Column on Texas Textbook Troubles

Texas Textbook Troubles

Tibor R. Machan

In my own field of work, university education, there are a great many who scoff at the idea of privatization, something that is exactly how a free society should handle all education from primary to post graduate schools. There is no excuse for government to be responsible for educating young people or anyone else for that matter. Not only is it destructive of educational impartiality to entrust schools to governments–only if there is variety can impartiality be at least approximated–but the threat of out and out indoctrination is most real when one monolithic agency, with the power to coercively collect funds for its operations and conscript its students, runs "education."

Yes, thousands of professor and teachers want the government to be in charge but after this has been accomplished, as it has for a couple of centuries throughout America and elsewhere, there is no escaping the turf fight that takes over educational policy, especially when it comes to such courses as history, civics, and even biology and the textbooks teachers are required to use in them.

In a free and open society there will be a great variety of ways that people, even the most highly educated ones, will see the country’s history, especially when it comes to politics and economics, as well as whatever other disciplines study. Few Americans could miss the current fracas about whether, for example, the New Deal was a valuable or destructive policy of the federal government. Yes, even Prohibition, with its bloody history, has its defenders. A good many scholars and citizens in general find themselves in different camps about the civil war, so much so that there is much controversy even about whether it should have as its name "Civil War" or "The War between the States." Innumerable other topics covered in various elementary, high school and college courses are fraught with controversies among sincere minded citizens and scholars–no one could miss the battles fought over the nature of biological evolution.

The idea that one can simply override all this with some kind of governmental policy–as it is being tried right now in Texas where there is a fight brewing among those who have their agendas concerning what should be taught to students in all sorts of subjects–is absurd. One need not be a subscriber to post-modernism–with its claim that there is no objective reality at all and the world as all in the eye of the beholder (be this in history, English literature, philosophy, or government studies)–in order to admit that there are many seriously divergent educated opinions and beliefs in what is the truth of the matter in a discipline. And in a free society the way this is supposed to be dealt with and acknowledged is by making it possible for all of them to compete in the marketplace of ideas without even a whiff of government intrusion (i.e., censorship).

No such marketplace can exist, however, if government education dominates, as it does everywhere in the country. The United States of America is practically not much different from the old Soviet Union or the current North Korea when it comes to how young people are being educated–they basically get some politically palatable stories, some banal compromises reached within the halls of government, instead of the outcome of scholarly and academic conferences where the different sides of the various controversies are presented and from which scholars return to their classrooms throughout the academic landscape and proceed to teach what they earnestly believe students should learn. What some of them will teach will dismay, even outrage, certain others; although often teachers know well and good how to give different sides a fair presentation and thus make it possible for their pupils to arrive at answers of their own.

But this cannot go on with government ordering what is to be taught and what the textbooks must contain. The wielding of political power in the field of education is no less insidious than it would be for government to run the profession of journalism, the publication of books and magazines, and so forth. None of that is acceptable in a genuine free country. Nor should government-run schools be.

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