To the Editor:
Frederick M. Hess is right when he notes in his recent Commentary (“Its Leftward Tilt Leaves Ed. Scholarship on the Sidelines,” Jan. 11, 2017) that America’s colleges and universities lean heavily to the left. That should not be surprising.
Institutions dedicated to the search for knowledge, understanding, tolerance, and truth are quite likely to be progressive and liberal. Looking backward—the natural stance of conservatism—is not a natural view for professors or their eager students who are gearing up to change the world.
But Hess is overreaching when he argues that academe is “unrepresentative of the nation as a whole.” As I recall, a few million more voters chose liberal Hillary Clinton last November over the candidate on the right. It’s more accurate to claim that academe is out of step with the ultra-conservative minority that has moved further right as the world around it has changed.
Hess writes: “While education school scholars may almost uniformly regard a race-conscious focus on practice and policy as essential for addressing structural racism, a huge swath of the country sees instead a recipe for fostering grievance, animus, and division. ... Many on the right experience university initiatives intended to promote ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity’ as attempts to silence or delegitimize their views on immigration, criminal justice, morality, and social policy.” No surprise there, either.
Hess says “our views are principled.” Depends on who the “our” includes. Based on their actions and pronouncements, I would argue that the views of a great many conservatives in the United States are hostile to the fundamental values of our democratic republic and its Constitution, starting with the new Conservative-in-Chief.
The practical consequence of academe’s leaning to the left, Hess suggests, is that the Trump administration, and the president’s supporters in statehouses and think tanks, will not look kindly on education researchers in the academy. Wow, now that is really shocking.
Except for the studies by education school faculty that correlate learning and achievement to standardized-test scores or insist that funding is not really relevant to quality, conservative policymakers have largely ignored the work of education scholars. But then liberal policymakers haven’t paid much attention to education research either.
The writer is the founding editor of Education Week and the board chair emeritus of its nonprofit parent corporation, Editorial Projects in Education. The views in this letter are his own.
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2017 edition of Education Week as K-12 Scholarship’s Leftward Tilt Is No Surprise and Not a Concern