Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lowry Slams Zinn

Diane Ravitch tweeted out a link to a NY Post article earlier today, and I knew right away it was about former Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels (R) -who is now the president of Purdue University. Daniels was a big supporter of former Indiana Schools chief Tony Bennett, now famous for blatant score fixing brand of education reform in Indiana (where a grading system was forced upon schools-that is unless you are a big campaign donor running a charter school). No idea if this is why Bennett is the former schools guy there, or if Daniels is the former governor, but Bennett is in Florida to work his magic for their schools and Purdue was happy to bring Daniels on. And Daniels has demonstrated an almost visceral dislike for the work of Howard Zinn-recently deceased (January 2010) and widely read historian.

Anyways, Diane Ravich tweeted:

A defense of the governor deciding what books may be taught in colleges in his state:

I clicked on the link because I am a fan of any Zinn debate, not fully swallowing his take on all of American history, but knowing full well that being well informed of uncomfortable truths from the past can help avoid future discomfort. The link takes you to a NY Post op-ed by Rich Lowry 

What follows is my response.

July 30th

Dear NY Post,

     Rich Lowry's "Propaganda in the classroom" (July 29th NY Post) is another example of the strange misguided criticism and disconnect from reality that kept republicans from winning the Whitehouse when they had the perfect opportunity. Instead of the 47% weighing us down, the new threat is the critical thinking of college students provided alternative points of view on historical events. Instead of people getting the education "they can afford", now education needs to be sanitized of "propaganda". Instead of death panels anxiously waiting to kill your grandmother, the threat is Howard Zinn anxiously waiting to kill history. Oh wait...Zinn is dead.

     Let's ignore Lowry's insulting tone and the fact that he's jumped on the "bash the dead historian" bandwagon. Snarky sarcasm does fit well in The Post, but it doesn't address the bigger questions: Why now? Why has cleansing campuses and minds of alternative historical points of view become so important, and why is Mitch Daniels the cleansing champion? Why is control of schools and the version of the truth they teach so important?

    History is, in essence, the propaganda of the winners. Wouldn't it be nice if we could go back in time and find Saddam cowering on a pile of gold fillings he personally wrenched from the mouths of young children, clutching the communist manifesto and hiding in a giant warehouse stacked to the top with huge boxes stenciled with "YELLOW CAKE" and "WMD"?

 We didn't though.

   Wouldn't it be sad if we found out that we have armed dangerous people in the past to further our own interests, and then ended up battling those same people when they stood in opposition to our interests?

 We have.

      Part of a worthwhile study of history is a collection of any information available, and then weighing the value of the information to consider the results and guide future actions. Allow ideologues to sanitize information to favor their point of view and students lose the power to think critically. 

Reflection on our past, not just keeping score for the winners, is part of being a real historian. To willingly swallow only the facts given, and not look for more is dangerous.

Dan McConnell

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