WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. | Educators and activists from across the country will gather at Purdue University next month to celebrate liberal historian Howard Zinn, whose writings were sharply criticized by university President Mitch Daniels during his time as governor.
The Nov. 5 event "symbolizes the ongoing fight back in the United States against the privatization of public education, attacks on teachers and teachers unions by politicians like Mitch Daniels, and the need for real democracy in both schools and curriculum," according to an announcement by event organizers.
Daniels drew fire this summer when The Associated Press reported that the former governor had sought assurance from his staff that Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" wasn't being used in Indiana K-12 classrooms or counted toward continuing education credit for state teachers.
"This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away," Daniels wrote in a Feb. 9, 2010, email after Zinn's death. He called Zinn's 1980 book "a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page."
Ninety Purdue faculty members and state lawmakers bashed Daniels for what they saw as an attack on academic freedom.
Daniels has stood firm in his opinion of Zinn's work but said that if Zinn had tenure at Purdue, he would "defend him and his rights not to be dismissed for the nature of his work."
Zinn's book addresses American history from the viewpoint of those whose plights he said were often omitted from most history textbooks. It has been widely criticized by many conservatives and scholars and characterized by historian Eugene D. Genovese as "incoherent left-wing sloganizing."
Many others view Zinn differently.
"Howard Zinn is a hero to millions of Americans," professor Bill Mullen, an event organizer, told the Journal & Courier. "He made the stories of women, workers and civil rights activists available to many people who didn't know them before."
Participants in the read-in will include "Lies My Teacher Told Me" author James Loewen, historian and labor activist Staughton Lynd, former U.S. diplomat and peace activist Anne Wright and filmmaker Anthony Arnove.
Other Indiana campuses will host solidarity events to mark the occasion.
"The response to the read-in has been overwhelming," Mullen said. "People from across Indiana and across the country have poured in donations and volunteered to help plan the event."
Event organizers said they hope the event improves the lives of students, teachers and workers.
"The fight for the right to teach anti-capitalist writers like Howard Zinn is never separate from the fight to improve the material lives of students, teachers and workers around the world," according to the event announcement. "In the words of Howard Zinn, we realize now more than ever that we can't afford to be 'neutral on a moving train.'"