As Daniel Luzer noted last week at College Guide, former Indiana governor and now Purdue University president Mitch Daniels has been in some hot water over the release of a number of emails indicating a mild obsession with ridding Indiana classrooms of any copies of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, a self-consciously revisionist text aimed at challenging a variety of comfortable assumptions about American history.
If the response by the Editors of National Review is any indication, the incident may significantly lift Daniels’ reputation among movement conservatives who are suspicious of him for calling for a “truce” in the left-right “culture wars:”
Governor Daniels’s illiterate critics notwithstanding, it was not an act of censorship - there was no talk of banning publication of the bestselling book, only of declining to use it in school curricula.
Well, actually, the controversy wasn’t over use of Zinn’s book as a text in K-12 classrooms, but in colleges, where it’s reasonably customary to expose students to varying interpretations of history, and which generally enjoy what is called “academic freedom” from meddling by politicians. But it’s this next assertion by the NR editors that really got my attention:
From kindergarten through graduate school, American education is a sewer of left-wing ideology, and Zinn’s work is an especially ripe excretion. Governor Daniels’s office was right to bring attention to it — shoring up the integrity of public institutions is part of what governors are there for.
Really? Now I haven’t spent much time perusing textbooks lately, but Lord knows back in the day history textbooks were relentlessly right-wing, or at least were down South where I attended public schools. I recall a 9th-grade history textbook titled Our America which even at the age of 14 I was able to recognize as an insanely jingoistic celebration of every American military action as a crusade for freedom and justice.
So I’ll ask younger readers, or those who have monitored their children’s textbooks: is the NR characterization within shouting distance of reality? Or are the Editors really objecting to the inclusion of material on the contributions of women and minorities to American history, something that was entirely lacking as well in my own education? And since the “sewer of left-wing ideology” line is applied to all education, not just history classes, what do you supposed that is about? I’m genuinely curious.
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