Acton Institute Powerblog

Zingers for Zinn

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In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, David J. Bobb examines the way in which Howard Zinn has been elevated by Hollywood and the academic left to make “the late Marxist historian more influential than ever.” Bobb, the director of the Hillsdale College Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, begins with the campus furor that erupted among Zinn supporters when former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, criticized Zinn after the historian died in 2010. Bobb writes that “90 faculty members hailed Zinn as a strong scholarly voice for the powerless and cast the former governor as an enemy of free thought.” Yes, predictable but difficult to see how these charges have any substance when you consider that Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (described aptly by Daniels as “execrable”) has sold 2.2 million copies to date and most in the past decade. A healthy share of these copies, I’d wager, were purchased by secondary schools and colleges.

Bobb describes in “Howard Zinn and the Art of Anti-Americanism” how his ideas are spreading throughout the educational system:

In Zinn’s telling, America is synonymous with brute domination that goes back to Christopher Columbus. “The American system,” he writes in “A People’s History,” is “the most ingenious system of control in world history.” The founding fathers were self-serving elitists defined by “guns and greed.”

For Americans stuck in impoverished communities and failing schools, Zinn’s devotion to history as a “political act” can seem appealing. He names villains (capitalists), condemns their misdeeds, and calls for action to redistribute wealth so that, eventually, all of the following material goods will be “free—to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, transportation.” The study of history, Zinn taught, demands this sort of social justice.

Schools with social-justice instruction that draw explicitly on Zinn are becoming more common. From the Social Justice Academy outside of San Francisco to the four campuses of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, in Washington, D.C., social-justice academies relate their mission mainly in terms of ideological activism. At UCLA’s Social Justice Academy, a program for high-school juniors, the goal is that students will “develop skills to take action that disrupts social justice injustices.”

Check out the Zinn Education Project and see how his work is being translated into middle- and high-school programs. Explore by themes.

Also see “Howard Zinn’s Legacy: Religious Fanaticism and Illegal Indoctrination of Your Children” by Ben Shapiro and “Howard Zinn, Intellectual Moron” by Daniel J. Flynn on Breitbart’s Big Hollywood.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Curt Day

    I am confused by this article. First, I believe the furor over Daniels arose not over mere criticism but by Daniels attempting to remove Zinn’s book, A People’s History Of The United States, from at least some of the schools. If that is true, then the furor is over censorship than criticism.

    Second, what is anti-Americanism to David Bobb? And if you read his article whose link is provided, why is the study of history measured in terms of uniting people rather than in telling the truth?

    Finally, when did schools with social justice instruction that relied on Zinn become common let alone more common?

    • You want us to explain to you what anti-Americanism means? Seriously? You’re the guy, Curt, who gets all sad and weepy on Independence Day because it reminds you of the crimes against humanity committed by the people who founded this country (see: Howard Zinn). Are you getting all sad and morose about the approach of Columbus Day?

      Explaining to you what anti-Americanism means would be like me rushing up to a man who just fell off the roof of his house and explaining to him what “gravity” meant. A bit too obvious and not at all helpful.

      Zinn is being “censored” when 2.2 million books are in circulation and his anti-Americanism is a growth industry — as the post amply showed — is laughable. Hah.

      Do you ask these scattershot questions to distract from the plain meaning of the post?

      • Curt Day

        Yes, the report was that Daniels attempted to have Zinn’s books removed from public schools in Indiana. So the stats you quote are irrelevant to that report unless, of course, all of Zinn’s sales were Indiana public schools.

        And yes, define anti-Americanism. For some, it is merely a form of tribalism where any criticism of the group is equated with opposing the group. For others, trying to get America to act morally and to practice justice is not equated with anti-Americanism even if one must criticize America as part of making that correction.