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Koch Network Pushes Deceitful Textbook on Cash-Strapped Schools

A new Arizona school textbook is an interesting study in dark money advancing libertarian propaganda.

Why the textbook was written is an interesting tale of dark money advancing libertarian propaganda.

I was one of a number of community residents who reviewed the textbook, Ethics, Economy and Entrepreneurship (EE&E), proposed for use in Tucson Unified School District high schools.

To me, the first clue that this textbook lacked academic integrity was when the authors, three philosophy and marketing professors, began their section on trade 40,000 years ago with the claim that the Neanderthals became extinct because they “weren’t entrepreneurs.” Further nonsense included the idea that Jamestown failed because the settlers didn’t have private property rights, that American bison almost became extinct because Native Americans drove them off cliffs, and that towns were founded before agriculture.

Once they get to economics, the authors avoid any major event that challenges their belief that unregulated, “free-market” capitalism is the best of all possible economic systems. Shockingly, they completely ignore two of the most significant economic events: the market crashes of 1929 and 2008.

Lastly, while 90 percent of working people will work for employers rather than for themselves, the authors champion entrepreneurship over employment to high school students without indicating the success rate for entrepreneurs under the age of 40 is limited.

The EE&E textbook does not adhere to textbook guidelines recommended to educators. It was not written by experts in the field, peer-reviewed and published by a reputable publishing house — it is published by Sagent Labs, which is owned by the authors. Moreover, the textbook does not have footnotes, an index, a bibliography or references to help students distinguish between credentialed subject matter experts and propagandists. Why the textbook was written, though, is an interesting tale of dark money advancing libertarian propaganda.

Fortunately, in December, a small group of academics and concerned citizens convinced the Tucson Unified School Board to not include the textbook and its related course in their high school curriculum. This vote seems like such a minor thing: one textbook, one elective high school course, one school district. But elements of the yearlong effort by this small group, called Kochs Off Campus, has a number of national implications.

In 2008, the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom was founded at the University of Arizona with $1 million in funding from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, with additional funds totaling $16 million arriving over time from the Koch’s network of donors. The Center is part of a network of more than 200 such academic organizations across the US whose purpose is to advance the Koch brothers’ philosophy of minimal taxation, limited support for the poor and unregulated capitalism.

According to information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, one of the Center’s founding donors, The John Templeton Foundation, gave the organization a grant for more than $2.9 million for the development of its Philosophy, Politics and Economics of Freedom program to teach libertarian values to high school students. The program’s goal was to train 90 high school teachers to reach 4,000 students in its first three years of testing in Tucson high school districts, and eventually to 25 percent of Arizona’s high school student population by 2025.

David Schmidtz, who directs the Center, his wife Cathleen Johnson, and marketing expert Robert Lusch wrote and self-published the EE&E textbook, developed its accompanying course and solicited its placement. While Tucson Unified did not adopt the textbook, the city’s Amphitheatre, Vail and Rincon school districts had already authorized it before Kochs Off Campus became aware of its existence. Researching the textbook led us to the Freedom Center, the Koch plan to give libertarian philosophy academic credentials and Koch network’s push against taxpayer-funded education.

In 2009, the Koch network successfully convinced Arizona legislators to drastically reduce public school funding. This forced cash-strapped Arizona universities to accept similar donor-funded Freedom Centers, donor-directed courses and donor-selected professors. Now, to meet the state’s requirement for economics courses, cash-strapped schools are offered free teacher training and free textbooks to accept the biased textbook and course.

The irony is the Kochs’ campaign against public schools is partly based on the belief that “taxes are theft.” The textbook argues that businessmen like Thomas Edison should not have to pay taxes because their products are benefit enough to society. This idea, though, ignores how taxpayers benefit businesses by providing education to employees, building roads, funding research, and providing police and courts to protect property rights.

When the textbook is challenged, the authors, the University of Arizona and the Freedom Center often claim “academic freedom.” There is a big difference between the EE&E course being taught by Professor Schmidtz at the University of Arizona, and it being used in high schools. At the university, any lack or misrepresentation can be challenged when students take additional courses in ethics, economics, business or political science. In high schools, however, the course may be the only one offered, which means deficiencies in the textbook become much more consequential. The course leaves students with no understanding of important economic arguments that could help them become informed citizens, voters and employees. Further, their teachers were trained to the textbook and most likely have no knowledge or ability to mitigate what is missing, misleading or wrong.

To assure academic integrity in K-12 education, school boards need policies and procedures that make sure only textbooks that have been properly vetted are used in classrooms. Parents and school boards should not trust a textbook simply because it originated from a respected university, because K-12 curriculums do not include checks and balances on academic integrity.

To counter billionaire donor influence, we need hard-working volunteers willing to do relentless detailed research, speak up and produce communications that expose the demagoguery of wealthy libertarians and their assaults on critical thinking and degradation of democracy.

If you want to assure that our students are not taught that “greed is good” and winner-take-all selfishness is moral, then join a school board or a group fighting dark money to demand academic freedom that includes integrity.

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