Friday, August 9, 2013

Mitch Daniels’ Email Criticizing Howard Zinn Roundup

Chris Beneke
Tom LoBianco, “Daniels Looked to Censor Opponents,” The Associated Press, July 16, 2013
“Emails obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request show Daniels requested that historian and anti-war activist Howard Zinn's writings be
banned from classrooms and asked for a "cleanup" of college courses. In another exchange, the Republican talks about cutting funding for a program run by a local university professor who was one of his sharpest critics. … The emails are raising eyebrows about Daniels' appointment as president of a major research university just months after critics questioned his lack of academic credentials and his hiring by a board of trustees he appointed.”

The Mitch Daniels email, February 9, 2010
“This terrible anti-American academic finally passed away. The obits and commentaries mentioned that his book ‘A People’s History of the United States’ is ‘the textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.’ It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. … Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before any more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”

92 Purdue faculty members, “An open letter to Mitch Daniels,” July 22, 2013
“We trust our colleagues to introduce young people to the facts of history, but also to the much more difficult, much more essential practices of critical thinking. We trust our K-12 colleagues to know how and when to present challenges to received knowledge and how to encourage their students to judge such challenges for themselves. And we trust them to decide how and when to use controversial scholarship such as Zinn’s in their classrooms. This kind of academic freedom is essential to all levels of education, whether within a tenure system or not.”

American Historical Association, “AHA Releases Statement,” AHA Today, July 19, 2013
“The American Historical Association would consider any governor’s action that interfered with an individual teacher’s reading assignments to be inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom.   Some of the relevant facts of this case remain murky, and it is not entirely clear what in the end happened, or did not happen, in Indiana. Nonetheless, the AHA deplores the spirit and intent of former Governor Daniels’s e-mails of 2010 …. Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of Howard Zinn’s text, and whatever the criticisms that have been made of it, we believe that the open discussion of controversial books benefits students, historians, and the general public alike. Attempts to single out particular texts for suppression from a school or university curriculum have no place in a democratic society.”

Robert Cohen and Sonia Murrow, “Who’s Afraid of Radical History,” The Nation, August 5, 2013
“Innovative history teachers across the United States have for decades used A People’s History at the high school level in similarly comparative and rigorous ways. High school teachers desperate to breathe some life into their classes have distributed Xerox copies of Zinn’s most provocative chapters to offer a contrast to state-mandated textbooks, seeking to engage students in historical debate so they learn that history involves sorting out competing interpretations of the past rather than mere memorization of names and dates. These teachers have been drawn to Zinn because he offered their students a uniquely accessible introduction to the new social history, which revolutionized historical scholarship beginning in the 1960s.”

Rich Lowry, “Daniels vs. Zinn,” The National Review Online, July 30, 2013
“The caterwauling in the Daniels controversy about the importance of academic inquiry is particularly rich, given that Zinn didn’t believe in it. He had no use for objectivity and made history a venture in rummaging through the historical record to find whatever was most politically useful, without caring much about strict factual accuracy. ‘Knowing history is less about understanding the past than changing the future,’ he said. He joined his propagandistic purpose to a moral obtuseness that refused to distinguish between the United States and its enemies, including Nazi Germany.”

Sam Wineburg, “In Indiana, history meets politics,” Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2013.
“The Purdue faculty dismissed criticisms of Zinn's scholarship by Handlin and presidential historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. as coming from the ‘consensus school of U.S. history.’ But their dismissal ignored the searing criticisms of historians with impeccable leftist credentials, such as [Michael] Kazin and Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who wrote that for Zinn, ‘everyone who was president was always a stinker and every left-winger was always great.’ … His [Daniels’] view of history, presented in his 2011 book "Keeping the Republic," is as one-sided from the right as Zinn's was from the left. … What bothers me most about the whole flap — about Daniels' emails and about the Purdue faculty's reaction to them — is the way nuance was sacrificed to politics. We've come to expect politicians under fire to engage in spin. But when academics respond in kind, they reduce education to a game of politics. The loser in this game is truth and the students we are supposed to teach about the value of pursuing it.”


Dan Allosso said...

Interesting assortment of points of view! The academic critics of Zinn quoted here certainly have a point. But as someone who came to the history game relatively late in life, I can still remember when I first read Zinn and wondered, why have I never heard any of this before?! I think that's the point some of Zinn's critics miss -- he pushed the debate (over new social history, left history, the uses of history, propaganda, etc.) out into a very public space where the academics hadn't been very successful going for a while. As a young reader I didn't believe everything I read in Zinn's book, and it was easy to recognize his bias; but it motivated me to learn more...

Anonymous said...

A couple of more links

One from Wineburg

and one about reuse of others' words without attribution by Daniels

Unknown said...

Those downplaying the influence of Zinn on America's public high schools are making a grave mistake. I have taught history for 24 years and have an MA in the subject. Many teachers who use Zinn DO NOT use him to counter textbook views. Many use him because he illustrates their own slanted view. Few history teachers are really qualified to determine the validity of Zinn. Why? Half of all history teachers have taken only four legitimate college courses in the field because they have a Social Sciences Credential with a major in sociology, psychology, or any of the multitude of "studies" programs. 90% of all public school students are impressionable and will believe anything they read. It takes a highly qualified teacher with a true background in history to use Zinn in the classroom.