Ballot Box: Radical Ideas; Attacking E.D.

October 21, 1992 3 min read

A summer education institute for Arkansas’s brightest high school juniors is churning out 400 left-wing free-thinkers each year--with Gov. Bill Clinton’s help--the higher-education watchdog group Accuracy in Academia has alleged.

A.I.A., an offshoot of the conservative group Accuracy in Media, says the six-week summer program, known as the Arkansas Governor’s School, is indoctrinating students with leftist ideology on race, gender roles, sexual orientation, the environment, and religion.

“I have never in my life seen such a collection of left-wing, loony-toon ideas that are put together and called curriculum,’' Jamey R. Wheeler, A.I.A.'s executive director, said at a news conference in Washington last week.

Mr. Wheeler and Christopher Yarborough, a first-year student at the University of Central Arkansas who attended the school in the summer of 1991, said the school’s curriculum should serve to warn voters about what the Democratic Presidential nominee might do to public schools all across the country.

Mr. Yarborough said students had a lot of freedom at the school, which he compared to “the hippie age.’'

“There was a lot of peace, love, and war,’' the student recalled. “We were real relaxed.’'

Students could swear freely, wear whatever they wanted, and were encouraged to speak freely without fear of reprisal, Mr. Yarborough said. When discussing intellectual matters, the institute--which featured a lecture by Hillary Clinton--did not present balanced viewpoints, he added.

Bruce Haggard, a Hendrix College biology professor who has directed the Governor’s School since 1983, said the summer program is designed to focus on critical-thinking skills and current intellectual theories and the assumptions behind them.

While Mr. Clinton inaugurated the six-week program in 1979, Mr. Haggard said, the Governor has no control over its operations. The program was named the Governor’s School because it was modeled after a similarly named institute in North Carolina, Mr. Haggard added.

Because similar criticisms have been leveled at the program in the past, the school has featured speakers recommended by Accuracy in Media, Mr. Haggard said.

As for student freedom, he said, there are bed checks in the evening and in the morning, no televisions or cars are allowed, and there is a 10 P.M. curfew.
But, he said, “It is the first time those students are in a situation where all their academic and intellectual thoughts are treated seriously.’'

A.I.A.Ÿ also planned to release late last week a short documentary on the school that includes interviews with some students and brief clips from movies shown as part of the program.

Responding to the charges, a spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign said, “This is not a campaign issue.’'

“It is an Arkansas education issue that has been raised in the past and that has no basis,’' the spokeswoman added.

President Reagan tried and failed to abolish the Education Department, and his second Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett, acknowledged that abolition was a dead issue.

But some outside Washington are continuing to press the idea in campaigns this fall.

Bruce Herschensohn, a G.O.P candidate for one of California’s two contested Senate seats, is arguing in television ads that the federal government should stay out of education and is promising to work to dismantle the department.

“Billions of California education dollars go to Washington bureaucrats. These dollars could stay right here to serve our schools,’' the ad says, adding that bureaucrats are “laughing at our false belief that they know best.’'

The idea of eliminating the Education Department has also been raised in Arizona by former Gov. Evan Mecham, who is running for the Senate as an independent.

Mr. Mecham, then a Republican, was ousted from the Governor’s office in 1988 on charges of diverting public funds.

Mr. Mecham’s current comeback bid is considered a long shot by political analysts.--M.P. & J.M.

A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 1992 edition of Education Week as Ballot Box: Radical Ideas; Attacking E.D.