A Rorschach Test for Bias in Education Scholarship

Twenty20.

I noted a few weeks back that education scholarship marginalizes itself when it so often seems to treat the more conservative half of the nation with casual contempt. In response, some professorial friends asked if the partisanship and bias I think I see isn’t just a product of my imagination. It’s a legitimate question. On that point, I think the following conference invitation from a branch of the National Council of Social Studies offers a simple Rorschach test to gauge how far apart we really are in determining what constitutes ideological bias. As an old social studies teacher, it struck me as a particularly fitting example for seeing if we’re talking to or past one another.

Here’s the test: read the invitation and see how it strikes you. Yep, it’s that easy. If you think it’s fair-minded and promotes civil inquiry across heterodox views and values, okay. If that’s the case, though, I’m not sure where we go from here. If, on the other hand, you can see why some might read it as nakedly partisan and narrowly ideological, we’ve got something to talk about. Anyway, see what you think.

At least to me, an invitation like this conveys a pretty clear sense of who is welcome, what they’re welcome to talk about, and what kinds of views constitute “solidarity.” If this were an invitation to a meeting of the Bay Area Young Democrats or the Elizabeth Warren fan club, that’d be just fine. But this is supposedly a community of scholars convening to explore thinking and research on social studies and civic education — and yet, I get the sense that they expect participants to arrive with very clear, predictable, and “correct” views on the some of the biggest questions of our time. Given how polarized we are today, though, I’m honestly curious how many readers read this as I do — and why others might read it differently.

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Frederick M. Hess

Direct Ed Policy Studies at AEI. Teach a bit at Rice, UPenn, Harvard. Author of books like Cage-Busting Leadership and Spinning Wheels. Pen Ed Week's RHSU blog.