The New McCarthyism · 02 March 2006

The Washington Post reports on a kerfuffle at a high school in suburban Maryland

By James Taranto--WSJ--02/28/06

For months, 17-year-old Andrew Saraf had been troubled by stories he was hearing about a Peace Studies course offered at his Bethesda high school. . . . Last Saturday, he decided to act. He sat down at his computer and typed out his thoughts on why the course--offered for almost two decades as an elective to seniors at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School--should be banned from the school.

"I know I'm not the first to bring this up but why has there been no concerted effort to remove Peace Studies from among the B-CC courses?" he wrote in his post to the school's group e-mail list. "The 'class' is headed by an individual with a political agenda, who wants to teach students the 'right' way of thinking by giving them facts that are skewed in one direction." . . .

At Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Peace Studies is taught by Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post reporter and founder and president of the Center for Teaching Peace. Though the course is taught at seven other Montgomery County high schools, some say B-CC's is perhaps the most personal and ideological of the offerings because McCarthy makes no effort to disguise his opposition to war, violence and animal testing. . . .

For his part, McCarthy, 67, finds [Saraf's and other] students' objections a bit puzzling. He said that although the two sat in on a recent class, they have not talked to him in depth about their concerns.

"I've never said my views are right and theirs are wrong," he said about the students who take his course. "In fact, I cherish conservative dissenters. I wish we could get more of them in."

Yet McCarthy's record belies his claim to embrace dissent. In May 2002, as we noted, he denounced the school for its choice of commencement speaker: Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser. "Students deserve better than someone who advocates, as Rice does, sending U.S. pilots to kill human beings in Afghanistan," McCarthy told the student newspaper.

In October 2003, we quoted an admiring profile of McCarthy in Teacher magazine, which described a McCarthy speech to a group of teachers at the U.S. Institute of Peace:

McCarthy reluctantly wrapped up his speech at the 45-minute mark and was mobbed by several teachers who wanted to buy his books. Another group gathered in the back of the room to discuss what they'd just heard. While agreeing that McCarthy's in-your-face comments wouldn't fly with most school boards or parents, they excitedly talked about how radical pacifist ideas could enliven their own classes.

An elegant-looking teacher in her 40s wandered up and joined the conversation. The truth, she said conspiratorially, is that when you close your classroom door, you're in charge and there's a lot you can get away with. The others nodded in agreement.

Suddenly, the teacher registered with alarm that a reporter's tape recorder was running. She declared that her comments were off the record and abruptly walked away from the group. Reconsidering their candor, one by one other teachers in the circle requested that their comments, too, be considered off the record. Peace may have a chance in America's schools. But at least for now, the revolution will not be broadcast.

This column will refrain from taking a position on whether B-CC should kill McCarthy's course. But we hope more students across the country will follow the lead of Andrew Saraf and expose such heavy-handed attempts at ideological indoctrination.