For those of you who haven’t yet heard, the Associated Press recently revealed that Mitch Daniels, now President of Purdue University, attempted to ban the works of acclaimed historian Howard Zinn from classrooms in Indiana during his tenure as that state’s governor.
In 2010, after Howard Zinn’s passing, Daniels (seen here in an artist’s rendering) wrote an e-mail to the state’s superintendent of public instruction about Zinn’s 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 wrote. “Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”
Daniels also threatened to cut funding to a program run by Charles Little, a professor who was critical of Daniels policies.
More than 90 Purdue professors have now co-signed an open letter chastising Daniels for his past actions and disagreeing with his continued insistence that the book is fraudulent and inappropriate for K-12 classrooms.
Below is a statement from NCAC participating organization Project Censored on Daniels’ misdeeds, originally published on the Zinn Education Project blog:
Mitch Daniels’ engagement in doublespeak and euphemistic language is shameful, especially coming from the head of a research university. Daniels is a censor, plain as day. In fact, he’s among the worst kind. He’s an ideologue who pretends to have the best interests of the public at heart, though he mistakes “best” for what are actually merely “his” interests. Daniels does not understand academic freedom or cognitive dissonance, which makes him unfit for any level of education. What Daniels further doesn’t understand (which many of Zinn’s critics may at least admit to) is that history is about interpretation.
Zinn compiled what many more vernacular voices and community and oral historians had said for ages, yet, their voices, their narratives were excluded (by censors not much different than Daniels). Zinn sourced these voices and put them in one narrative, a People’s narrative. Is Zinn’s the only interpretation to be considered in education? Of course not. But for anyone to argue that these interpretations should not be taught is an enemy of the right to knowledge and an impediment to an individual’s right to understanding not only the past, but the present, and where our collective possibilities lie in the future.
As for Daniels’ concerns about K-12? That is an appeal to emotion and red herring. If he is worried about age appropriateness, Seven Stories Press (who also publish our book on media censorship each year) have even published A People’s History for younger ages, the group Daniels claimed to be “protecting.” People do not need to be protected from their own narratives, from their own empowerment. Only despots claim such fear-mongering nonsense. We do not need more censors masquerading as do-gooders. We need courageous educators and leaders, and engaged parents and families, to embrace our collective and diverse past head on.
Zinn is a wonderful companion for just such a journey, which is why I still use his texts in my college classes along with many others. Whether students agree or disagree with Zinn is not important. But each term, I see students turn on to history, turn on to civil rights, dissent, however they define it, and Zinn is their catalyst, one of many, but an important one to be sure. Thank you ZEP for preserving not only the work of Howard Zinn, but all the inclusiveness that he fought for and represented.
Mickey Huff, Director, Project Censored/Media Freedom Foundation
Professor of Social Sciences and History, Co-Chair, History, Diablo Valley College