Over at the University of South Carolina, controversy is brewing: Sophomore Anna Chapman, secretary of their College Republicans chapter, informed Fox News that one of the college's textbooks offered a misleading portrait of former President Ronald Reagan. The book, titled "Introduction to Social Work & Social Welfare: Critical Thinking Perspectives" and taught in a University of South Carolina class, apparently portays Reagan as sexist and insensitive to the needs of minorities, and casts his fellow conservatives as pessimists.
The book was written by Karen K. Kirst-Ashman, a professor and former chairperson in University of Wisconsin-Whitewater's social work department. An excerpt from the book:
[Reagan] discounted the importance of racism and discrimination, and maintained that, if they tried, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans could become just as successful as whites.
He viewed American males as rugged individuals who could accomplish almost anything if they tried. Similarly, he ascribed to women primarily domestic functions and failed to appoint many women to significant positions of power during his presidency.
The book also offered up three ways to characterize conservatism. Spoiler: They're not favorable.
- As opposing change and prefer tradition due to the fact that, “They believe change usually produces more negative than positive consequence.”
- As usually having a pessimistic view of human nature.
- That they usually “conceive of people as perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.”
As you might imagine, conservatives are really, really fired up about the textbook. But this isn't really an issue about liberals or conservatives: The problem is that these excerpts appear to teach a revisionist history. Characterizing conservatism through those three very basic principles doesn't accurately reflect the long and storied history of conservatism.
Additionally, the author, Kirst-Ashman, appears to conflate popular ideas of conservatism today with conservatism as it existed in Reagan's era.
Beyond that, like him or hate him, the fact remains that during his tenure as president, Reagan appointed several women to very important political positions: Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court; Jeane Kirkpatrick to UN ambassador; and roughly 1,400 women to policy-making positions, including Elizabeth Dole, Margaret Heckler, and Ann Dore McLaughlin.
Sure, Kirst-Ashman is more than entitled to her own opinions — but if they exaggerate, minimize, or invent what really happened in history, then they sure shouldn't be in a college textbook.
USC has responded to the controversy with a statement:
The University of South Carolina is committed to the free expression of ideas across our community—academic freedom and a vigorous public discourse. Our faculty and academic programs are free to select texts for their courses and our students are encouraged to raise questions, challenge convention and develop their own ideas.
This course, like many others, encourages critical thinking and we are pleased to see it has inspired a lively conversation, much like President Reagan did when he spoke to a crowd of 9,000 on our Horseshoe after being presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree Sept. 21, 1983.
Way to turn a PR disaster into a rose-tinted reminder of USC's legacy, guys.