Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
The Right-wing Demand for “Balance” in Education: A Stalking Horse for Indoctrination
David Horowitz, architect of the conservative Academic Bill of Rights, demands “balance” in what he says is a “left-wing”-dominated academy. “Intelligent design” proponents call for “balance” in “secular” high school science classrooms. Fox News claims that it is restoring “fairness” in a mainstream media dominated by “liberal bias.”
Why are these right-wing forces calling for “balance”? And is balance what intellectual activity should fundamentally be about?
But first consider the real “imbalances” of the media and education in U.S. society. When the Bush administration was preparing to go to war in Iraq, were daily newspapers and the evening newscasts filled with serious, critical analyses of the Bush administration’s war aims? The answer is obvious. In the universities—are business schools and political science and government studies programs overflowing with courses and professors presenting critiques of capitalism? They are not. More generally, the great majority of young people do not come out of the modern university with a deep understanding of the true nature of U.S. society. And in society more broadly, the majority of people are not given a serious education about the theory of evolution, which is understood by all serious scientists to be true and essential to the foundations of modern science.
And let's be real for a minute: No one is seriously, credibly, charging that students are being somehow stopped from or punished by progressive teachers for arguing for a different understanding of history, for example. Horowitz and others' campaign is not to encourage conservative students to do the serious study and work to substantively challenge the ideas of these professors; it's to organize legions to spy on, "turn in," and help more powerful forces intimidate such professors, as part of a campaign to "cleanse" the university.
But what about balance as a methodological guidepost and goal for scholarship and teaching? Certainly, in the search for truth, for what does and does not correspond to reality, it is essential that there be the fullest clash of ideas. But that kind of ferment is not the same thing as balance. In fact, balance is a wrong concept and criterion to guide instruction and the search for the truth.
If we know, conclusively, that the Earth is a sphere, should we also continue to research and teach that the Earth is flat, in the name of balance? If we know, conclusively, that evolution is true, should we also continue to research and teach Biblical creation myths as science, in the name of balance? No, we should not. These truths are conclusive--even while we continue to learn more about the origins and development of life on Earth, as in any field of human endeavor and understanding.
To insist that the yardstick of balance be applied to every important question would have disastrous consequences on intellectual life and integrity. It would get in the way of truthfulness, of building on accumulated understanding that corresponds to reality, and of scientifically interrogating and deepening understanding. It would mean that huge amounts of time and resources would be allocated to studying and teaching what is manifestly untrue, and this would have devastating effects on society.
Something very dangerous is going on. Under the stalking horse of “balance,” right-wing ideologues and political operatives have launched an assault on the search for the truth and its exposition. This attack is without precedent in modern times in this country—and it serves an extreme political and ideological agenda that requires closed and uncritical minds.
Some truths, established and definite, are very inconvenient now and under attack: truths about the roots of this country in slavery and genocide, for instance; or even truths about the evolution of the species. These conflict with the agenda of those in power; and, in the face of scholarship that has grown in the last several decades which challenges the "official narrative" on U.S. history, reactionaries demand that it be “balanced” out with conservative professors, who, in David Horowitz’s own words, appreciate that “students need to be presented with an alternative view of history that is closer to reality.” Horowitz’s "alternative view of history," "closer to reality," is that slavery was good for Black people because they are now richer than Africans! Christian fascists demand that the teaching of evolution in the classrooms be “balanced out” with the teaching, as science, that God created Adam (or, in "dressed up" form, that some unidentified "intelligent designer" created life). “Balance” and equilibrium for Fox News is that George Bush tells the truth.
When it comes to the current crusade for "balance," there is another crucial point to grasp: it's a temporary and transitional program to a very bad place. We have seen this method in operation in other arenas of society. For example, look at the media: Fox News slogan is "Fair and Balanced." Right-wingers launch accusations of "liberal media bias," while their own "noise machine" increasingly dominates airwaves. The more traditionally "mainstream" media coverage (whose historic role as a voice for those in power is well documented and whose slavish docility before the extremes of lying, spying, and war-making of this President has been scandalous) adapts more and more to give "respect and voice" to extremely right-wing views. All the while, truly radical voices and critiques are largely banned—considered "beyond the pale" of what passes for "credible discourse." And the media—"traditionally mainstream" and right-wing alike—are now either effectively silent in the face of, or fanning the flames of, the current attacks on dissent and critical thinking in the universities.
Now we are seeing this same method in action in the university. The right-wing demand for “balance” is not a call for the contention of ideas over what is real and what most accurately characterizes reality, be it life on Earth or the history of this country. It is, for the time being, a call for the coexistence of truths, half-truths, and untruths. And in the hands of David Horowitz and Lynne Cheney, the Christian fascists, and Fox News, it is a cover to banish critical thinking from the university, and from society itself.
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