Our son and daughter-in-law both attend universities in the area, and they have worked hard for their academic success. Needless to say, both sets of parents think they’re the smartest and most hard-working pair in the state, and of course we’re correct. One of the joys of having them in college is the conversations we have regarding the various aspects of their experiences on campus — including the politics of instruction.
This morning, I got an e-mail from my daughter-in-law, who wanted to challenge something she heard in her education class this week:
I am reading a book by Alfie Kohn [The Schools Our Children Deserve] and ran across some enlightening things I thought I should share with you. He begins to talk about how right wingers oppose standardized tests because they are federal and national and we would prefer them to be locally run. Then, a note, it goes on to explain why these views are motivated by things other than learning.
“Interestingly, the Christian Right has opposed not only national standards and testing but also some dreadful state tests . . . One national leader of the Christian Right regards standardized tests as evidence of government mind control. Those of us who arrive at our oppostition from a very different point of departure may be tempted to make common cause with this constituency. Such an alliance will not last long, however, given that these same people are vociferous supporters of a back-to-basics agenda for classroom instruction. (“To those whose world is bounded and defined by religous faith,” writes one conservative, “it would be sacreligous to oblige their children to become critical thinkers and independent questioners of authority” [Manno, 1995, p. 723].) Moreover, the alternative to federal (or even state) mandates is a kind of control at the local level that aften continues to exclude the active participation of teachers and students. (page 243)”
I thought this was intriguing enough to share with you, and since she wanted my response to take with her, I’ll share that as well (with personal references redacted):
Most conservatives I know don’t mind objective-measurement tests at all. They just object to federal intrusion into what should be a function controlled by parents at the local level. I think the author may be smoking something when he claims that the Christian Right has a problem with children being critical thinkers. He may not realize it, but most of the critical thinkers of the last 1000 years have been supported by the Christian churches, including most of the scientists and a large percentage of the philosophers. I know many Christians, and I’ve never heard it said that they want their children to have no critical thinking. In fact, what we see is a university system that is much more dogmatic than any church — and the campus speech codes and political proselytizing that you see confirm that.
Let me ask you this. Where would you feel more comfortable — being conservative on a school campus, or more libertarian/liberal at church? … Now, who are the freethinkers and who are the dogmatists?
Watch out when someone says “A national Christian leader”. That could mean anyone, including the Rev. Gene Scott, a nutcase out of Orange County who’s hilariously entertaining but represents no one. That’s a common dodge used to smear a lot of normal people (and that’s true in almost any political context — conservatives do it too). Who’s the leader he’s quoting? Who does he represent? If the reference is that non-specific, it’s bullshit, if you’ll pardon my language.
I’m curious about this assertion — “Moreover, the alternative to federal (or even state) mandates is a kind of control at the local level that aften continues to exclude the active participation of teachers and students.” How does federal control *help* the participation of local students and teachers? It’s completely backwards. The farther away control lies, the less effect individuals have on the system. Local control of education allows students and teachers to have a far greater impact on the quality and delivery of education at the specific schools. Federal control means the only people who have influence on the system are lobbyists for the NEA and perhaps the textbook publishers.
I added this afterwards:
None of the conservatives in California objected to the state’s standardized test for children — it was the liberals who had it thrown out for being ethnically biased [in the 1980s]. The replacement test, using essay questions and unclear standards of review, got tossed when its authors refused to show the test to parents before administering it to their children. … Conservatives wanted the standardized, *objective* test that had been used for decades, and administered by the state.
When Dinesh D’Souza talks about anti-religious bias in higher education, this is what he means.
UPDATE: NRA should have been NEA; thanks to commenter MarkD for the correction.