When Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, died on January 27, 2010, then-Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels got on his computer and fired off an email to the state’s top education officials: “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away.”
Governor Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University, was not content with celebrating Zinn’s passing. He also demanded that Zinn’s work be hunted down in Indiana schools and suppressed. According to Daniels’ e-mail, Zinn’s People’s History of the United States is “a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that 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?” The Associated Press obtained Daniels’ e-mail message through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Governor Daniels’ advisers evidently found no evidence that Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States was in use in K-12 schools. However according to the Zinn Education Project there are more than 300 Indiana teachers registered to access people’s history curriculum materials to “teach outside the textbook.”
Public high schools around the US often used American Odyssey, published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, as a history text. By contrast with Zinn’s People’s History, American Odyssey’s thousand pages include exactly two paragraphs on the U.S. war with Mexico—the war that led to Mexico “ceding,” in the polite language of school curricula, about half its country to the United States. American Odyssey does not quote a single Mexican, a single soldier, a single abolitionist, a single opponent of the war. This scant treatment of such an important event in U.S. and Mexican history is one reason why teachers search out alternatives like A People’s History of the United States, which includes a full chapter on the conflict, focusing especially on President Polk’s hollow justifications for war, the anti-war resistance, and the human impact of the war.
Bill Bigelow, “Indiana’s Anti-Howard Zinn Witch Hunt,” Common Dreams, July 19, 2013, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/07/19.
Tom LoBianco, “AP Exclusive: Emails Show Ex-Gov. Daniels Sought to Quash Political Opposition in Ind. Schools,” Associated Press, July 16, 2013, http://www.theindychannel.com/news/local-news/ap-exclusive-emails-show-ex-gov-daniels-sought-to-quash-political-opposition-in-ind-schools.
“Censoring Howard Zinn: Former Indiana Gov. Tried to Remove ‘A People’s History’ from State Schools,” Democracy Now!, July 23, 2013, http://www.democracynow.org/2013/7/22/censoring_howard_zinn_former_indiana_gov.
Student Researcher: Brenda Montanez (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)