Perspectives Unbound

Robert L. Jackson

In an article in this week's "Minding the Campus," English instructor Mary Grabar points out that the ubiquitous Howard Zinn has infected America’s college classrooms with his “People’s History."  It shows up in high school curricula—and increasingly in both elementary and post-secondary classrooms (especially education programs).  

As Grabar explains, "an entire spin-off industry has developed for adapting Zinn's version of history for the lower grades. Publisher Seven Stories claims that Zinn's A Young People's History, for ages 10 and up, is their best-selling backlist title. A plethora of lesson materials is offered to teachers through the Zinn Education Project. At a Georgia State University College of Education-sponsored 'teach-in' last February, I sat in on a workshop where students from area colleges of education learned strategies from teachers and education professors for using the Zinn version of history to teach elementary school students about Christopher Columbus's 'real' accomplishment--namely genocide."

Grabar is deeply concerned with the skewed and unreliable history of Zinn, whose distortions have been chronicled by historians across the political spectrum—cf. Michael Kazin and Eugene Genovese. Yet, Zinn’s popularity remains firmly in place. Zinn doesn’t even make a claim to objectivity, claiming that such perspective is “impossible…undesirable.”

For those who believe that historians should and must strive for objectivity, this kind of scholarship seems a farce. Yet, such is the populist movement that is currently sowing the seeds of nihilistic perspectives among the next generation. As Grabar concludes: “The abandonment of objectivity is an acknowledgement that one is no longer teaching history.”

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