Long ago, during my childhood, school began right after Labor Day, and Columbus Day, commemorating the date Christopher Columbus discovered the New World on Oct. 12, 1492, was the first holiday of the school year.
Not anymore. Columbus Day of late has been marked by defacement of statues and hordes of angry adolescents demanding an end to the holiday. Leading young people in the hate-fest are teachers who have been educated with Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”
This semester, the Smithsonian Institution is helping. Teachers will learn new teaching strategies and receiving continuing education credits at two “teach-ins” — on Sept. 7 in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and on Sept. 28 in New York City.
Both “teach-ins” are efforts of our national museum, the Smithsonian, and D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice, “a project of Teaching for Change.” The invitation promises to feature “classroom resources for K-12 from Native Knowledge 360 [Degrees]” and from “the Zinn Education Project, including the campaign to abolish Columbus Day.”
The Zinn Education Project’s Infiltration
The Zinn Education Project is a nonprofit launched by one of Zinn’s former Boston University students who was taken in by the radical professor’s tales of derring-do in protesting the Vietnam War and, in spite of Zinn’s pro-communist rhetoric, had done quite well for himself as a capitalist.
The Zinn Education Project’s mission is to distribute materials from its namesake’s record-breaking best-seller, “A People’s History of the United States,” in the form of downloadable K-12 lessons on such topics as imperialism, Latinx, LGBTQ, social class, prison uprisings, Black Lives Matter, reparations, and immigration. Zinn died in 2010, but these lessons are updated by his acolytes, such as Adam Sanchez, who, in a lesson titled “When Black Lives Mattered: Why Teach Reconstruction,” claims President Trump’s “racist rhetoric and policies have provided an increasingly encouraging environment for attacks on Black people and other communities of color.”
ZEP also provides materials and instructions for teachers and students on how “to petition their administration” and “for communities to introduce legislation to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.” The project claims Americans need to “Abolish Columbus Day” because Columbus “enslaved and murdered people, destroyed cultures, and terrorized those who challenged his rule.” Rather, we should “honor [indigenous] communities demanding sovereignty, recognition, and rights.”
I went to one ZEP-sponsored teach-in at Georgia State University in 2012, where I heard such lessons promoted to education majors and witnessed an education professor sharing her plans to give extra credit to students who lobbied legislators to defy immigration law. I testified about this at the Georgia Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. The final result? The dean said he would send out a memo reminding faculty about policies concerning political lobbying. The guilty professor has since climbed up the academic ladder. The dean himself sponsored the teach-in.
Lying About Christopher Columbus
Zinn’s success in transforming the Columbus holiday was one of his proudest accomplishments. The opening of “A People’s History” has become famous: “Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts.”
In contrast, Zinn presents “Western civilization” marked “by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money,” all which leads to torture and murder of the “Arawaks.” Zinn claims that through his diligent historical research, he is correcting “the history books given to children in the United States,” which start “with heroic adventure” with “no bloodshed.”
It’s complete bunk.
Zinn’s book famously lacks footnotes but does contain a loose bibliography. I checked out from my little local library one of his sources, a short paperback for high school students, “Columbus: His Enterprise: Exploding the Myth,” written by Hans Koning (formerly Koningsberger) and published in 1976. Koning was a novelist, a playwright, and a socialist comrade in Zinn’s anti-Vietnam War group.
I began reading it one cold winter evening and noticed a very familiar ring to the words.
Sure enough, when I placed Zinn’s magnum opus side by side with Koning’s screed, I saw the kind of thing for which I had failed college freshmen — slight shifting of phrases and replacement of a word here and there, but otherwise pages of plagiarized material. Zinn also did it in his discussion of the American Indians with Gary Nash’s “Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America.”
Yet Zinn’s textbook is widely used in college courses, especially in colleges of education, and in high schools (including Catholic) for U.S. history classes, including Advanced Placement. In California, a proposed mandatory statewide ethnic studies course, “Resistance Against Mass Incarceration,” centered on “A People’s History.” The appendices with sample model courses revealed that many California schools are using Zinn’s books in ethnic studies and other classes.
But one doesn’t need to go to school to get the Zinn lessons. New Yorkers enjoying their parks last summer would have, on certain evenings, found it hard to avoid hearing actors recite Zinn’s words. New York City’s Parks Foundation collaborated with VOICES, “a non-profit arts, education and social justice organization founded by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove,” for the Summer Stage series.
On several evenings, actors read Zinn’s essay, “The Problem Is Obedience.” The summer-long event culminated in Viggo Mortensen reading from “A People’s History” in Central Park. On the West Coast, this year’s Kronos music festival (supported by the National Endowment for the Arts) featured tributes to Zinn. Each year, Zinn inspires more artists to write songs, biopics for the stage, and plays — much of it supported with taxes.
Now the Smithsonian Institution, which describes itself as “the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 19 museums and the National Zoo — shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world,” is peddling Zinn. For fiscal year 2019 (October 2018-Sept. 30, 2019), the Smithsonian received $1 billion in federal funding.
American taxpayers are supporting the spread of deliberate lies. Zinn lies not only about Columbus and Native Americans but also about such pivotal American events and developments as slavery, the Civil War, women’s rights, the labor movement, World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans during that war, the Cold War, the hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and protests against it, and the American Revolution and the founding.
On page after page, I found use of dubious sources, plagiarism, misrepresentations of authors’ meanings, withholding of critical information, logical and emotional fallacies, and rhetoric suitable to propaganda, which ultimately is what the book is. The solutions for the inevitable failures of the American system to which Zinn points always lie in socialism.
Zinn’s book is no mere leftist take on American history, as I learned in writing “Debunking Howard Zinn.” It is fraudulent history. Should taxpayers have to pay for this propaganda in classrooms, teacher-training sessions, public events, and now through the venerable Smithsonian Institution?
Mary Grabar earned her PhD from the University of Georgia and taught college English for 20 years. She is now a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization in Clinton, New York. Her writing can be found at DissidentProf.com and at marygrabar.com.
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