<< The Body Politic

Partisan Politics in the Social Studies Classroom

Friday, October 1st, 2010

The country, as we all know, is deeply divided. On everything from the size of government to the war in Afghanistan to Stephen Colbert’s congressional testimony, Americans just can’t find common ground. (Actually, strike that last example: Everyone but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agrees Colbert wasn’t funny.)

So, naturally, when AEI’s Program on American Citizenship commissioned our survey of America’s social studies teachers, we wanted to know if political partisanship also exists in the classroom. Do Republican and Democratic teachers approach American history and government differently?

The answer is: They do, and largely in ways one would expect. To begin, the Republican-Democrat split in our survey is 32 percent to 51 percent, with 12 percent declaring themselves Independent. This is pretty close to the general population: A 2009 Gallup analysis of party identification shows a 39 percent to 53 percent split, with 8 percent Independent.

As can be seen from the table below, the parties largely live up to their stereotypes. Democratic social studies teachers are bleeding hearts who want students to be tolerant global citizens and activists who challenge the status quo. On the other side, Republicans teachers are sticklers for discipline who want students to be respectful of authority and to know facts and dates. (Click on chart to enlarge.)

Republican educators are more likely to see America as an exceptional country—91 percent versus 79 percent of Democrats say the United States is a “unique country that stands for something special in the world.” Perhaps, as a result, they are also more likely to want their students simply to “love their country” (a 20 percent to 6 percent margin). There is a fairly sizable gap on teaching respect for military service—91 percent of Republican teachers versus 67 percent of Democrats believe this is something high schools should impart to students.

Lastly, Republican teachers are somewhat more likely to prioritize assimilation. Over half—58 percent—say it’s more important for students to understand the commonalities that tie Americans together than to celebrate their unique identities, compared with just 47 percent of Democrats.

Of course, these differences are mostly differences in degree, not kind. As Jenna points out in her post, the teachers in our survey are not America-bashing radicals. That said, it’s interesting to see that party differences persist even in the classroom.

AEI