This can’t be coincidence. Blog reports in the last two weeks indicate that public schools in two different states have assigned students to identify their political affiliation by answering questions about policy issues (mostly social-policy issues). The assignments are handed in.
This isn’t a matter of students being asked to debate social-policy topics and think about arguments pro and con, an exercise that has been a staple of classroom activities in grades 7 and up for decades. The assignment is for each student to answer questions about his own sentiments on things like abortion law, prayer in the schools, and government-provided medical care. The student is informed that each opinion places him in one political camp or the other. (Only two camps are offered.)
The exercise has been administered in slightly different ways. In Illinois, it was sent home with high school students in a class on “U.S. Government.” (H/t: Stephen Kruiser at PJ Media.) In addition to giving his own answers, each student was to ask “someone 40 years old or older” to provide responses to the questions. Dubbed a “Political Spectrum Survey,” the questionnaire (sample photos at the link) identified whether responses were “liberal” or “conservative.”
In Mississippi, the questionnaire – in different form – was administered in a sixth-grade classroom. The 11- and 12-year-old students were told not to discuss the classroom assignment with their parents. Naturally, at least some of them did. The questionnaire purports to identify from the answers whether the response is that of a “Democrat” or a “Republican.” (Note: I have a query in to the website at the link for a more legible image of the questionnaire. The title and categories can be made out, but the questions are mostly too fuzzy to be read.)
The Illinois Review site clarifies that the high school assignment is part of the Common Core curriculum. Like Illinois, Mississippi has implemented Common Core this year, but, as the Free Patriot article indicates, a specific link between the sixth-grade assignment and Common Core hasn’t been established. There probably is a connection, of course.
The author at the Mississippi link observes that the political categories assigned for the topic responses may not even be correct; e.g., plenty of Democrats in her neck of the woods give the “Republican” response on gun restrictions, and there are plenty of Republicans who would give the “Democratic” response on same-sex marriage laws.
And that’s actually a very important point. Political affiliations are often both subtler and more simplistic than a homogenized questionnaire will reveal. They arise from a complex of factors in a citizen’s life. It doesn’t do justice to the topic to reduce it to a set of either-or propositions on the social issues of the day. In fact, approaching it ahistorically – without, for example, putting it in the context of the truth that the Republican Party was the political force that opposed slavery and advocated for civil rights in the 1940s and 1950s – is an encouragement to ignorance and unthinking intellectual habits.
So are the exceedingly simplistic formulations of the Illinois political-spectrum exercise (which, as noted at the Illinois Review post, includes the flourish of spelling Ronald Reagan’s name incorrectly). If we want American high school students to be “familiar with a historical example of a revolutionary viewpoint,” we do our future no favors by selecting only one “revolutionary viewpoint,” and making it that of the American Revolution. The revolutionary viewpoints of France in 1789 and the Bolsheviks in 1917 were very different from ours, and they should not be lumped in with America’s uniquely libertarian, politically conservative, natural-rights revolution, which sought not to establish a new order for humanity, but to limit government on principle.
No one waving the flag of “revolution” should get a pass because he can associate his revolution, under a vaguely recalled category taught in school, with the one that produced the United States. This is exactly the kind of question on which the people’s natural bias against “revolution” in the abstract, but knowledgeable respect for the particular revolution that created their nation, should overrule the influence of niche politics and advocacy groups on curricula in the public schools.
It’s also the kind of question I was perfectly capable of debating in high school, which I know because that’s what we did. It was once quite common to debate the philosophies of the English “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776, on one side, versus the philosophies of the other side, represented by the French and Bolshevik Revolutions.
Dumbing down this important issue for American civic consciousness is a good way to produce citizens too ignorant to know when they’re being conned by demagogues. It should be no surprise that teaching it selectively, and in prejudicially simplified categories, comes hand in hand with assigning students to pigeonhole themselves politically, and to report back to the school on what categories their parents (or other adults “older than 40”) fall into.
No good can be intended by teaching American politics this way. There’s no excuse for it.
For more on Soviet artist Nikita Nikanorovich Chebakov, see here.