Editor – Political bias in education has long been a fiery topic for conservatives. It doesn’t take much to ferret out myriad examples of teachers and professors promoting a particular political and social agenda at the expense of others. As the bending, twisting and downright altering of facts continues unabated, we must begin to examine what has become a system of indoctrination rather than education.
At the core of this dilemma are textbooks being written by leftists and used by teachers who share their mindset in schools across the nation. If we are to arrest the churning out of programmed children who grow up with few critical-thinking skills, it must begin with the curricula.
The American History Book Project is a project of The Education and Research Institute (ERI) which aims to investigate potential bias in history textbooks used to teach high school students across America. EIR Chairman, Daniel Oliver spoke with LN’s socio-political correspondent Laura Valkovic regarding the effort to identify and halt this textbook madness.
By way of background, Mr. Oliver is a career Washington D.C. policymaker, writer and attorney. He has served in a range of key positions, including Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and general counsel for the Departments of Education and Agriculture during the Reagan administration. Mr. Oliver spoke to LN about the institute’s findings and discussed the roots of possible bias in today’s education system. It is an intriguing read.
LN: For readers who are unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us a bit about the Education and Research Institute and the American History Book Project?
Daniel Oliver: The Education and Research Institute was founded by Stan Evans in 1974. He was one of the founders of the conservative movement. He used it during his lifetime as a vehicle to some extent for writing his books. Shortly before he died, he asked me if I would take it over and I said yes. We’re not in the process of writing books as an individual operation. As our first project, we decided to do something about American history textbooks. Stan Evans was very interested in American history and in fact wrote a wonderful textbook called The Theme is Freedom. Our first venture is basically a corrective action on American history textbooks, taking off from the work that Stan Evans did.
LN: The American History Book Project aims to evaluate American history textbooks. You seem to believe that a bias exists in these books?
Daniel Oliver: Yes, there’s a serious sort of left-wing regulatory economics bias in the textbooks. Especially in the book we have critiqued which is The American Pageant [a high school textbook widely used in AP advanced placement courses] … We critiqued the second half of it. It’s written by people who basically believe in the government and who are suspicious of the market. All the comments that they make throughout that are essentially in favor of people who like large government programs and are dismissive of people who like smaller government.
LN: From where do you think these bias stems?
Daniel Oliver: Well, it stems from educational institutions. The intelligent and those who are supposed to be the educational people tend to be left-wing, tend to have had liberal, left-wing, (whatever your favorite term is) professors. They have grown up with what they were taught in college and maybe what they read in high school. They’re simply a product of their education, and they’re not surprisingly passing it onto the next generation.
LN: You recently wrote an op-ed in The Western Journal suggesting that The American Pageant wrote a biased account of the end of the Cold War, particularly regarding Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev. How would you change that example to make it more historically accurate in your view?
Daniel Oliver: Well, the facts are that Reagan did a number of things. He built up the military and especially the navy which was extremely important. He invaded Grenada which was going communist. He threw them out. He initiated Star Wars, which some people called science fiction. It was certainly possible to do. It was very expensive. The combination of the navy build up, and the rest of the armed forces build up, as well as Star Wars, convinced the Soviets finally that they would not be able to keep up economically. We, the military, the government, thought that the Soviet Union was spending something like 17.5% of their GDP on military expenditures. When the [Berlin] wall collapsed, when communism collapsed, and the books were opened, it turned out they were spending 45% of GDP on the military. Spending 45%, they must’ve looked at Ronald Reagan’s buildup and said there’s no way we can match this. That’s what happened. That’s what should be told.
LN: Speaking of Reagan, you worked in the Reagan administration. How does education in the Trump age compare to what you saw around the Reagan years?
Daniel Oliver: Well, in the Trump era they can look back and talk about Reagan, you couldn’t do that in the Reagan era. In the Trump era, I can see how they treat a subject that I was part of. As I said, the Cold War is a very good example. I wrote a piece in the Daily Caller on Pearl Harbor and what they said about Roosevelt in Pearl Harbor, indicating that sort of he was so surprised by the attack on Pearl Harbor which really isn’t true … That’s a good example of how they simply didn’t charge Roosevelt with any knowledge of – or expectation of – the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
LN: It’s amazing how experiencing history and then seeing it interpreted later can be completely different. How and why is history education a key conservative issue today?
Daniel Oliver: History is always a key issue because you have to understand the past, it’s good to know where you came from and what your forebearers did, what you’re meant to be standing for. You can’t do that if you don’t look back and have a sense of what your country is all about. History is very important, and you have to teach people history, they don’t learn it by drinking their chocolate milk in the morning.
LN: One foundation recently found that 44% of younger Americans think Barack Obama had a bigger impact on the U.S. than George Washington. Do you believe that American students today have any real understanding of where they came from and what America historically has been?
Daniel Oliver: Probably not. I think in that sense history is difficult to teach. It takes time to learn it and study it. Some do, and some don’t. I don’t know that I can make a blanket statement on it. To understand where you’ve come from you’ve got to study the past and pay attention.
LN: The ERI has also worked to collect U.S. government files relating to communist infiltration during the Soviet era. What influence do you think this had on any possible left-wing bias in the education system and American institutions today?
… they don’t remember what happened under socialist governments.
Daniel Oliver: Well, Stan Evans, the founder of Education and Research Institute collected those files for the things that, he wrote two books on that period, about Stalin, the communists, and the Cold War and the McCarthy Era. He collected those files in the course of writing his books and also writing other things. Again, it’s good to know what happened in the past, so you don’t repeat it.
LN: Socialist and communist ideas do seem to be undergoing a bit of a resurgence in popularity. In your opinion is this the result of an education system designed to promote these ideas?
Daniel Oliver: Well that’s a possibility. It’s also that these people are younger, so they don’t remember the Cold War, they don’t remember what happened under socialist governments. They’re not taught what happened under those governments. It’s a combination of ignorance but … then the teachers don’t express the problems and the disadvantages of socialism. If they’re not taught there’s no way, they can learn. I think that’s what’s happened.
LN: Speaking of Stan Evans, his book, Blacklisted by History, defended Joseph McCarthy’s communist investigations. Recalling my own school days, this was generally interpreted as government overreach and paranoia. Is it the institute’s opinion that McCarthy was right all along, and communists did successfully infiltrate the U.S.?
Daniel Oliver: There isn’t any question that McCarthy was right. When you say communists infiltrated the U.S. there were lots of communists here; there’s no question about that. There were a lot of communists in government. In a way one of the most important points that Stan makes in one of his books is that he reminds people that the Soviet Union/Russia was our ally during the Second World War. Of course, there were a lot of Russians in and around government because they were our allies in the second World War. People sort of pretended to be shocked that there could be a communist in Washington, but in fact, Washington was full of communists.
That wasn’t surprising because they had been our allies. It would be like being shocked to find a whole bundle of Brits here. The problem was that when the war ended, and it became perfectly obvious that Russia was not our ally but was our enemy, the people, the communists were still here. They had to be flushed out. People took McCarthy’s decisions as wild, but they really weren’t. They were just common sense to say look, guys; the war is over, now we’ve got to get rid of all those guys who we welcomed in when we had a common enemy, and now we don’t. Now they’ve turned into our enemy. When you look at it that way, it makes a lot more sense.
LN: Do you believe a communist bias exists in the curriculum today and if so, would you support a similar inquiry as Joseph McCarthy’s one in the modern day?
Daniel Oliver: No, I don’t think you’d have to be a communist to be a left-winger. You might be, but my guess is most of these people are not communists if they even know what communism is. Communism was a threat, was a serious threat when the Soviet empire was still around. They’re not around anymore. I don’t think a stray communist is going to get us into trouble. At the same time, I think you want to try to get your history right and teach people what’s true and how it can be dangerous. Communism can be dangerous.
Communists are basically people who run around shooting people and socialists essentially are not.
LN: In that case do you see a link between the communist era and today’s socialist democrat, Bernie Sanders type figures, or do you think they’re part of a different school?
Daniel Oliver: I think communism is not the same as socialism. It is often aligned with it, and sometimes you can’t tell the difference, that’s true. Communists are basically people who run around shooting people and socialists essentially are not. They wind up that way, but I don’t think Bernie Sanders is a communist. I don’t think his power comes out of the barrel of a gun. I don’t think there’s any, in that sense, there’s no similarity between a communist and a socialist. They may have the same economic philosophy, but communism was a lot more than economic philosophy. It was totalitarianism.
LN: On to another topic, if today’s state and private educational institutions are biased, are there any other options that families can turn to? Homeschooling appears to be gaining popularity, is that a viable alternative?
Daniel Oliver: Yes, I think homeschool is certainly one alternative. I also suspect that private schools, depending on the private school, depending on sort of where it is, private schools are much more amenable to pressure by parents to have better textbooks have better everything. Once the public school system again, it depends where you are, but the public school system will tend to be very large. The ability of a single parent or a group of parents to influence the courses or the textbooks will be limited. That is not I think true in a private school.
LN: Finally, it seems both political sides are willing to ignore facts and design narratives to suit their own ideas. Is a conservative version of history any more complete than a left-wing version? Is it possible to write a completely objective version of history or is some bias inevitable?
Daniel Oliver: Well almost anybody will tend to put his bias in a piece that he’s written but at the same time an educated person should be able to tell a story without bias. If you’re writing a history textbook, there isn’t any reason why the editors – and I’m sure there are dozens of editors – can’t go through and take out any obvious bias. To the extent that you think bias is inevitable and to the extent that you’re right, there isn’t any reason why both sides of an issue couldn’t be given in a textbook. The author writes and says, “I think this, or this is what happens,” then his editor or his colleague if there are two of them, can say, “On the other hand other people think this.” Let the student make up his mind. The way to eliminate the one-sided bias is to put in the other side and say some people believe this, some people believe that and let the students make up their own minds.
LN: Thank you, Mr. Oliver.
Are students across the U.S. being sold a one-sided view of their past, and by extension, their future? Why not read the ERI’s review of The American Pageant for yourself and make up your own mind?