Art by Di Wu
The word “education” appears in the Constitution exactly zero times. The 10th Amendment specifically states that everything not under the federal government’s jurisdiction in the Constitution is reserved exclusively for the states or the people to decide.
Consequently, the federal government can fund public education, but it cannot write the curriculum; that is a job for state-run commissions. As such, the education system varies state-by-state.
Public education extends past grade school, into high school and college. With that said, it should not be surprising that states like Arizona are funding their public universities and suggesting classes with specific, conservative and traditional curriculum in the course list.
That being said, the argument that state legislatures are pushing for a more conservative college education is unfounded. The Arizona state legislature approved allocating $7 million to public state colleges, where they plan on recruiting six new professors with intellectually conservative backgrounds and obtaining first editions of the Federalist Papers and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.
Indeed, adding six conservative professors to Arizona State may give students crucial, additional exposure to conservative ideology they presently lack, given the overwhelming liberal majority in academia. It is unlikely this will overshadow students’ exposure to liberal ideas. Rather, the Arizona initiative gives students a more balanced education. Additionally, learning about the Federalist Papers in college through new classes produced by these curriculum changes is not part of a conservative curriculum.
Distinctly different from this programming is a policy being considered in the Louisiana state legislature that threatens to withhold funding from the university if its football players refuse to stand for the National Anthem. Athletic funding should not be a political issue; state legislatures should be promoting college campuses with diverse viewpoints. Universities should provide access to multiple viewpoints for students because they have a right to know all sides of an issue, including the issue of protesting the National Anthem.
But opponents to the other measures argue that the new curriculum’s addition of more Western writers is an attack on the liberal arts. This could not be further from truth: most texts authored by Western thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes and their counterparts do not project a single, decisive ideology of any kind. Rather, their philosophies are interdisciplinary and well-rounded. Adding these texts to certain classes will only spark discussions, debates and disagreements, which will educate students about conflicting viewpoints and allow them to make their own informed decisions.
Of course, this is not to say that we should not study more contemporary texts. There is enormous value in studying modern theories, texts written by women and works by authors of color. But nobody is suggesting that states should remove these texts from the curriculum. The argument that conservative state legislatures just plan to study “dead white men” is simply untrue.
College education has a fundamental difference that sets it apart from secondary education: Students have much greater opportunity to choose which classes to take. More classes — such as economic classes about capitalism as well as socialism — give students more choice, which is never a bad thing.
Universities that do not offer a wide range of academic courses are simply failing in their duty to educate their students. Schools that do not present all sides of political, economic or social issues are depriving their students of the choice to make up their own minds and are depriving their students of a quality, balanced education.
Shauli Bar-On is a freshman majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.