By Kyle Olson
MUSKEGON, Mich. – Once lauded by leftists, deceased Boston University professor Howard Zinn’s “history” books have become staples in America’s government schools.
Editions of “A People’s History of the United States” have been adapted for high school and middle school students across the nation. It has more than two million copies in print.
As one observer noted, “For many students, ‘A People’s History’ will be the first full-length history book they read, and for some, it will be the only one.”
Heck, even Hollywood liberal know-it-all Matt Damon said Zinn’s book will “knock you on your ass,” so it’s gotta be good. Right?
But Zinn’s version of history has suddenly come under fierce attack, not only by those on the right – who prefer a traditional reading of history (you know, like crediting the Founding Fathers for establishing America) – but from Zinn’s former admirers on the left as well.
The problem is that Zinn’s history books are still being employed in public schools everywhere. The radicals might have become convinced that Zinn has the wrong approach, but teachers in the K-12 world didn’t get the memo.
That means they are teaching a Marxist version of American history that even the Marxists now say is false and misleading.
The radicals don’t like Zinn anymore
Generally speaking, “A People’s History of the United States” is an attempt by Zinn to paint the American experience as one of economic and racial oppression of the masses by the privileged white capitalist class.
Those on the left certainly have no problem with that basic premise. But over time they’ve discovered flaws in his work that bother them to no end.
Georgetown University Professor Michael Kazin, co-editor of Dissent Magazine and one-time member of the radical Students for a Democratic Society, offered a blistering analysis of Zinn’s attempts to revise American history. From the Spring 2004 edition of Dissent:
“…Zinn’s big book is quite unworthy of such fame and influence. A People’s History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions. Zinn reduces the past to a Manichean fable and makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?”
In other words, Zinn’s anti-capitalist version of history is not anti-capitalist enough.
Kazin offers other dismissals of Zinn’s work:
“Like most propagandists, he measures individuals according to his own rigid standard of how they should have thought and acted.”
“Given his approach to history, Zinn’s angry pages about the global reach of U.S. power are about as surprising as his support for Ralph Nader in 2000.”
“The latest edition of the book includes a few paragraphs about the attacks of September 11, and they demonstrate how poorly Zinn’s view of the past equips him to analyze the present.”
“Pointing out what’s wrong with Zinn’s passionate tome is not difficult for anyone with a smattering of knowledge about the American past. By why has this polemic disguised as history attracted so many enthusiastic readers?”
Probably because, not long ago, a lot of people who think like Kazin where telling everyone how great Zinn’s books were.
Kazin isn’t the only leftist to offer criticism of Zinn’s “propaganda.” The American Federation of Teachers similarly dismissed “A People’s History” in its Winter 2012-13 American Educator magazine.
“I am less concerned here with what Zinn says than his warrant for saying it, less interested in the words that meet the eye than with the book’s interpretive circuitry that doesn’t,” the author of the magazine article wrote.
Teachers and students remain duped
Unfortunately the fashionable new anti-Zinn movement is not stopping government school teachers from using Zinn’s “bad history” as educational material for students.
In 2010, students at Kennett High School – location unknown – posted a “Howard Zinn Tribute” video on YouTube that featured them all reading different books, while the teacher reads “The Progressive,” a far-left magazine.
The description read, “We interrupt this school day to learn.”
A White Plains, New York history teacher only identified as “Ms. Altman,” refers to Zinn’s most famous book on her webpage. Occidental College instructor Peter Dreier makes it required reading for students.
Strangely, Boston Public Schools included “A People’s History” as a resource in its anti-bullying curriculum guide.
The Springfield (Mass.) Education Association offered free copies of an “education packet” that was produced to go with the book. A union newsletter spun it this way:
“History is often written by and focused on ‘the winners’ and overlooks the vast majority of those who lived it. Howard Zinn has spent a lifetime trying to bring balance to our understanding of history so we can learn from it and make positive change.”
According to the Zinn Education Project, over 26,000 teachers are using the group’s materials to teach students Zinn’s version of “history.”
The Zinn Education Project’s recent year-end fundraising appeal said, “You can help us reach thousands more teachers and millions more students in 2013.”
Even many leftists now understand what a crime that would be. Unfortunately they’re telling us to close the barn door after the horses already escaped.
Just how do Zinn’s new Marxist critics plan to expunge his growing influence from American classrooms? And why in the world didn’t they speak up sooner, before so many naive teachers and students were fooled into believing the dead professor had something to say that was worth learning?