Thursday, September 23, 2004

Silence in Schools?

Let's hope that this is as unrealistic and impossible as it sounds to any sane person:

The U.S. House of Representatives is now considering legislation that would establish an advisory board to study and regulate what is taught at American universities. This intrusion into higher education is not only unjust; it is antithetical to all values attributed to honest debate and intellectual freedom.

House Resolution 3077, titled the International Studies in Education Act, is sponsored by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., and is up for a vote later this month. Should the legislation pass, an advisory board will help monitor whether bias is found in certain teaching methods. The sponsors and supporters claim to support academic freedom, arguing that this advisory board will help ensure all sides are heard in the classroom and that bias will be eliminated.

While bias in the classroom can be detrimental to education, an advisory board could lead to more problems than it solves. Professor Mark Tessler, who teaches several political science courses at the university, makes a valid point when he worries that the bill's provisions will be exploited by "people with political agendas." This fear is well justified, as the board will be appointed by political figures: members of Congress, the secretary of education and national security officials.

Furthermore, while eliminating professor-induced bias, the bill might codify governmental bias. Because the board will have the power to defund international studies programs, teachers and faculty will be pressured into teaching the government-approved lessons.

This proposed bill is aimed at international studies, but if it passes and doesn't arouse a lot of opposition, more similar bills would be likely. I suspect that Women's Studies would be the first thing to go then, or at least the second after Gay and Lesbian Studies because they are not what the wingnuts want to see taught. Neither would they want courses on the consequences of colonialism or courses that critically look at the impact of religions. I'm also wondering how the Holocaust would be taught. Would there have to be an equal number of readings that say it never happened? Read the whole article. It's very scary, but I hope that this is one of those proposed laws that will never be heard about again. If not, you better start memorizing your favorite books.
Thanks to wyzardess for the link.

Here is another take on the proposed bill:

American scholars are alarmed by a controversial education bill that would increase government monitoring of federally funded programs in international studies at colleges and universities. Backers of the bill say it will help restore balance to Middle East studies programs, which they say are overly critical of Israel and of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Opponents say the bill could lead to intrusive investigations of faculty and will undermine the credibility of American scholarship.
Known as HR 3077, the International Studies in Education Act, the legislation reauthorizes funding for international studies. Its most controversial provision calls for the establishment of an advisory board comprised of seven government appointees: one each chosen by the majority and minority leaders of both houses of Congress and three selected by the Secretary of Education, two of whom represent agencies responsible for national security. The proposed board would have the authority "to study, monitor, apprise and evaluate a sample of activities" to ensure that programs represent "diverse perspectives."
Although the legislation was born out of the polarized debate about Middle East studies, it will apply to a variety of other academic programs related to international studies, including the study and research of modern languages, area studies and anthropology.
(Bolds mine)

Whatever the initial impetus for this proposed bill, it would provide a terrible precedent, I believe. Government control over the materials that are being taught in higher education is not the way to go if we wish to live in a country where creativity and freedom of expression are valued.