Education Needs Ideological Diversity

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There’s a belief that most teachers are avowed progressives, beholden to union power and blank checks to public systems. Their voting record tells a different story. An EdWeek poll of teachers found that a near equal 30% identify as either liberal or conservative. The rest are moderate. Perhaps even more striking, U.S.A Today found that up to 1-in-3 union members voted for Donald Trump.

Regardless of your own opinions on the president, the conclusion is simple: teachers are not monolithic; only the policy recommended to improve their sector is. 

Reviewing the Democratic primary field’s recommendations is a monotonous undertaking. Biden recommended an increase of Title I spending, Harris an increase in teacher pay, and others ever increasingly vague calls for more money. Is this the best our politicians and thought leaders have to offer? Throw money at it? Don’t misunderstand me. More money is always appreciated but is far from sufficient to right all of public education’s wrongs.

Unfortunately, a uniformity of allowed opinion has calcified the discussions in education circles. Harsh criticism meets any deviation from the norm, and so only vague recommendations make it through. In reality, teachers disagree on a host of topics, and it’s time we allow them to.

Education needs ideological diversity to move beyond its apathetic slump, new ideas to energize the discussions around it. Consider that early proponents of free speech like John Stuart Mill defended it not primarily on grounds of individual liberty but rather for its benefit to society. He writes:

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

In other words, when all opinions are aired, society is better able to sift and winnow between the true and false, abhorrent and beautiful, gold and dross. Only through free expression can we explore new ideas, novel answers, difficult questions, and therein discover workable solutions.

Schools are moving inexorably towards restorative justice, project-based learning, blank checks, and student-led content. These may be meaningless terms to those outside of education. In short, schools are adopting without question practices that cannot root their justification in sound social science, only ideology. It is incumbent upon moderate and conservative teachers to question these moves. Regardless of the veracity of these initiatives, they proceed unchecked.

The teaching profession believes many different things about school choice, charter schools, unions, curriculum, pedagogy, the canon, vocational instruction, project-based learning, behavior, supplies lines, funding, and more. Current media provides one narrative and our system suffers for it. It does not have the sifting and winnowing that Mill believed so essential.

We hope to diversify these discussions with a new publication, The Chalkboard Review. Some articles will be liberal, some centrist, and others conservative; our goal is not to advance a partisan platform but to provide a space for teachers to express the true diversity of their opinions.

We need it. Our schools need it. Our children need it.

Daniel Buck
Daniel Buck is a teacher, editor in chief of the Chalkboard Review, and a senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute. His writing can be found at National Review Online, City Journal, and the New York Post.