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The Historians Cited By Mitch Daniels Denounce Him

In his statement defending his efforts to censor Zinn’s book, Mitch Daniels argued, “Respected scholars and communicators of all ideologies agree that the work of Howard Zinn was irredeemably slanted and unsuited for teaching to schoolchildren.” Daniels’ office has been sending out quotes from seven historians critical of Zinn to support that claim. I surveyed the living historians cited by Daniels, and got responses from three of them, who unanimously condemned Daniels.

Academe Blog posted Michael Kazin’s response last night, in which Kazin wrote that Daniels “should be roundly condemned for his attempts to stop students from reading Zinn’s big book and for calling Zinn a liar…” Kazin wrote about Zinn’s book, “chapters of it can be quite useful if contrasted with alternative interpretations.”

Sam Wineburg took to Twitter to respond to Daniels, writing: “Mitch Daniels uses my work to defend his shameless attempts to censor free speech. Shame!” Wineburg noted, “I have criticized Zinn but will defend to my death the right to teach him. Shame on Mitch Daniels.” He explained, “Mr. Daniels, free societies openly teach ideas we disagree with. We do not censor objectionable speech. Study your Orwell.” As Wineburg put it, “How could I possibly agree that ‘banning Zinn’ makes sense when I assign him in my own classes?”

Michael Kammen disagreed with Daniels’ belief that Zinn “intentionally falsified” his work. While Kammen might not recommend the use of Zinn’s book in schools today, it is “only because it was written 35 years ago and there are now more balanced and judicious treatments of the US survey.” Kammen also rejected Daniels’ view about banning Zinn’s work from professional development classes for teachers: “I think that some teachers might need to know about its emphases because when Zinn wrote the US history textbooks omitted a great deal. Although it is not a great book, it remains a kind of historiographical landmark.  Teachers should at least be aware of it.” And Kammen emphatically opposed the idea of politicians deciding what books should be used in schools rather than historians and teachers: “Absolutely not!”

Of course, these critics of Zinn don’t necessarily represent a historical consensus about his work. There are many historians and educators who praise Zinn’s book. But there’s a big difference between academic criticism of a historian’s work, and a desire to see politicians banning him from the classroom. There are plenty of thinkers whom I strongly condemn, such as David Horowitz, but I don’t want to see him banned from classrooms. In fact, I’ve taught his work in my own classes.

No one objects to the fact that Daniels criticized Zinn’s work. Daniels’ attack on Zinn is so purely political (“anti-American”), so dishonest (“purposely falsified”), and so stupid (“phrenology”) that it raises serious questions about Daniels’ ability to do or even understand academic work.

But what’s most objectionable about Daniels is his desire to censor to Zinn’s work. And contrary to what he believes, that effort to censor teaching Zinn’s book is not supported, not even by the historians Daniels cites to justify what he did.

About John K. Wilson

Author of "Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies."

17 comments on “The Historians Cited By Mitch Daniels Denounce Him

  1. juliadthompson
    July 20, 2013

    I would like to point out that the part of Daniels’ statement where he references the above mentioned historians was plagiarized from reason.com. Go to http://reason.com/archives/2010/02/03/the-peoples-historian and look at the 6th paragraph, and then go to President Daniels statement here: http://www.purdue.edu/president/index.html

    • John K. Wilson
      July 20, 2013

      You are correct. This passage was obviously lifted from Reason and then slightly altered. The Schlesinger quote is very common, but the combination of these exact quotes isn’t. This certainly raises a number of questions that Daniels needs to answer: did he actually write his own statement? Has he read the critics of Zinn that he cites, and if so when? And has he ever read Zinn’s book?

  2. Amy Pacheco
    July 20, 2013

    Oh, goodie! Not only does Daniels want to censor, he also plagiarizes in his speeches. Just the kind of person we want in politics or as the head of a major state university. Mercy!

  3. sociologyallstar
    July 20, 2013

    Reblogged this on sociologyallstar.

  4. Rochelle G. Mcconnell
    July 20, 2013

    Correspondence by Fairbank, Zinn and other historians, published by the AHA in 1970, is online in what Fairbank called “our briefly-famous Struggle for the Mike”.

  5. Mary Strawsma
    July 20, 2013

    I would bet that Zinn would have loved this because he is getting more reads than he would have had not being censored.

    • HattieBelle
      July 21, 2013

      This is true. I just bought Zinn’s book to see what I shouldn’t allow my kids or grand kids to read. For those concerned that it was written so long ago, the book was updated before Zinn’s death to include Clinton & Bush as well as new information more recently released through the Freedom of Information Act.

  6. Doug Martin
    July 20, 2013

    Here is my new piece on Daniels’ plagiarism, plus his connections to the Bradley Foundation. The title of the piece is “Mitch Daniels Plagiarized in His First Response to Zinn Emails.” Here is the link:

    http://my.firedoglake.com/dougmartin/2013/07/20/mitch-daniels-plagiarized-in-his-first-response-to-zinn-emails/

    • juliadthompson
      July 20, 2013

      that is actually a different piece he plagiarized. I am focusing on the paragraph:

      Arthur M. Schlesinger said, “I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.” Socialist historian Michael Kazin described 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 criticized “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.”

  7. sam
    July 20, 2013

    daniels needs to go. Anywhere. How about hell.

  8. Rose
    July 21, 2013

    To plagiarize is one thing, to twist someone else’s words is another. This is what people like Mitch Daniels with their twisted idea of morals and trying to stop another from stating their opinion of any given subject, goes completely AGAINST our constitution. This is what so many politicians elected are trying to do…………control us thru censorship, this is where we are headed unless people start electing politicians who just try to govern according to our constitution not the churches ideas of morals. for each person in this country, at least, a different idea of exactly what morals are, that is WHY they can not be legislated. This is one of the first steps that Germany did prior to WW II. The church in the united states has its place and it is NOT in the government, where too many politicians are now trying to control our morals. I am a christian, I believe in God, I do NOT believe in the church, who have been teaching hate thru trying to make a difference in people of different races and beliefs, That is what our founding fathers left other countries for. We are NOT a puritan nation.

  9. Pingback: The Daniels-Bennett 2010 Emails: A Political Legacy is Further Besmirched | Indy Vanguard

  10. Trudi Greissle Davidoff
    July 22, 2013

    Purdue’s academic integrity standards: http://www.purdue.edu/odos/aboutodos/academicintegrity.php

  11. Larry Kemp
    July 25, 2013

    Sense when did wanting textbooks to have academic citations, and/or academic peer reviews become something that is considered scholastically unacceptable? Both the left and the right keep pushing agendas with quite a bit of opinion mixed with some facts. Why not let history be history. What exactly are most people afraid of? They backed the wrong side? Well, how about trying to back humanity and let’s learn from our history and stop burying our ugliness!!! If we really want to move forward we first have to grapple with our ugliness and then appreciate each of our cultural strengths and beauties.

  12. Pingback: The Defenders of Daniels | Academe Blog

  13. Pingback: Indiana Is the Latest Skirmish in the Conservative War on Knowledge | Education News

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This entry was posted on July 19, 2013 by in academic freedom and tagged , , , , , .
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