Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Next Great Battle in the Conservative Revolution is...


Specifically, college textbooks. Note this post from a college textbook author:
At least superficially, the Right’s counterattack on the Left-dominated academy seems a roaring success. We now have dozens of conservative-leaning think tanks whose experts daily churn out policy analyses, together with innumerable Internet sites telling our side of the political story. Add traditional media outlets galore, particularly Fox Cable News, our own conventions — even affinity European and Caribbean cruises where we can eat, drink, and be re-energized.

Unfortunately, this otherwise vigorous counterattack lacks a critical element: the college textbook. Here our ideological enemies totally, absolutely, and positively dominate, and this power undoubtedly trumps our entire arsenal. In the war over culture, the college textbook is the ultimate weapon, but one all too easily ignored.

Thus, every semester, thousands of undergraduate learn American government, sociology, anthropology, or history from these books and the accompanying lectures that often regurgitate textbook material. Exams guarantee attentiveness to these textbooks, no matter how cockeyed.

This influence cannot be exaggerated. The dozens of erudite (conservative) policy analyses that daily enter my e-mail inbox probably have a half-life of one day, and sheer volume suggests that many are only scanned. By contrast, the college textbook’s half life might be measured in decades, and the student hours expended reading them must annually run into the millions. Textbooks often survive for generations thanks to updated editions. Further keep in mind that textbooks target impressionable youngster. For those hoping to win the Culture War, “owning” the textbook market is akin to capturing the enemy’s capital. To illustrate the power of textbooks to influence culture, consider a bit of research conducted by my friend Steve Goldberg, a now retired CCNY sociologist. His concern was how introductory sociology textbooks recount Margaret Mead’s 1935 description of sex roles among the Tchambuli of New Guinea. To condense a long story, Mead’s description somewhat under-played male dominance, e.g., noting effete male headhunters. But she never argued that sex roles were malleable, and in a 1937 letter to the American Anthropologist, Mead strongly reiterated this point (and did so repeatedly over her distinguished career). Nevertheless, Goldberg checked some forty introductory sociology textbooks 40 years after Mead’s writings and found that over 90 percent claimed that Mead’s research “showed” the malleability of sex roles. Goldberg then wrote a letter to Contemporary Sociology, the book-review journal of the sociology profession, pointing out the textbook misinterpretation of Mead’s research. A decade later, Goldberg again checked textbook interpretations — the error had still not been corrected.

In other words, tens of thousands of college-educated youngsters have now “learned” that sex roles are “socially constructed,” and if challenged, they will correctly say, “I read in my college textbook that it was proven by Margaret Mead’s field research, and my professor spent two class periods telling us how the lack of women engineers results only from gender discrimination.”

For four decades, I have assigned textbooks to my students. Let me emphasize the difficulty of avoiding the Left’s ideology mongering. Bias is inescapable, perhaps consciously inserted to boost sales among the faithful, and the best that I can hope for is just bland one-sidedness. At least here my lectures can add omitted material, a far superior strategy than telling students, “don’t believe your textbook,” to which they will rightfully respond, “then why did you a assign it?

I have had problems with this myself in education. It is something we on the conservative side must fight against and get involved in. We need more texts out there that can be used by professors and others who want something other than the left's self-help as education nonsense to dominate. However, as the author says, there is hope. Check out the full article.