Editor's Note: This column was written by Kate Obenshain, Vice President of Young America’s Foundation.
Presidents Day celebrates America’s rich presidential history, yet the people we entrust to teach and write our history books—university professors—have a skewed view of our nation’s past leaders.
On Ronald Reagan’s 101st birthday, Young America’s Foundation released a scientific poll conducted by The Polling Company Inc. of 284 professors on their views on our past presidents—particularly on President Reagan. Those views on Reagan were not surprising. Professors have less of an appreciation for arguably the greatest modern President than do a majority of Americans. What was perhaps more alarming, however, was their disdain of our great founding presidents.
When asked to list their picks for the three greatest presidents of all-time, professors mentioned Franklin Roosevelt significantly more times than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison—and four times as often as President Reagan.
Little Love for Founding Fathers
Professors expressed clear distain for America’s Founding Fathers and founding documents. A meager 1% of professors thought the Father of the Constitution, James Madison, ranked in the top three presidents (compared to 54% for FDR), and only 30% picked Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence.
While there are 43 presidents to choose from, the fact that Bill Clinton got six times as many mentions as James Madison is disturbing. In the poll, 87% of professors said it was “important to pass on analysis and understanding of previous United States Presidents.” But what kind of analysis are they passing on?
In the poll, three times as many professors identified themselves as liberal than as conservative. For a long time, we’ve known about the widespread liberalism in academia, but many Americans don’t realize the impact this ideological bias has on their children’s education.
30% of professors admitted in the Foundation’s poll that their ideology plays a role in their curriculum. That number is alarming enough, but we know from closely studying the intolerant intellectual atmosphere on college campuses, it is far worse than those numbers admit.
As our poll numbers reflect, the ideological sentiments being passed on to students by many professors on the Left dismiss our Founders as largely irrelevant. Is this really what we want our kids to believe?
I don’t. I want my children to see the founders as the visionaries they were. They set the stage for the greatest growth in personal freedom the world has ever seen. But that’s not the story most kids are learning in history class.
In fact, students are hearing little if anything positive about conservative leaders from professors. In 2011, Gallup released a poll indicating that a plurality of Americans think President Reagan is the greatest president in US history. In our poll, not one professor said Reagan was the greatest president, and 60% said he wasn’t in their top ten. When asked to grade President Reagan, they gave him a C+.
Current popular American opinion of President Reagan arguably isn’t the only way to evaluate his place in history. However, professors are not only out of touch with the American public, they’re out of touch with historical facts.
The facts are that President Reagan ended the cold war and generated the greatest period of peacetime economic growth in US History. Under President Reagan, the misery index (inflation plus unemployment) fell nearly 10 points and youth unemployment dropped more than 5%. Revenues doubled, and the country pulled out of two economic recessions. Professors can’t say the same about FDR or any other president.
The Importance of Factual and Balanced Presidential History
America’s youth look up to the presidency, and many students’ policy beliefs will result from their understanding of a particular president. Our higher education is trying to pull America to the left, and we cannot let their slanted views of historical presidents preside as fact in the classroom.
Our government has strayed from America’s founding values of limited government and personal responsibility. Americans are suffering the economic consequences. Our children must learn about the successes of these fundamental principles so they shape their future around what worked.
Professors gave President Reagan a C+, but Americans should give professors an F. It’s great that professors think presidential history is “important” to share in the classroom, but America, for the sake of our children, let’s make sure these professors get the history right.