Indoctrination Games: The Ongoing Battle for Control of the Historical Narrative

A friend recently sent me a link to an article in a Philadelphia-based website–ironic that the article was based out of Philadelphia, the historical ground zero of radical freedom of thought and expression in America–by David Horowitz and Mark Tapson. The op ed piece was titled To restore balance in schools, a teacher code of ethics is needed. One look at the title and I realized that my friend, a fellow history teacher, had sent this little gem to me knowing it would get my ire up. It didn’t fail. Here is the opening paragraph from this masterpiece…

It is no secret that, as the radical left moved from protesting on campuses in the ‘60s to infiltrating those campuses as educators in the decades since, American colleges and universities have been fundamentally transformed from institutions of higher learning to mills of political indoctrination. Through the left-wing schools of education and activist figures like terrorist Bill Ayers — a “distinguished professor of early childhood education” and editor of a series of manuals on teaching “social justice in secondary schools — the tentacles of that indoctrination now latch onto youthful minds beginning in kindergarten.”

It doesn’t get any better from there…

I’ve heard this nonsense from the far right for years now–from the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. It is a staple of the Fox News crowd’s diet. It’s also mostly rubbish and the very height of hypocrisy.

Let’s start with the title of that lovely bit of propaganda–“To restore balance in schools, a teacher code of ethics is needed.”–Really? I have news for Messrs. Horowitz and Tapson, we are on to you–you don’t want balance, you want it to go back to the severely unbalanced ways of the past–your “good ol’ days.” You want to whitewash history and place America back upon it’s shining pedestal where she can do no wrong. Balance? Are you kidding us?

You hear that teachers are presenting students with multiple perspectives about the American story and you freak out and call it “revisionist history.” You label giving students all the facts–the good, the bad, and the ugly–as trashing America and indoctrinating our youth with an anti-American bias. You call for a code of ethics where teachers would swear to be “balanced” yet your code of ethics would require us to hide huge parts of the story that might shine a less than favorable light upon our nation. You shameless hypocrites!

This agenda is nothing new to me. As a teacher in Indiana, I have seen it first hand. Several years ago, it came to light through leaked emails that, while he was governor, Mitch Daniels was actively attempting to have the historical works of Howard Zinn banned from public schools. For those who haven’t heard of the late Howard Zinn, he was a historian who wrote A People’s History of the United States. As a historian, Zinn focused not on history’s “winners” but on its “losers.” Zinn took the well-worn truth that history is written by the winners and stood it upside down. He looked at America’s history from the perspective of the people who were dominated by it–the Native Americans, the African Americans, the Mexicans, etc. As a result, America’s image in Zinn’s history is not so shiny. Is Zinn’s work biased? Of course it is–in fact, he tells you it is right off the bat when you read the introduction. Find me a history text that isn’t biased to some degree or another–but don’t hold your breath as you search. But, biased as it may be, Zinn’s work is no less history and it is no less important. I use portions of Zinn’s work as supplemental text from time to time in my history classes. I would never think about telling America’s story strictly by using Zinn’s work alone, that wouldn’t be balanced, but it is a valuable and necessary corrective to the decades of revisionist history that was long forcefed to America’s students.

That’s right, I said revisionist history.

That’s exactly what the old, traditional American history textbooks were full of–a whitewashed version of glorified American history, sanitized for your kids’ protection–very little critical thinking required–just the way Messrs. Horowitz, Tapson, Beck, Limbaugh, et al. would like it.

You know, “balanced.”

Here is my final message for David Horowitz, Mark Tapson, and their ilk. You say you want teachers to give a balanced version of history.

You lie.

You lament that American institutions of higher learning are turning out “indoctrinated” teachers because they are being trained by radical leftists who emerged from the 60’s as if it were some kind of crime. I assume you are referring to those people who made a point of standing up and vehemently protesting a terrible and unjust war, people who risked their own well-being so that African Americans could finally gain full enfranchisement and civil rights, people who went to the wall for America’s women to lift them up out of the dark ages. Are those the radical lefties you mean? Those lefties did an awful lot to provide balance to our nation, for the least of these, our brothers and sisters, wouldn’t you agree? What’s that? You say that’s not what you mean by balance? I didn’t think so, you hypocrites.

What our public schools do now is provide real balance. I teach the standard American story, just like you learned when you matriculated in decades past, but now I sprinkle in the parts of the story you never heard, the parts of the story you’d like covered up. I never–never ever–tell my students what to think, but I give them a lot more to think about you’d prefer.

You see, American schools are not in the business of indoctrination. Quite the contrary, we are in the business of turning out well-rounded–balanced if you will–critical thinkers. Critical thinkers are tough to control, they don’t fall easily into lockstep with any canned political ideology. And that, Messrs. Horowitz and Tapson, is what has you frightened.

I love my country. Teaching history in a truly balanced way does not indoctrinate our students to be anti-American. It gives them the critical thinking tools to go out and make America better–to make her truly live up to her creed. Teaching it the way Horowitz and Tapson would have it taught would take America backwards–right where they want it.

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