Textbook claims American exceptionalism has 'racist overtones'

Amber Athey
Investigative Reporter

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  • A sociology textbook in use at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne teaches that American exceptionalism has “racist overtones" and that capitalism is to blame for "the persistence of poverty."
  • The book also asserts that American values such as “competition,” “work,” “progress,” and “individual freedom” are detrimental to society.
  • "In Conflict and Order" is the only textbook used in the introductory Sociology course, which also fulfills a 3-credit general education requirement.
  • Students in a sociology class at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) are required to read a textbook that blames poverty on capitalism and claims that teaching American exceptionalism has “racist overtones.”

    The textbook, titled In Conflict and Order: Understanding Society, is required reading for a Principles of Sociology class (S161) at IPFW taught by Robert Pettit, which qualifies as a 3-credit general education requirement and is an introductory course for sociology majors.

    “The basic tenet of capitalism...private profit...explains the persistence of poverty.”   

    Not only does the book tell readers that teaching American exceptionalism has “racist overtones,” but also insists that America’s emphasis on equality is inconsistent with its practices, and even claims that “the basic tenet of capitalism—who gets what is determined by private profit rather than by collective need—explains the persistence of poverty.”

    [RELATED: UMD co-op aims to fight capitalism, corporate greed]

    “North Americans have always placed high value on the equality of all people...this value is impossible to reconcile with the racist, sexist, homophobic, and superiority theories held by some individuals and groups,” the text reads.

    It continues that equality cannot be reconciled with “many of the formal, and informal, practices in workplaces, in the schools, in the lending procedures of banks, and in the courts.”

    In a section on “Cultural Values in the United States,” the book explains why American values such as “competition,” “work,” “progress,” and “individual freedom” are detrimental to society.

    According to the authors of the book, the United States’ emphasis on hard work causes Americans to “assume that poor people deserve to be poor” as opposed to recognizing a “social system that systematically thwarts efforts by the poor.”

    Such judgments, the authors say, ignore faults of the economic system and the detriments that “being a racial minority” can have on economic success. Even further, such rationale is used by politicians to justify “welfare cuts and restrictions for the poor.”

    A student in the class, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Campus Reform that she was disheartened by the way the textbook bashed seemingly conservative values.

    “They don't talk about it the other way around...how work builds character, gives a sense of personal value, or helps with societal integration (which is a huge concept in sociology, obviously),” she explained. “It doesn't talk about why it's a major cultural value, but rather the problems it causes.”

    The student said she also took issues with the section on “Individual Freedom,” which again blames society for the failings of individuals, specifically citing income inequality as a driver of poverty.

    “The focus on individualism places responsibility on the individual for his or her acts—not on society or its institutions,” the text reads. “Being poor is blamed on the individual, not on the maldistribution of wealth and other socially perpetuated disadvantages that blight many families generation after generation.”

    The authors also write that “the basic tenet of capitalism—who gets what is determined by private profit rather than by collective need”—explains why poverty persists in the U.S.

    “It astounds me that an educational textbook would have this kind of bias and non-objectivity,” the anonymous student declared.

    The sociology textbook also takes a stab at environmentalism, blaming competition, progress, individual freedom, and capitalism for perpetuating ecological crisis.

    The book demonizes the constitutional right to private property as environmentally damaging, saying, “this belief in private property has meant, in effect, that individuals have had the right to pave a pasture for a parking lot, tear up an orchard for a housing development, put down artificial turf for a football field, and dump waste products into the air and water.”

    The student said she found it “somewhat comical” that the book suggested limiting personal freedom and human progress because of environmental harm.

    Ironically enough, in a section on social control, the authors specifically mention bias in textbooks at the college level as being a method of indoctrination.

    “The textbooks used in schools have typically not provided an accurate account of history, for example, but rather an account that is biased in the direction the authorities wish to perpetuate,” the text states. “According to David Sadker (2014), while textbooks have improved over the last 40 years, forms of bias can still be found in many K-12 textbooks as well as college texts and the media.”

    Campus Reform reached out to Prof. Pettit for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

    However, emails forwarded to Campus Reform show that not only did Pettit receive the request for comment, but he also forwarded the request to Kelly Eitzen Smith, one of the authors of the textbook.

    “I have used In Conflict and Order in my introductory sociology classes for the past 30 years,” Pettit wrote to Smith. “I have no intention of responding to their witch hunt.”

    “Interesting.... They have clearly picked out a few snippets from the book but haven't read it in its entirety (and clearly don't understand the sociological perspective if they think it's inappropriate in an intro sociology course!),” Smith responded.

    Pettit also sent the email to the Chair of the Sociology Department at IPFW, warning him that a “conservative watchdog group” was inquiring about the use of In Conflict and Order.

    The Chair followed up by sending a similar advisory to the entire sociology department, referring to Campus Reform as the “conservative thought police.”

    “It appears that the conservative thought police may be checking book orders,” the department head warned. “I thought you should be aware of this issue as it relates to academic freedom in university’s. [sic]”

    Campus Reform also reached out to Kelly Eitzen Smith but did not receive a response.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey



    Amber Athey

    Amber Athey

    Investigative Reporter

    Amber Athey is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Economics, and is currently a member of the 2016-2017 Koch Associate Program. 

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