Given the seemingly non-stop political homilies delivered in place of old-fashioned classroom instruction from kindergarten through college, it probably should not surprise that educators themselves are educated that way. What is rather startling is that the educational establishment itself is starting to notice.
“We studied reading lists and course syllabi at 16 colleges of education, looking at courses required for teacher certification,” Professor David Steiner said in a recent debate. “What was surprising was what wasn’t there, namely conservative books.”
Professor Steiner, until recently the chairman of the Department of Education Policy at Boston University, defended his findings in a forum at the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI). Located here in Washington, D. C., PPI is a creation of the Democratic Leadership Council founded by former President Bill Clinton prior to his years in the White House.
“There were no books by E. D. Hirsch,” Professor Steiner explained. “There were no books by Diane Ravitch.” Both Hirsch and Ravitch have sharply criticized the move towards political correctness of the educational establishment.
No right-wing movement type, Professor Steiner worked for the Carter Administration and is currently serving in a civil service appointment at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Professor Steiner made it clear that his appearance at PPI was not connected with his service at the NEA.
“What we were looking for was exposure to differing points of view,” Professor Steiner said. “We found one syllabi that listed a text by Plato.”
The programs that Professor Steiner found encouraged teachers to “raise children to be social reformers.” And in those programs, Professor Steiner said, “Most foundational reading supports multiculturalism.”
For his part, Dan W. Butin of Gettysburg College (Pa.) takes issue with Professor Steiners findings, while inadvertently confirming many of them. Butin debated Professor Steiner at the PPI forum.
“Steiner’s call for ‘ideologically balanced’ content is a political and theoretical minefield,” Butin has written, “One teacher’s critical justice emphasis is another teacher’s disdain for rigor and clarity.”
Nonetheless, Butin admits, “This is a legitimate complaint.” Both Professor Steiner and Butin do agree that the curricula in schools of education lacks rigor.
“The over-reliance on textbooks and the scant use of primary sources, when linked to additional problematic institutional contexts, suggests that prospective teachers may be better prepared to replicate the educational status quo rather than engage in substantive inquiry, intellectual debate, and deep reflection,” Butin writes.
What Butin fears is that Professor Steiner’s work may provide ammunition to conservative critics of schools of education. It is a fear that may be well-founded.
At least Butin tried to do his own study and directly challenge Professor Steiner on his findings. Many in the educational establishment were much more underhanded.
“There was a whispering campaign in the teaching profession that greeted Professor Steiner’s work,” Andrew Rotterham, PPI’s Director of the 21st Century Schools Project pointed out. “This campaign did a great disservice to our profession.”