Here is a tale of New York. A young man I know who attends one of the best public high schools in Manhattan recently told me about his adventures trying to start a conservative club. His high school, which also has a highly competitive elementary school, is one that New York parents dream of having their children attend, because a child getting is proof in these parts that he is smart. And, unlike Manhattan’s many elite private schools, tuition is free.
Of course, there are lots of other after-school clubs already established at his high school. He told me that to start one that reflects your interests, all you have to do usually is find a teacher who is willing to act as an adviser and get the student government to green-light it.
This young man also tried to start another club at the same time he was trying to start the conservative club–a ping-pong club. (Hey, he’s a well-rounded kid.) There was no problem with that one. He says he found an adviser easily and the student government agreed to it lickety-split. And now it is such a hit, he said, “We will have to get more tables.”
But he had a lot more trouble with politics, especially conservative politics. First he wanted to call it the “Young Republicans Club.” Ten teachers turned him down. He finally found one who would consider being an adviser but only if the name was changed to the “Conservative Club.” Then he said he had trouble getting the student government to agree to allow the club. They just, somehow, never got around to approving it during the first semester. And even though most clubs, even before they are official, are announced in an assembly, no one would announce the formation of his club. “They told me it wasn’t approved yet. But they announced the knitting club before it was official. I think they announced that twice,” he said, somewhat bitterly.
After the holiday break, he intends to do some lobbying with a member of the student government who may be able to get his conservative club approved. “I didn’t think it was going to be easy. The teachers are very liberal. In elementary school I had a teacher who told the class he didn’t think Mayor Giuliani deserved to live! And they all seem to think President Bush is dumb, and make that very clear to the students. You know,” he said, “teachers are not open to ideas they don’t agree with.” That’s why he wanted to remain my anonymous source for this story.
Still, what surprised me when I talked to this smart, energetic tenth grader was his interest in politics at all, since he had been taught so little about American history or civics at this elite public school. In fact, when I asked him if he had ever taken a civics course, he really didn’t seem to understand what the word meant.
He also told me he had learned American history only in the fifth grade, but really didn’t remember too much about it. He’s in tenth grade now. “The fifth grade is five years ago, a third of my life ago,” he said. He is taking world history, which he said doesn’t include much about America. He explained, “We are a young country so there just isn’t much about us in the course.”
Is he disturbed about that? Kind of. “One of my teachers who knows a lot about Korea complained that there wasn’t enough about Korea in world history. I told her not to feel too bad because there isn’t much about America and we are all Americans.”
I am writing a book that it is partly about the teaching of American history to kids, and I have discovered how little of our history is taught in so many schools throughout our country. And when it is taught, often what we have done wrong as a nation is emphasized rather than what we have done right. I also have learned that teachers and the textbooks they use are often biased against conservative ideas.
So I am not surprised that this young man had so much trouble finding a teacher who was enthusiastic about his conservative club or even that the student government would drag its feet approving it. I know this young man’s father is a conservative and that he has probably heard a lot about politics and government around the dining-room table. But I am surprised that one of the best public schools in New York, full of exceptionally bright youngsters, has given him so little foundation for his beliefs, even making it so hard for him to get an opportunity to discuss such mainstream ideas with his classmates.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.