Mary Grabar

What happens when an education editor wants to advance her own liberal agenda, even as her newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, brags about “Bringing Balance to Opinions”?

She publishes an op-ed by a “Distinguished Professor” demolishing a bill she dislikes. She denies the same opportunity to a supporter of such legislation, who does not have tenure because of her conservative views. The education editor acts like she has done her duty by bringing on the scene an “expert,” before whom too many legislators bow down in obeisance. So the public is kept in the dark, and the bill, Georgia SB 426, the “Teach Freedom” act, never gets out of subcommittee.

This is what happened after this writer proposed a column to Maureen Downey at the AJC, on Tuesday, March 6. The email was not answered. Two days later, a column by James C. Cobb, the Spalding Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Georgia, appeared in Downey’s “Get Schooled” blog. The column was then published the following Monday on the Opinion pages with the title “Taking an Ideological Ax to U.S. History.” The following Friday it was featured as #1 among the “top 10” on the History News Network and then on the following Monday with the title, “Georgia Senate Tries to Whitewash the Founding Fathers.”

To my second email inquiry, Downey replied, “I might be interested for online if your piece speaks to this bill specifically.” In other words, the Distinguished Professor will have a prominent place on the printed pages that Georgia legislators read, but I “might” get a shot at a post on her blog—if I stay within the lines.

Professor Cobb begins his op-ed by presenting himself as taking the high moral ground: “In the 43 years that I have taught United States history in both state universities and the public schools, I have done my best to resist the temptation to turn my lectern into a ‘bully pulpit’ for proselytizing my personal political gospel” (but his university web page reveals a focus on race, class, and gender.)

He continues, “Not surprisingly, I also get my back up when others, with no particular preparation in the field but a truckload of ideological axes to grind, attempt to prescribe both the content of historical curricula and the lessons that are to be drawn from them.”

In other words, citizens and their representatives (“with no particular preparation in the field”) should just shut up.

Professor Cobb, however, does not address the kind of “field preparation” our teachers do receive.

Back in 2010, in the wake of a test-cheating scandal in Georgia, I discussed at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education the pathetic preparation teachers do receive. I noted that a Clayton State University Assistant Professor of Education, Mari Ann Roberts, in her AJC op-ed on the scandal wondered why students should even have to know the dates of the Civil War.

I also noted Clayton State’s weak requirements in subject areas for education majors, especially those teaching middle school social studies; they spend only 12 credit hours out of a total of 122 in upper-division classes in their primary subject area, with another 12 in the secondary subject area. Only three of the four required upper-division social science classes are from the history department, and they include the watered-versions geared toward education majors.

Indeed, a scan of web pages of education professors across the state shows an emphasis on far-left ideological concerns rather than on the subject matter, like history or math. For example, Jennifer Esposito, Associate Professor of Research, Measurement, and Statistics in the College of Education at Georgia State University, lists her areas of interest as, “Urban education, popular culture, race, gender, class.” At Georgia Southern University, Michelle Reidel’s teaching and research areas include not only social studies, but “Teaching for Social Justice.” William Reynolds’ interests are “Post-structural analysis of curriculum issues, curriculum theory, film studies, cultural curriculum studies, critical teaching, critical thinking, Freirian approaches to pedagogy”--the last a reference to the Marxist theorist Paulo Freire.

But Professor Cobb accuses reformers of ideological bias: “A textbook example of such an effort to control the textbooks is Georgia Senate Bill 426...‘The Teach Freedom Act’ seeks to ‘modify requirements for instruction’ in U.S. history and other related social studies disciplines. In keeping with the spirit of a similar initiative launched with Tea Party backing in Tennessee, this legislation is premised on the belief that ‘a positive understanding of American history and government is essential to good citizenship.’”

The mention of the “Tea Party backing” invites sophisticates onto the bandwagon. (To learn how professors talk about the Tea Party at their conferences, see my article here.) Professor Cobb continues, “The problem from the get-go here is that the bill seeks a positive understanding rather than an informed one.”

But is it all right that students have an entirely negative understanding of this country’s history? Future teachers are being taught by America-hating ideologues. In 2009, I wrote about social studies teachers sharing subversive teaching strategies. Last month, education professors and activists helped themselves to the facilities and education funds of Georgia State University to hold a teach-in, where in addition to strategizing on making their students lobbyists against bills restricting illegal immigration, they strategized on incorporating curricula banned in Arizona that advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government and inspire hatred toward certain ethnic groups. How to use Rethinking Columbus (one of the banned books) was the topic of a workshop I attended with professors, education students, and teachers there. (Read my account on my site, Dissident Prof.)

Professor Cobb, referring to an old version of the bill, then calls the sponsors “poorly informed on the history of their own state.”

He focuses on a single, tangential issue about slavery in Georgia, a point about which historians might debate. But the point serves as diversion. He disregards the legislation’s intent: to address the problem of inadequate attention to teaching about America’s founding era and the founding principles of our government in public K-12 education. Instead, Professor Cobb seeks to safeguard the type of revisionist history that infuses our classrooms.

Dismayed by the bill’s provision that history be taught “chronologically,” he continues, “History is more than a mere succession of events. . . . Students may like the idea of simply memorizing the main events of each year from 1776 to 1787, but such an approach promises little in the way of a comprehensive understanding of developments such as ‘growing dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation,’ a mandated point of emphasis in SB 426.”

In this, he misrepresents the bill, which addresses the inadequacies of the current standards, now with thematic units based on minor figures, arranged haphazardly. The bill does not call for “simply memorizing the main events.” Knowing key dates in context will prevent ignorance, like that of our current generation of graduates who often cannot even place key events--like the Civil War--within the correct half century. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that only 24% of high school seniors achieved a level of proficiency or above on the 2010 test on civics, a decline from 2006.

Nevertheless, Professor Cobb concludes, “Regardless of whether it best serves the agenda of Glenn Beck or Jesse Jackson, to institutionalize such a narrowly constructed narrative of the past based on such a heavily ideologized [sic] assessment of the needs of the present is to encumber future generations with a version of history that they may hardly recognize, much less find instructive.”

Unfortunately, too few of our professors object to the Jesse Jackson version of history, which is “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western civilization’s got to go,” to quote the chant he led on the campus of Stanford University in the 1980s.

“Distinguished professors,” whose credentials are usually conferred by a mutual admiration society of radicals, shouldn’t have the final word on legislation proposed by the people’s representatives.


Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches in Atlanta. She is organizing the Resistance to the Re-Education of America at www.DissidentProf.com. Her writing can be found at www.marygrabar.com.