April 17, 2015

Rick Santorum hates that history teachers heart Howard Zinn

by

PeopleshistoryzinnAttendees of the NRA’s annual convention never really have a problem finding things to rail about. This year, those things included orange mocha frappucinos, President Obama, the death squall that a bear makes after it’s been shot, radical left-wing bullies, but mostly, unsurprisingly, Hillary Rodham Clinton. (“Hillary Rodham Clinton will bring a permanent darkness of deceit and despair forced upon the American people to endure,” warns kind and decent American Wayne LaPierre.)

But likely presidential candidate Rick Santorum found a more unusual target for his anger: Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of the United States.

In addition to touching on gun rights issues in his speech, Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, criticized teachers for assigning works by the late Howard Zinn, including A People’s History of the United States, that cast a critical — and often sharply negative — light on the past actions of the U.S. government.

“Do you know the most popular textbook that’s taught in our high schools in America is written by a man named Howard Zinn, who is an anti-American Marxist, and that is the most common textbook?” Santorum said in the April 10, 2015, speech. (It’s around the 10:15 mark.)

I can’t imagine that anybody is surprised that a Republican candidate for president would say something that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but the Washington Post‘s PolitiFact blog did look into the claim, classifying it as “Mostly False.”

Zinn’s iconic book was originally published in 1980, and has sold over a million copies. Per the publisher’s website, the book chronicles “American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools–with its emphasis on great men in high places–to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.” Sounds good to me, but you can see how that might be cause for alarm at an NRA convention.

So is it really the “most common textbook” in American high schools? Beginning with the fact that it’s not in fact, a textbook, PolitiFact investigated the claim and found it lacking.

“I have never heard anyone in our organization suggest that it is the most popular by any stretch of the definition of ‘most,’ ” said Susan Griffin, executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies, which represents high school history teachers.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said that while he believes anecdotally that Zinn’s books are “widely used” in American high schools, he is unaware “of any hard data on how often it is assigned relative to other textbooks or how popular it is compared to other historical surveys.”

Sewall, of the American Textbook Council, concurred. While Zinn’s impact on social studies teachers “is prodigious and possibly unparalleled,” he said, “there is no way to determine the most popular base history instructional materials used in U.S. high schools.”

In an interview, Wineburg of Stanford added that “not a single state in the union” has put Zinn’s books on an “approved adoption list for middle or high school. Three big companies, including the biggest, Holt-McDougal, control about 90 percent of the market. They issue conventional, 1,000-page behemoths. … Find me one instance in which Zinn appears on any one of 50 state adoption lists, and I’ll find you a unicorn.”

My takeaways? More history teachers should assign Howard Zinn, and Rick Santorum still can’t be trusted.

Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.

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