Those charting partisan tendencies in academia can mark a new low as even standardized test preparation guides descend into delusional polemics.
Barron’s AP European History study guide – which touts itself as “Students’ #1 Choice” and promises “everything you need” to get a top score on the AP exam – attempts to explain the French Revolution with “a chart of the political spectrum from left to right” with supposedly analogous examples from United States politics today.
Sigh. Here we go again.
“Liberals favored slower, gradual change to make things better,” but “Conservatives wanted no change to governance.” Radicals wanted “complete, rapid and total change in government” whereas “Reactionaries wanted things to be the way they were in a previous time.”
Today, “most Democrats” are “in favor of small gradual change,” and “most Republicans” are simply “those against change.” But of course.
Leftists are “those who want to regulate banks and corporations” – as if banks and corporations are not already subject to untold thousands of pages of state, federal and local regulations. The Tea Party is directly analogous to French royalists “in the countryside who supported the monarchy” – as if the Tea Party wants “no change to governance” and supports the existing regime in United States politics.
So far, these assertions from Barron’s authors, Seth A. Roberts and James M. Eder, are predictable enough. Educators, like most journalists, tilt predominately left (you know, on the political spectrum).
Things get interesting when Messrs. Roberts and Eder show the far right as “reactionary / fascist,” which they define simply as “those who want things like they used to be.” Never mind the bit about fascism having something to do with dictatorial rule, absolute power over individual freedom and prohibition of dissent. If you “want things to be like they used to be” – say, because you don’t want unelected judges imposing their views by fiat or because you think market-based solutions tend to work better than top-down central economic planning – you are a fascist.
Then comes the spit-take.
Who are today’s reactionary fascists? Barron’s 7th edition (page 168) gives the answer: “Clarence Thomas and the KKK.”
Justice Thomas, the second black justice of the United States Supreme Court, wrote passionately in his autobiography, “My Grandfather’s Son,” of growing up during segregation and overcoming racial discrimination. Even liberals have recognized his compelling background. During Justice Thomas’s confirmation process, columnist William Raspberry quoted a friend as saying, “Given the choice between two conservatives, I’ll take the one who’s been called ‘n----r.’”
In contrast, Barron’s pairs Justice Thomas with the KKK – a violently racist criminal enterprise that “was a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired the restoration of white supremacy. It aimed to destroy the Republican party’s infrastructure, undermine the Reconstruction state, reestablish control of the black labor force, and restore racial subordination in every aspect of Southern life,” according to liberal Columbia University professor Eric Foner’s book, “A Short History of Reconstruction.”
For their own part, Messrs. Roberts and Eder should have perused the College Board’s official “Teacher’s Guide for AP European History” for help on objectivity:
– “Students need to learn how to read primary and secondary sources, and even textbooks, with the understanding that the author’s viewpoint may be more subjective than objective. Teach your students . . . how to evaluate the validity or bias of both primary and secondary sources.”
– “Without a doubt . . . bias is the most frequently missed basic core point by students . . . and it is also the hardest concept for students to master.”
– “Name calling, loaded language, and other kinds of rhetoric betray the author’s prejudices or biases.”
– “What is the author’s self-interest that makes the author say the things you see in the document? Do people of certain groups usually construe issues in certain ways?”
– “It is not enough to merely say that someone was biased or prejudiced. To earn credit you must give the reader your evidence that supports your assertion that someone is biased.”
Those outraged by the shoddy work and flagrant bias in the Barron’s guide can look to Justice Thomas’s own words for guidance: “I would confide in my grandmother about my frustration,” he said. “She would give me her usual sage, warm advice: ‘Son, do your best, be good, be honest, and say your prayers.’ I would respond, ‘Yes, Ma’am!’ Perhaps we all should say, ‘Yes, Ma’am!’ to her wise counsel and get on with the business of acting like we deserve to live in a free society.”
Gayle Shafer Trotter is a co-founder of Shafer & Trotter PLC, a law firm in metropolitan Washington, D.C. that advises entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals. She received an undergraduate degree in Government from the University of Virginia, where she also obtained a law degree and served on the Editorial Board of the Virginia Journal of International Law. Gayle is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. Her views are her own.