When Cindy Rose’s 8-year-old daughter got the flu in March and had to do schoolwork at home, Rose happened to glance through one of her child’s third-grade social studies textbooks.
Rose, a tea party supporter, saw red.
“It’s very socialistic in nature. The government will provide you with child care, with health care,” she said. “This book is totally coming from a progressive, liberal ideology.”
Rose, who lives in the Frederick County, Md., community of Knoxville, took her complaint to her school board and became a conservative media heroine, with two appearances on Fox News. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who interviewed her on Fox before he left the network, signed her copy of the book: “To Cindy. Remain Standing!”
I wasn’t about to take Rose’s word that the book was biased, so I drove to her home and looked for myself.
She was absolutely right. The 165-page book — “Social Studies Alive! Our Community and Beyond” — is unmistakably slanted to the left in numerous places.
It pushes pro-environmental views — by devoting four pages to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, for example. It suggests that health care and child care should be free community services, without noting that the public must pay taxes to support those benefits.
“Child care is important, but it is not free for most people in the United States. Families have to pay for child care. It can be very expensive,” says Page 104. “In some countries, child care is a public service. For example, in Denmark and Vietnam, child care is free or costs very little. This makes it easier for parents to work. Do you think child care should be a public service in your community?”
This controversy puts me in an awkward place, because I applaud the goals that the book promotes. Save the planet? Sign me up. Improve public services? I’m for it. Study foreign success stories? Point me to them.
However, in previous columns, I beat up on Virginia elementary schools for using an error-riddled textbook that included a Civil War falsehood promoted by some conservatives. It claimed mistakenly that African Americans in large numbers carried arms for the pro-slavery Confederacy.
So, fair-mindedness prompts me to give equal time to the other side. And there’s no doubt that if I were a conservative, this book would enrage me just as much as it does Rose.
It’s not that it’s grossly inaccurate (although Rose thinks so). It’s just clearly one-sided.
For instance, Chapter 6 profiles individuals who have made a positive difference in their communities. All four are liberal icons: Latino farmworker and union leader Cesar Chavez; Ruby Bridges, who integrated a New Orleans elementary school; environmental activist Lois Marie Gibbs of Love Canal fame; and Judy Heumann, an advocate for rights for the disabled.
To me, the four are inspirations. But conservatives have a right to ask: How about somebody who improved their community by starting a business and creating jobs? Or founded a church or other religious institution?
Rose also objected to what she saw as an anti-American, pro-foreign tone. “In the book, you’re not an American, you’re a global citizen,” she said. She’s only partly right. We’re Americans and global citizens. That’s what schools ought to teach.
Still, Rose was right that some passages subtly put down the United States. Page 88: “Companies in Japan make reliable televisions and radios, German factories make some of the world’s best cars. Some companies in the United States are very good at making computers.”
Got that? In America, only some companies excel.
When asked for comment, the book’s publisher, Teachers’ Curriculum Institute of Palo Alto, Calif., did not directly address the issue of bias. It said, “lessons and chapters are edited, fact-checked and reviewed by scholars from a wide range of backgrounds.”
Rose’s complaint to the school board triggered a lively debate last month but no immediate action. The book was already scheduled to come up for a routine review in the coming year, so Frederick will await the results before making a decision.
Some board members contend that even if the book is politically tilted, other books and materials in the curriculum offset it.
Board member April Miller, who was sympathetic to Rose, challenged that. “They do have other resources, but they couldn’t guarantee they were being used,” Miller said. “I think it disrespects our country, because it doesn’t say a lot positive about it, and I think that’s detrimental to unity.”
It’s risky to give third-grade students a book on the assumption that its partisan portions will be corrected elsewhere in the lesson plan. The county should demand a revised version of the book or scrap it. It leans the same way I do, but a public school text shouldn’t lean one way or the other.
I discuss local issues at 8:51 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM).