Gillum

Love em…

We see it again in the recent surprise victory of Andrew Gillum in Florida. The mayor of Tallahassee, Gillum was far from the front runner in the state’s democratic primary for governor. How did he score the surprise win? For one thing, Gillum has promised to boost pay for Florida’s teachers. As Gillum told his story,

We didn’t have much money, but my parents and grandmother made sure we took our education seriously. I was blessed to have great public school teachers who poured their energy, time and love into me.

Without them I wouldn’t be running for Governor today — and next year as Governor, we’re going to give all of our teachers and support staff the raise they deserve. From setting a statewide floor for new teachers’ salaries of $50,000, to bringing every public school instructional teacher up to the national salary average of $58,000, and making sure veteran teachers are compensated for their years of service, it’s time our teachers get paid appropriately for doing some of the important work in our society.

Right now, they’re woefully underpaid, and many are struggling to provide for themselves.

For Mayor Gillum and other lefties these days, public-school teachers represent all that is good and hopeful in American politics. By maintaining strong unions (maybe) and striking for better conditions, teachers have come to serve—for some—as a symbol of socialist promise.

For once, conservative pundits agree. Unlike Gillum, conservatives hate it, but they agree that teachers are a powerful force for the Left. As one conservative writer described, teachers are

spending time promoting a left-wing agenda and bullying conservative students rather than teaching the subjects they are paid to teach.

It was ever thus. As I argued in my book about the history of conservative educational activism, I looked at culture-war thinking about teachers throughout the twentieth century. In every decade, in every school controversy, teachers were beloved by progressives and despised by conservatives. The assumptions were usually the same—wild-eyed leftist teachers were trying to warp their students’ minds, to get kids to embrace the latest versions of amorality and socialism.

Zoll, Progressive Education Increases Delinquency

… or hate em, both sides agree that teachers are progressive culture warriors.

For example, in 1935 US Communist Party leader Earl Browder took to the pages of Social Frontier journal to encourage teachers to fulfill their potential, to serve as a “special sector of a common battle-front” for progressive ideals. In the same era, right-wing education pundit Allen Zoll condemned precisely the same goal for teachers. Too many teachers, Zoll denounced, only wanted to promote the “inculcation of currently popular herd ideas on a mass basis.” The ultimate goal of teachers, Zoll believed, was to produce

a tragically misshapen generation . . . without the ability to think for themselves, filled only with the desired herd ideas—fit only to be citizens of the authoritarian state?

Both Zoll and Browder were extremists, but they shared this vision of the power, promise, and plausibility of large numbers of teachers who see their main goal as promoting leftist politics.

And, of course, the stereotype sometimes fits. I know teachers who see their primary mission as political. Some teachers hope to push their students toward a leftist viewpoint. But most teachers are mainly trying to help students do as much as well as students can.

So here are my questions this morning:

  • Do many teachers really fit the culture-warrior stereotype?
  • If not, why are those stereotypes so powerful and so enduring?