GUEST COMMENTARY: Zinn's book isn't suitable for Indiana's K-12 students

2013-07-23T00:00:00Z 2013-10-16T12:33:11Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Zinn's book isn't suitable for Indiana's K-12 studentsBy Mitch Daniels nwitimes.com
July 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I would like to respond to a muddled and misleading article last week.

If the article were an accurate representation of my actions, I would be the first to agree with the many concerns I have heard.

In truth, my emails infringed on no one's academic freedom and proposed absolutely no censorship of any person or viewpoint. In fact, the question I asked on one day in 2010 had nothing to do with higher education at all.

I merely wanted to make certain Howard Zinn's textbook, which represents a falsified version of history, was not being foisted upon our young people in Indiana's public K-12 classrooms.

No one need take my word that my concerns were well-founded. Respected scholars and communicators of all ideologies agree the work of Howard Zinn was irredeemably slanted and unsuited for teaching to schoolchildren.

Arthur M. Schlesinger said, "I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian." Socialist historian Michael Kazin judged Zinn's work as "bad history, albeit tilted with virtuous intentions" and said the book was more suited to a "conspiracy monger's website than to a work of scholarship." Reviewing the text in The American Scholar, Harvard University professor Oscar Handlin denounced "the deranged quality of his fairy tale, in which the incidents are made to fit the legend, no matter how intractable the evidence of American history."

Stanford history education expert Sam Wineburg cautioned that exposing children to a heavily filtered and weighted interpretation such as Zinn's work is irresponsible when "we are talking about how we educate the young, those who do not yet get the interpretive game."

Many more such condemnations by persons of political viewpoints different from my own are available on request.

I want to be equally clear that if Howard Zinn had been a professor at Purdue University, I would have vigorously defended his right to publish and teach what he wanted. Academic freedom, however, does not immunize a person from criticism and certainly does not confer entitlement to have one's work inflicted upon our young people in the K-12 public school system.

As a university president, I am an unequivocal advocate of open inquiry and academic freedom, and I hope to be the strongest defender of that freedom that Purdue has ever had.

Mitch Daniels is president of Purdue University. The opinions are the writer's.

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