Zingers for Zinn
Acton Institute Powerblog

Zingers for Zinn

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

is Editor-at-Large for the Acton Institute.