Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels came under fire last week when The Associated Press uncovered a slew of emails relating to the use of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in Indiana schools.
In the 2010 emails, Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University, calls the book a “truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.”
Zinn passed away January 27, 2010, just before the email exchange occurred between Daniels and top state education officials on February 9.
“Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?” asks Daniels in the emails.
What is it that Daniels has against the book? It doesn’t teach what is in grade school textbooks. Zinn concentrates on the genocide perpetrated by Christopher Columbus against Indigenous Peoples, and who presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln really were, among other topics.
Democracy Now! Spoke to Zinn in May 2009 when he was launching A Young People’s History of the United States and had him answer a question he is frequently asked about the book: “Is it right to be so critical of the government’s policies, of the traditional heroes of this country?”
“Should we tell kids that Columbus, whom they have been told was a great hero, that he mutilated Indians and kidnapped them and killed them in pursuit of gold. Should we tell people that Theodore Roosevelt, who is held up as one of our great presidents, was really a war monger who loved military exploits and who congratulated an American general who committed a massacre in the Phillipines,” Zinn responsed. “Should we tell young people that? My answer is, we should be honest with young people, we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. We should not only be taking down the traditional heroes like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.”
Daniels has defended himself saying he meant for the book to not be taught in K-12 schools, but some are calling his actions censorship and an attack on academic freedom.
Among them are the American Historical Association, which said it “would consider any governor’s action that interfered with an individual teacher’s reading assignments to be inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom.”
In an email response to The Associated Press, Daniels wrote: “We must not falsely teach American history in our schools. We have a law requiring state textbook oversight to guard against frauds like Zinn, and it was encouraging to find that no Hoosier school district had inflicted his book on its students.”
In response to the emails coming to light, more than 60 Purdue faculty members signed an open letter to Daniels who are “troubled by the fact that you continue to express these views today, especially since you are now speaking as the chief representative of Purdue University, with the responsibility to embody the best of academic inquiry and exchange.”
The faculty members go on to explain why Zinn should not be deemed a “fraud” like Daniels called him including having been praised in the past by numerous people including Eric Foner, the Dewitt Clinton Professor of history at Columbia University and a former president of the American Historical Association. Read their full letter here.
“I have long been struck by how many excellent students of history first?had their passion for the past sparked by reading Howard Zinn,” Foner said February 22, 2010 in an article from The Nation.
The Board of Trustees at Purdue, the second largest university in Indiana, is standing behind Daniels and called the Associated Press article “misleading.” Others say that board is one Daniels himself appointed when he was governor, and are not surprised.