An Academic Field Premised on Animus?

February 25, 2014

Inside Insight

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university of south carolinaI am a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, and recently I was able to highlight several instances of flagrantly non-factual political bias in my social work textbook. In case you didn’t catch it, I was required to purchase a textbook for my class, Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare, last semester.

(Watch an interview about that story here; read the original report here.)

The textbook was shockingly one-sided on political subjects. Some of the themes include (but are not limited to): demonizing wealthy people, making false accusations of politically conservative presidents (particularly Ronald Reagan); describing conservatives as people who have a “pessimistic view of human nature” and who view people as “naturally lazy and corrupt”; describing liberals as people who “have an optimistic view of human nature” and “who believe people are capable of infinite possibilities as long as they have what they need to survive.”

All this is strange because – in my view – it’s actually conservatives who think people are capable of succeeding without the governments help. I am a conservative, and I am extremely tolerant of other opinions – but not when they’re falsely presented as facts in a book that I am required to spend money on.

Liberal bias is almost expected from college professors (sadly), but I wasn’t expecting it from a textbook. I felt as if I was reading the transcript of an angry host on MSNBC. It’s ironic because the academic field of social work takes great pains to emphasize “diversity”—unless you don’t agree with them.

The book takes jabs at political conservatives every chance that it gets. I supposed I noticed it because I come from a conservative, middle-class family, one that gives away more than anyone has a right to expect, and I can describe no one in my family as having a “pessimistic view of human nature.”

Sure, some of the material is what you’d expect in a textbook on social work.

A paragraph on explanations for poverty, for example, says this: “Gans (1971) proposes that the wealthy find that having a social class of poor people is useful. First, poor people can do the ‘dirty work’ for rich people that the latter don’t want to do. Poor people are more willing to take service jobs, jobs requiring hand labor, or those posing more dangers than their rich counterparts. Second, having a poor social class emphasizes that the wealthy are higher in the social structure. It reinforces their higher status and allows them to look down on classes below them.” Herbert Gans’s 43-year-old argument is absurd, and it’s hard to believe a serious textbook would report it as part of a factual assessment, but fair enough – Gans really did say it.

The textbook also portrays President Reagan as a sexist who “ascribed women to ‘primarily domestic functions’ and didn’t appoint many women to significant positions of power.” This is untrue: Reagan appointed over 1,400 women to significant positions of power and appointed the first woman as a Supreme Court justice.

That quoted phrase – “primarily domestic functions” – comes from a book by Bruce Jansson called The Reluctant Welfare State. Jansson, though just as unfair to Reagan as the textbook, doesn’t say that Reagan himself “ascribed to women ‘primarily domestic functions,’” but that Reagan’s “frontier philosophy” did. There’s a difference.

So the textbook puts a left-wing spin on material that already has a flagrant left-wing spin.

The book should be taken off the curriculum. I don’t believe it’s a reflection of the University as a whole, but it is definitely a reflection of the social work program, the whole of which seems to be premised on anti-conservative ranting.

That’s unfortunate. Conservatives could bring a lot of ideas to the field of social work. But that won’t happen in an environment like this.

Editor’s Note: Chapman is a sophomore at the University of South Carolina studying political science.