The Terrible Textbooks of Freshman Comp · 12 March 2012

Freshman composition class at many colleges is propaganda time, with textbooks conferring early sainthood on President Obama and lavishing attention on writers of the far left--Howard Zinn, Christopher Hedges, Peter Singer and Barbara Ehrenreich, for instance--but rarely on moderates, let alone anyone right of center. Democrats do very well in these books, but Abraham Lincoln--when included--is generally the most recent Republican featured.

Take The Norton Reader, for instance. Someone sent it to me, presumably because I teach freshman composition myself. Much of the volume is made up of popular writing by ideological writers of the left and political speeches that strain the traditional standards of rhetorical worthiness. Among the latter is the instant classic, Barack Obama's "A New Beginning" speech delivered in Cairo in 2009. It drew quite a bit of criticism, especially over historical inaccuracies. Yet none of this was mentioned. Topic questions were also embedded to trigger predetermined responses from students.

Lincoln, King and Obama

With my curiosity piqued by the obvious bias, I decided to look at other textbooks. What I found was the widespread promotion of Obama, thinly disguised by claims about his rhetorical skills. (Entering college freshmen are likely to have already been exposed to a lot on Obama, much of it from Scholastic, which offers a teachers' workbook, as well.) Other than one or two columns by a token conservative, like David Brooks, the rich array of conservative writing was ignored.

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