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Conservatives see liberal bias in class - and mobilize

Complaints that teachers push liberal ideology are trickling down from college campuses to the K-12 level

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American Federation of Teachers spokeswoman Leslie Getzinger would not comment specifically on the trend, saying the group is for the moment focused on priorities such as meeting the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind law. But the AFT does oppose on principle efforts to curtail a perceived liberal bias at colleges, stating in a 2004 resolution that "political control and/or interference in scholarship and teaching are totally incompatible with the maintenance and development of a free, democratic and progressive society."

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Some self-described conservative students, however, are not content with the status quo.

Tyler Whitney, a junior at East Lansing High School in Michigan, says teachers and administrators let him circulate his newspaper, The Right Way, only after a public protest this spring and coverage of the standoff in the local news.

Principal Paula Steele says the school permitted distribution of The Right Way as soon as editors deleted submissions by college students, because "we do not want to be a forum for outside speakers." Ideology, she says, was never a factor.

In class, Tyler says, he still keeps his views to himself. When a world history teacher last year characterized the Iraq war as an empire-building bid for oil, he says, "I just shook my head and went along with it because I didn't want to get a bad grade."

Students in primary and secondary schools tend to feel "intimidated," due to the "imbalance of power" in the classroom, says Gerard Balan, managing editor of "[Students] are not really going to want to rock the boat even if they disagree with what the teacher is saying."

And when most of those teachers belong to unions that support Democrats, he and other activists say, the political compass tends to tilt left.

For some, the new assertiveness among parents and students is a response to restrictions at security- conscious schools. One example from the libertarian Rutherford Institute: the use of dogs in drug searches.

The institute, based in Charlottesville, Va., also objects to the "uniformity and conformity" required by some schools, says president John Whitehead. It filed suit May 17 against Hudson (Mass.) High School for allegedly tearing down posters for the High School Conservative Clubs of America.

The posters, hung by senior Chris Bowler, were provocative. They touted the clubs' website, which links to footage of beheadings at the hands of Islamic extremists. The site says the images show "the true doctrines of Islam put into action."

"Unfortunately, students are treated as semi-inmates in lots of schools," Mr. Whitehead says. "The problem is there aren't many people like Chris Bowler who will stand up and fight back." Hudson High School did not respond to requests for comment.

Some observers envision liberal and conservative families lining up in pursuit of separate educations. Because ideological policing of the classroom may prove impossible, support could grow for vouchers for values-driven education, says Michelle Easton, president of the conservative Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute in Herndon, Va.

"Our primary approach is to promote school choice, because then parents can pick little right-wing schools, little left-wing schools, little traditional schools - whatever they want for their children," Mrs. Easton says. "Then you get the government out the business of, 'You can't do this, you can't do that.' "