Ideology is a word that evokes a variety of sentiments. An ideologue is often thought of as an emotionally overcharged believer who disregards reason and common sense in order to follow a particular set of beliefs. At the same time, having "ideological convictions" is considered by many to be honorable. Social studies teachers and students engage the concept of ideology on a daily basis. Whether teaching about such subjects as the Cold War or considering such issues as the nature of the curriculum, social studies teachers find ideology to be a central part of the curriculum. This is especially true when social studies teachers and students use the World Wide Web.
In this article, I will review the history of ideology, the place of ideology in the social studies, and the ideological character of the web. In addition, I will consider a number of ideologically framed social studies-related websites and make instructional suggestions how to use ideologically framed websites in social studies classes.
What Is Ideology?
The French philosopher Antoine-Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy coined the term ideology in 1796 to describe what he referred to as the "science of ideas" (1) As a science, ideology was (according to Destutt de Tracy) associated with the senses and removed from the "idealism" of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. Ideology, a product of the enlightenment, was firmly opposed to classical metaphysics. For the most part, this use of the word has been lost to history. Destutt de Tracy and his colleagues were unable to establish ideology as a science because of a number of factors, including the derogatory use of the term by Napoleon Bonaparte. He attacked his political opponents who called for democratic representation in France by calling them "ideologues." The derogatory use of the term "ideologue" continues to this day.
Karl Marx was possibly the most famous critic (or proponent, depending on your interpretation) of ideology. He conceived of ideology as a type of "false consciousness" that veiled more fundamental or real historical processes. At the same time, Marx spoke of ideology as a superstructure that could expose the "false ideals" of the material or dominant class. His theory of economic progress suggested that ideology (or ideas about life) and real life interacted in a dialectical way that would advance humans toward a classless society.
Postmodern theorists have revived ideology as a conceptual device, using it to explain the occurrence of what might be called "multiple realties." According to some postmodernists, any theory of life would represent not only a valid but also a lived ideology. These varied ideologies then vie for attention in a complex and chaotic world.
Outside the realm of philosophy, ideology is generally conceived of as any given set of beliefs. It is this use of the term that has the most relevance in social studies.
Ideology and Social Studies Instruction
Ideology appears in many areas in social studies, the most obvious in the content of history and civics or government. World and U. S. history courses include content on the historical origins of ideology and the historical and political consequences of ideological commitment. In government courses, students study various political ideologies as competing forms of social life. Beyond content, ideology impinges on curriculum and instruction in a variety of ways. Most important, ideological perspectives influence how specific curricula are developed. We find evidence of the ideological character of curriculum in the recent contentious debate over the national history standards. (2)
Ideology may be present in social studies content, but those involved in education often attempt to mask its influence. Publishers go to great lengths to remove ideological overtones from textbooks. In a market as narrow as social studies textbooks, few companies would risk sales by claiming to be driven by a particular ideology. Likewise, social studies teachers are generally careful to avoid revealing their political opinions and most often attempt to hide their personal ideology behind their pedagogical practice.
Ideology and the Web
Social studies teachers are using the World Wide Web in increasing numbers. Most, if not all, social studies classrooms now have access to the web. Recent surveys indicate that web usage among social studies teachers and students is growing steadily. (3) As usage continues to increase, social studies teachers and students are going to have to confront questions about the ideological nature of certain material on the web. The Internet (and more properly, the World Wide Web) has decentralized knowledge and democratized access to information. (4) In such an environment, the market mechanisms that squeeze ideology out of traditional social studies materials are absent. Because of low barriers to publication and limited commercial opportunities, the web has become a haven for personal, ideologically driven forms of expression.
Ideologically driven websites take various forms. The most prominent are associated with American political parties. Students may encounter websites that are run or informed by every political party in the United States. Thousands of websites are devoted to delivering the ideological messages of political parties. Because the web knows no borders, political ideology from all corners of the world is readily available for social studies students. Outside the political arena, other ideological websites reflect economic and philosophical theories, personal world views, and innumerable sets of beliefs.
Ideologically Framed Websites: Invisible Ideology
Countless websites present documents and information within the framework of specific ideologies. The ease of publication and presentation on the web means that a minimal commitment in time and money can yield impressive results. What takes textbooks publishers great expense to produce can be done quickly and cheaply on the web. Yet all too often, the ideology of a website is not visible. Civics and Politics (www.civicsandpolitics.com) is an example of an ideological site that might pass as a neutral resource. Civics and Politics contains numerous documents and links to documents related to social studies curricula (i.e., the United States Constitution). The ideological bent of this website is fairly obvious, however, if one has experience working with ideologies. The front page is filled with links to conservative and libertarian commentators, such as Neal Boortz, Thomas Sowell, and Robert Novak, and one sub-section is titled "Big Government Alert." (5) The site contains links to numerous other ideologically focused websites, such as News Max (newsmax.com), Common Sense America (www.csamerican.com), and World Net Daily (worldnetdaily.com). For inexperienced students, the ideology of this website presents a problem. If a teacher asks his or her students to use one of the documents on the site, those students might assume that the other material on the site carries the teacher's stamp of approval or authority. Students might also misinterpret the content of the website as being "textbook-like" or unquestionably correct or true.
Ideologically framed websites are also of concern when teachers use these sites without knowledge of the ideology driving the site. It is easy to find sites that contain useful information for social studies classes. The real skill is determining the contextual presentation of these materials. A good example of the need for context is Founding.com: A users guide to the Declaration of Independence (founding.com). This site contains a splashy, graphically pleasing version of the Declaration of Independence. Teachers should not be overwhelmed by the interface, but instead should focus on the content of the site. Founding.com was developed by the ultra-conservative Claremont Institute (claremont.org). There is, of course, nothing wrong with the Claremont Institute providing a web resource on the Declaration of Independence, but the ideological bent of the site must be dealt with in a clear and direct manner. Founding.com presents a lively interpretation of the Declaration using a conservative ideology. If teachers do not provide students with the means to decode this ideology and contextualize it within the lesson, the instruction itself will become an exercise in ideological indoctrination.
Ideologically Framed Websites: Visible Ideology
Another way to consider ideology on the web is to look at sites that have apparent and visible ideological perspectives. Numerous sites fall into this category, but the most vibrant of these are built around communities. Subtitled "A Community of People Committed to Social Change," Znet (www.zmag.org) is a good example of visible ideology on the web. The ideology of Znet is politically liberal. Its members advocate from a collectivist stance for social change. The website contains commentary, articles, essays, book reviews, interviews, links to organizations, and a community for like-minded individuals. Prominent on the site are links to social change organizations, such as the World Social Forum (www.forumsocialmundial.org.br), Anti-Capitalist Convergence (www.abolishthebank.org), the Rainforest Action Network (www.ran.org), and Working for Change (www. workingforchange.com). Contributing writers include Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Robert Fisk, and George Monibot. The site has extensive reach with over 4,400 paying members, an average traffic ranking of 25,631, and 3,732 links pointing to the site. (6)
Another example at the other end of the American political spectrum is Free Republic (www.freerepublic.com). The opening sentence on its front page makes obvious the ideology of the site: "Free Republic is an online gathering place for independent, grass-roots conservatism on the web." This site is primarily devoted to facilitating active online discussion forums, but it also contains links to news articles and commentary, access to radio broadcast, and a limited amount of original commentary. Links to well-known conservative organizations, such as American Conservative Union (www.conservative.org), the Young America Foundation (www.yaf.org), the Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), and Rush Limbaugh's website (www.rushlimbaugh.com) are featured on the site. The organization has more than forty chapters and some 60,000 non-paying registered users. It has an average traffic ranking of 2,583, and 3,482 links pointing to the site. (7)
Although these websites might be used in social studies, they are not directly concerned with education. Within the field of education, several organizations with a presence on the web are devoted to encouraging ideological teaching. Ideologically driven education is particularly evident within the social justice movement. Rethinking Schools (www.rethinkingschools .org) and the Network of Educators on the Americas' (NECA) Teaching for Change (www.teachingforchange.org) are examples of ideologically driven organizations on the web. Both organizations advocate for curriculum and practice that revolves around a commitment to a progressive social agenda.
Rethinking Schools promotes itself as an "urban educational journal." Much of the content on the website is what one might expect in an educational journal. In addition, Rethinking Schools offers teaching ideas and perspectives. The journal had in a recent edition a special section titled "War, Terrorism, and America's Classrooms." Within this special section were a series of educational ideas that examined the causes and consequences of September 11. One article by Bill Bigelow had a lesson on terrorism that directed students to consider (what Bigelow suggested were) acts of terrorism committed by the United States. These ideas were clearly in-step with an ideological perspective that perceives America's role in world politics as abusive and overreaching.
In much the same way, NECA's Teaching for Change offers instructional ideas that challenge the status quo. For example, the resources include a collection of activities related to what the authors call the unjust incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal. (8) The activities focus on a critical assessment of the criminal justice system in the United States and call for the inclusion of these lessons to prompt action on such issues as police brutality, the death penalty, and racial profiling. Although these lessons do encourage critical thinking, they also carry the ideological baggage of NECA. Social studies teachers could modify these lessons by providing counterpoints to authors' claims that the United States has unjustly incarcerated Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Educational ideology is particularly problematic. Parents expect that their children will be educated in an environment that reflects the values and beliefs of the local community and the broader national identity. These beliefs are codified in many school systems as a part of moral-, character-, or values-based educational programs. Teachers should be careful not to knowingly or unknowingly violate the spirit of these programs. Beyond community expectations, social studies teachers are obligated to create learning environments that are open and safe. Teachers should avoid subjecting children without their knowledge to ideologies through instructional practice. In addition, many ideologically driven websites actively attempt to recruit "followers."
Teaching with Ideological Web Sites
There are a number of instructional directions in which social studies teachers can go when using ideological websites. One issue that they must confront is whether to use the website in support of an objective or as the object of the instruction. If the website becomes the focus of the instruction, maintaining a sense of detachment from the ideological perspective advanced on the site should be easy. If they use the site as a resource to support instruction, teachers must ensure that students understand the ideological perspective of the site and that they are not misled by the inclusion of the site as a resource.
Several social studies activities make use of ideologically driven websites. Students could explore an ideologically charged issue, examine the structure of a specific ideology, conduct a historical inquiry about an event that was shaped by some ideology, or analyze the work of a person or group of people who were instrumental in the development of an ideology. All these activities require access to materials that would be hard to come by through traditional media. For example, if, prior to the invention of the web, students in a social studies class wished to study Marxist ideology, they would have had to visit a library (most likely outside their own school). Today, thousands of sites are devoted to publishing the work of Marxists, as well as to exploring the consequences and failings of Marxist ideology.
The following describes how a teacher might use the web to teach about ideology and globalization. Although the narrative deals with a specific topic (globalization), the underlying principles are interchangeable with other content. These principles include making sure that teachers and students recognize the ideology of the website, determining in advance some instructional (non-ideological) purposes for using the site, and placing the site in the context of classroom norms.
Exploring the Ideology Underlying the Debate over Globalization
The debate over globalization has generated a great deal of controversy. Sharp differences have emerged over the last twenty years among those whose opinions about globalization range from neo-liberal to neo-Marxist. Distinct ideological perspectives have emerged. Each interested group promotes its ideology because it understands that what people believe will most often determine how they act. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if teachers are willing to challenge students to think critically), these ideologies are not simple and dichotomous but involve a range of beliefs about issues, such as free markets, the role of governments, the use of military force, and the environment. By using the web, social studies teachers can provide students with a variety of ideological perspectives on globalization. This narrative focuses specifically on the issue of free markets and globalization, but could easily shift to another related topic.
As an opening activity, have students develop an understanding of the term globalization. This activity should make use of dictionary-like web resources as well as ideological web resources. Students could begin their investigation by visiting the Encarta Encyclopedia (encarta.msn.com). A search on the word "globalization" will yield a short definition and links to additional information. To supplement this definition, students may visit the Global Policy Forum's (GPF) website on globalization (www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz). GPF is a public policy organization based in New York that is working to "broaden citizen voices within the United Nations system." (9) The following quote summarizes the ideological position GPF has taken on the issue of globalization:
Globalization creates vast new markets and gigantic new wealth, as well as widespread suffering, disorder and unrest. It creates global repression and propaganda as well as global movements for social justice and emancipation. (10)
The GPF website is essentially a collection of articles relating to globalization. Students' use of the GPF website should enhance their understanding of the meaning of globalization. One of the ten sections on the site is titled "Issues and Debates: Towards Defining Globalization." Although no single "definition" is provided, a sampling of the resources (mostly articles) in this section should give students a firm understanding of GPF's characterization of globalization.
As a counterpoint to the GPF ideology, direct students to the Cato Institute's website on globalization issues, Project on Global Economic Liberty (www.cato.org/research/glob-st.html). This site contains links to numerous research papers, articles, book excerpts, congressional testimonies, and events. The information on this site can be overwhelming, and the teacher will need to invest some time locating specific materials that may benefit students. One article that presents the ideological perspective of the Cato Institute in an accessible manner is Doug Bando's "Globalization Serves the World's Poor" (www.cato.org/dailys/04-25-01.html). This article reflects the Cato ideology, which can be summarized as follows:
The Project on Global Economic Liberty ... seeks to demonstrate that a country's domestic policies and institutions are the primary determinants of its economic progress and that the best path toward development is one based on open markets, private property rights, and the rule of law. (11)
In this activity, students may go beyond the meaning of globalization to identify the ideological perspectives of the GPF and the Cato Institute. The ideologies represented by these organizations are mainstream versions of the sometimes intense ideological frames that have emerged in the debate over globalization. Students should encounter these extremes to discourage a dichotomous approach to the issue of globalization and to provide some additional depth on the issue of free trade and globalization. First, have students go to the Fraser Institute's website (www.fraserinstitute.ca) and the Economic Freedom Network website (www.freetheworld.com). Free the World provides information about the economic freedom that exists in various countries. The following quote from the organization's website summarizes its ideological perspective: "The Fraser Institute was founded in 1974 to redirect public attention to the role markets can play in providing for the economic and social well-being of Canadians." (12) The most prominent feature on Free the World is the "Economic Freedom Network Index." This index scores countries on the basis of their levels of economic freedom. Have students rank a randomly selected list of countries and then attempt to determine the means by which the authors of the website assigned these "freedom" scores. This activity will help students understand the ideology of the organization.
As a means to experience a different extreme, have students visit the website for the Mobilization for Global Justice (MGJ) (www.globalizethis.org). MGJ is an umbrella organization for specific issues relating to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. As an umbrella organization, MGJ represents a variety of specific ideological perspectives that are all opposed to globalization. The following list of demands on the MGJ website neatly summarizes its ideological opposition to the IMF and the World Bank. MGJ wants
* To open all World Bank and IMF meetings to the media and public.
* To cancel all impoverished country debt to the World Bank and IMF using the institutions' own resources.
* To end all World Bank and IMF policies that hinder people's access to food, clean water, shelter, health care, education, and the right to organize. (Such "structural adjustment" conditions include user fees, privatization, and economic austerity programs.)
* To stop all World Bank support for socially and environmentally destructive projects, such as oil, gas, and mining activities, and to stop all support for projects, such as dams, that include forced relocation of people. (13)
Have students use this list of demands and additional information from the various associated organizations that are linked on the MGJ website to synthesize the ideology of MGJ. Most of these organizations are engaged in active protest. At any given time, a particular meeting or protest may be the main subject of discussion on the MGJ website. Students should use the context of these "actions" for their work.
After encountering all four websites, students should be ready to discuss the range of ideological perspectives that they experienced. Use a narrow set of questions to drive this discussion. Students may read two web-based articles on globalization. The first article, by David Dollar and Aart Kraay, from Foreign Affairs, is titled "Spreading the Wealth" (www. foreignaffairs.org/articles/Dollar01022.html). This article suggests that the globalization movement is a positive force that is improving economic conditions for all people around the world. Students should also read a response to this article written by Mark Weisbrot, Dean Baker, Robert Naiman, and Gila Neta, titled "Growth May Be Good for the Poor, But are IMF and World Bank Policies Good for Growth?" (www.cepr.net/response_to_dollar_kraay.htm). This article suggests that the current globalization movement is producing the wrong kind of growth, a growth that only benefits the rich. As students encounter these articles, make sure that they are aware of the publication sources for both articles. Foreign Affairs is a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations (www.cfr.org), an organization that has close ties to the foreign policy establishment and is imbued with its views. The response article is a publication of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (www.cepr.net), an organization with close ties to the liberal establishment in the United States.
Danger: Ideology Approaching
The dangers of ideology are well-documented in recent history. In the twentieth century, dashes among followers of communism, fascism, and democracy cost tens of millions of lives. Strict adherents to ideology have at times been willing to reject all appeals to logic. This overindulgence in ideology led Aldous Huxley to quip, "Which is better: to have Fun with Fungi or to have Idiocy with Ideology?" Given the dangers of overindulgence in ideology and the centrality of ideology on the web, some social studies teachers might be reluctant to use web-based materials. Hopefully, this will not be the case. Teacher's and students should not avoid ideology on the web, but rather encounter each ideological perspective with the candor and discipline of an academic endeavor. What teachers must avoid is misusing the web as an instrument of ideological indoctrination.
(1.) Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 153-157.
(2.) Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross Dunn, History on Trial: National Identity, Culture Wars, and the Teaching of the Past (New York: Knopf, 1997).
(3.) The 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) United States history assessment report indicated that, on average, fewer than one in ten social studies teachers used computers at least once a week. See nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ushistory. Five years later, in 1999, Henry J. Becker found that more than one in five social studies teachers used computers at least once a week. Henry J. Becker, "Teacher Professional Engagement and Constructivist-Compatible Computer Use," available at www.crito.uci.edu/tlc/findings/report_7/startpage.html.
(4.) Anne Wynne, "History Instruction and the Internet: A Literature Review," in History.edu: Essays on Teaching with Technology, eds., D.A. Trinkle and S. A. Merriman (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2001), 25-37.
(5.) This information was gathered from civicsandpolitics.com.
(6.) As determined using the Alexa.com (alexa.com) site statistic tool. The average traffic ranking was determined by counting the total number of people using the Alexa service who visited the site over a six-month period. Site information and statistics were gathered on February 6, 2002.
(7.) As determined using the Alexa.com (alexa.com) site statistic tool (see note 6). Site information and statistics were gathered on February 6, 2002.
(8.) This lesson is available at www.teachingforchange.org/News%20Items/ Mumia.htm.
(9.) See www.globalpolicy.org/visitctr/about.htm for more information about the Global Policy Forum.
(10.) This quote was taken from the front page of the Global Policy Forum's site on globalization (www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/index.htm).
(11.) See the front page of the Cato Institute's Project on Global Economic Liberty (www.cato.org/research/glob-st.html).
(12.) See the Fraser Institute (www.fraserinstitute.ca).
(13.) This list of demands is accessible through the main website (www. globalizethis.org/s30). To gain access to this list, click on "Frequently Asked Questions." The web pages produced from this link are in a database and therefore a direct link cannot be provided.
John K. Lee is assistant professor of social studies, College of Education, Georgia State University.…