Tags: Daniels | Zinn | Purdue | history

Mitch Daniels vs. Howard Zinn

Tuesday, 30 Jul 2013 10:18 AM

By Rich Lowry

Share:
  Comment  |
   Contact Us  |
  Print  
|  A   A  
  Copy Shortlink
Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now the president of Purdue University, has impeccable taste in historians.
 
Upon the death of Howard Zinn in 2010, he wrote an email to his advisers about Zinn's most famous work, "A People's History of the United States." "It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page," he said. "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?"
 
He was appalled to find out that Indiana University used the tome in a course training the state's teachers, and wanted his education adviser to look into such courses and impose some standards. "Disqualify the propaganda," he urged, "and highlight (if there is any) the more useful offerings."
 
Just revealed, the emails have occasioned much heavy breathing among the sorts of people for whom lacking perspective is a professional obligation. For them, Daniels might as well be a book-burning fireman out of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."
 
Ninety-two Purdue professors signed a letter warning that "the very viability of academic inquiry and the university's mission is at stake." The American Historical Association said it "deplores the spirit and intent" of the emails, and considers "any governor's action that interfered with an individual teacher's reading assignments to be inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom." Historian Michael Kazin generously allowed, "I don't know if Daniels should be fired," before stipulating "he should be roundly condemned."
 
You would never guess from the hysterics that the low estimation that Daniels has for Zinn's work is shared by a swath of distinguished historians. It's not that they disagree with Zinn or believe he's too controversial. They think his work is, to borrow the word Daniels used in another email, "crap."
 
As Michael Moynihan pointed out in Reason magazine, much of the incoming fire comes from Zinn's more intellectually credible comrades on the left. Sean Wilentz describes Zinn's work as "balefully influential." Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. called him "a polemicist, not a historian." The New Republic recently ran a review of a biography of Zinn under the headline "Agit-Prof." Even the aforementioned Michael Kazin believes Zinn "essentially reduced the past to a Manichean fable."
 
"A People's History" is a book for high-school students not yet through their Holden Caulfield phase, for professors eager to subject their students to their own ideological enthusiasms, and for celebrities like Matt Damon, who has done so much to publicize it. If it is a revelation to you that we treated Native-Americans poorly, and if you believe the Founding Fathers were a bunch of phonies, Zinn's volume will strike you with the power of a thunderclap. And one day, maybe, you will grow up.
 
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.
 
Daniels was right not to want Indiana school kids to be subjected to Zinn in the classroom (what they choose to read on their own time is another matter), and right to worry that "A People's History" was part of teacher training. The former governor's critics are willing to look the other way at Zinn's transgressions against his own academic discipline; for them, defending a fellow man of the left and shouting "censorship" are more important and congenial pursuits than maintaining standards.
 
The sin of Mitch Daniels, it turns out, is to take history more seriously than they do.
 
Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review and author of the new bestseller “Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream — and How We Can Do It Again.” He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and a variety of other publications. Read more reports from Rich Lowry — Click Here Now.
 
 
 

© King Features Syndicate

Share:
  Comment  |
   Contact Us  |
  Print  
  Copy Shortlink
Around the Web
Join the Newsmax Community
Please review Community Guidelines before posting a comment.
>> Register to share your comments with the community.
>> Login if you are already a member.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
Email:
Country
Zip Code:
Privacy: We never share your email.
 
Hot Topics
Follow Newsmax
Like us
on Facebook
Follow us
on Twitter
Add us
on Google Plus
Around the Web
Top Stories
You May Also Like

Climate Marchers Trample the Facts

Tuesday, 23 Sep 2014 09:22 AM

Anti-climate-change marchers took to the streets of Manhattan, N.Y., in the hundreds of thousands over the weekend to de . . .

Outrage at NFL Makes Good Ratings

Friday, 19 Sep 2014 09:44 AM

During the past few weeks, two sets of initials have dominated the news, ISIL and NFL, and the casual listener would be  . . .

Hit ISIS, Move Past Stunning DC Indecision

Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 09:24 AM

We have as close to a national consensus as possible in the war against ISIS. And yet Congress can't bring itself to vot . . .

Most Commented

Newsmax, Moneynews, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, NewsmaxWorld, NewsmaxHealth, are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

 
NEWSMAX.COM
America's News Page
©  Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved