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Opening Arguments

Zinn, the debate

Dueling book reports. First, the National Review in defense of Mitch Daniels:

Mitch Daniels, whom some Republicans would like to see president of something more than Purdue University, is under attack because as governor of Indiana he objected to the use of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in public-school curricula. In recently published e-mails, the plainspoken Governor Daniels described Zinn’s work as “anti-American” and “crap,” which, when expressed in sufficiently polite language, is the professional consensus: “a polemicist, not a historian,” says Arthur Schlesinger; his work a “deranged” “fairy tale,” says Harvard’s Oscar Handlin; a man who traded in “every left-wing cliché with which the academy has abetted its sense of election these past several decades,” says Roger Kimball.

[. . .]

Governor Daniels’s illiterate critics notwithstanding, it was not an act of censorship – there was no talk of banning publication of the bestselling book, only of declining to use it in school curricula.  From kindergarten through graduate school, American education is a sewer of left-wing ideology, and Zinn’s work is an especially ripe excretion. Governor Daniels’s office was right to bring attention to it — shoring up the integrity of public institutions is part of what governors are there for.

And Barack Obama's somewhat differing view:

Obama filled out his education in American history as well as politics while he was working in Chicago. Mike Kruglik had been a doctoral candidate in American history at Northwestern before he became and organizer, and when he and Obama talked, they discussed the reasons why a nation supposedly dedicated to freedom and equality provided so little of either. They talked about the differences between the populists and the progressives and the reasons why ordinary people never seemed to get anywhere in modern America. Kruglik recalls that Obama had a special interest in the work of the radical historian Howard Zinn.

We can argue all day about whether Daniels' efforts to keep Zinn's work out of schools was true "censorship" or not. But curriculum matters. Which is more dangerous to the well-being of the country, Daniels' attempts to tilt left-leaning instruction a little the other way, or the efforts of leaders who take their political lessons from people like Zinn?