Monday, August 12, 2013

Howard Zinn: Academic Fraud and Scholarly Malpractice

Right-winger David Barton got his rightful share of flak for his shoddy work.  But meanwhile, leftist hack Howard Zinn of Harvard has been assigned in many American classrooms. Overdue, but at last what goes around comes around.  Sort of.  Jonathan Adler @

Prompted by the outcry over criticism of pop-left historian Howard Zinn by then-governor Mitch Daniels, Benno Schmidt (the President of Yale University when I was an undergraduate), wrote a good op-ed on the issue of academic freedom.  Here’s a taste:
Academic freedom is faculty’s freedom to teach. But, more important, it is also students’ freedom to learn. It is, as University of Wisconsin Prof. Donald Downs writes in the American Council of Trustees and Alumni guidebook, “Free to Teach, Free to Learn”: “the right to pursue the truth in scholarship and teaching, and to enjoy authority regarding such academic matters as the nature of the curriculum, [and] faculty governance.” At the same time, it is “maintaining respect for the truth (which means avoiding bias in its various forms), exercising professional and fair judgment, and maintaining professional competence.”
In other words: Academic freedom is a right and a responsibility. In recent times, the academy has too often been focused on rights and privileges rather than responsibility and accountability. . . .
Politicians can’t dictate course syllabi or reading lists in higher education. But nor should faculty be allowed to engage in indoctrination and professional irresponsibility without being held to account. And yet, over the past 50 years, that is essentially what has happened. The greatest threat to academic freedom today is not from outside the academy, but from within. Political correctness and “speech codes” that stifle debate are common on America’s campuses. The assumption seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind.
If academics want to continue to enjoy the great privilege of academic freedom, they cannot forget the obligations that underline the grant of that privilege. The American Association of University Professors itself recognized those obligations in its seminal statement, the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom, which is today nearly forgotten: “If this profession should prove itself unwilling to purge its ranks of the incompetent and unworthy, or to prevent the freedom which it claims . . . from being used as a shelter for inefficiency, for superficiality, or for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”
As for Daniels, he apparently sought to prevent teachers from assigning Zinn’s work in grades K-12.  Said Daniels “the question I asked on one day in 2010 had nothing to do with higher education at all. I merely wanted to make certain that Howard Zinn’s textbook, which represents a falsified version of history, was not being foisted upon our young people in Indiana’s public K-12 classrooms.”  Prominent historians have criticized the ideological slant (and inaccuracy) of Zinn’s work.  Others have come to Zinn’s defense.


Naum said...

You post a sensationalistic title with bombastic adjectives far unmoored from reality…

How is Zinn (a PhD in history from Columbia university, with a C.V. that includes awards from AHA, in contrast to your blogger-only credentials) an "academic fraud" and guilty of "scholarly malpractice"? Lots of words are spilled here but I see little substance to back up those charges.

Why is it a "falsified version of history"?

Again, in the links I see nothing of substantive merit, other than nit-picking or worse, grievous errors of logic -- Wineburg and Greenburg embody no serious charge against Zinn, other than to expose their zeal for personal vendetta and petty jealousy.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Links were also posted to defenses of Zinn's "work." The reader can decide. In the meantime your "rebuttal" is mere rant, not content, the same thing you criticize Zinn's critics of. Typicsl.

See also

The People's Historian?
Howard Zinn was a master of agitprop, not history
Michael C. Moynihan | February 3, 2010

Naum said...

Again, you post an article from a nihilist libertarian hack, one whose credentials fall far short of the prestigious C.V. of Zinn. Not that Zinn is without fault, but the partisan and ideological assault on him (for being up front up out his bias whereas they shill for the state or for their tunnel view whitewashed ideological philosophy) is beyond the pale. Again, nothing of substance there, other than hand waving and a few irrelevant (in the grand scheme) bits.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ad hom--first on me, now on Jonathan Adler, whose CV kicks ass BTW.

Defend Zinn if you can, which you can't. Attacking your critics is standard fare for you people.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "Ad hom--first on me, now on Jonathan Adler, whose CV kicks ass BTW. Defend Zinn if you can, which you can't. Attacking your critics is standard fare for you people."

Wowser. You win the all time internets unintended projection award (by unanimous committee vote) in the completely un self-aware rage category. Do you do drugs or is this a natural talent? Because, and to keep this positive, you are talented.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That the Zinn cult has gotten a free ride for its academic malpractice is a national scandal.

It's about time this so-called history is called to account. As for all those left-wing anti-David Barton hypocrites who circle the wagons around Howard Zinn's fraudulent history, it's about time they be shown for what they are too.

Fortunately, not everyone on America's left is dishonest.

"Much of the criticism of Zinn has come from dissenters on the left. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once remarked that "I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian." Last year, the liberal historian Sean Wilentz referred to the "balefully influential works of Howard Zinn." Reviewing A People's History in The American Scholar, Harvard University professor Oscar Handlin denounced "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." Socialist historian Michael Kazin judged Zinn's most famous work "bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions."

Of course right-winger David Barton never gets the benefit of the doubt for "virtuous intentions," but we take what we can get these days.

jimmiraybob said...

I hate to take away the luster of a good hategasm but it might be a classy touch if someone with the keys to the front page pays some respect to Pauline Maier(1)(2).

Then by all means, carry on.



Tom Van Dyke said...

Not a hategasm. Justice, and way overdue. Props to Jonathan Adler and and to Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale:

Published in 1980, Zinn's "A People's History" (the author died in 2010 at age 87) has been a staple of Advanced Placement courses at the high-school level and omnipresent in college syllabi for decades. Praised by some for focusing on American history from the ground up, the book has been condemned by others as emblematic of the biased, left-leaning, tendentious and inaccurate drivel that too often passes as definitive in American higher education.

There's another person for the far- left attack list. Attackattackattack. Besides him and l'il ol' moi there's

Arthur Schlesinger
Sean Wilentz
Oscar Handlin
Michael Kazin

and that's just lefties. It's time to bring Howard Zinn to scholarly justice and his academic cult as well.

As for trying to disrupt the discussion by exploiting the death of Pauline Maier, shame on you.


jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "by exploiting the death of Pauline Maier, shame on you.

You're just a world class putz. Carry on your rage.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Shame on you. Go away.

Tim Polack said...

I tend to think that the top two books in George Mason's “the least credible history book in print” is right on target. I think Zinn's lack of honesty and slant on history, because he was such a well schooled professor, was very irresponsible as a historian. He essentially sold his view as true history.

Barton, having much less credentials but none less passion also slants history to make it say what he wants. You can argue all day about which slant is more culpable. But clearly both have plenty to go around.

My only caveat is that a couple of bloggers from the US Intellectual History blog, bloggers I've come to respect, use portions of Zinn's work to teach their classes. This speaks to the idea that Zinn had some views that can be helpful in understanding our country, albeit taken in small measure. While I very much doubt this is true for Barton, I think it would be far more expected from a passionate and persuasive Harvard graduate.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Every schoolkid in America now knows how we screwed over the Indians. They know all about slavery and Jim Crow and colored water fountains and Selma and MLK. Zinn was not the only J'Accuse in the American academy, and neither do I argue that they weren't/aren't of absolute necessity to a proper civic education.

But the apologists for Communism, Stalinism and Sovietism got away with murder, or more accurately, with minimizing if not excusing murder.

I look at that rodeo clown who just lost his career for wearing an Obama mask, and then I look at a Howard Zinn getting honor and wealth as an apologist for a mass murdering ideology.

It's time for a reckoning for Zinn and his cult, better late than never.

And for the generation[s] that his poison--and that of Zinn's evangelists in our education system--has ruined, well so much the bad for all of us. This whole country are his victims, not just the young and weakminded who spout his crap.

As for David Barton, for whatever truth he speaks, for the sake of whatever truth he speaks, it's better he be gone from the scene. Howard Zinn was unconcerned with truth.

Despite conclusive evidence from Russian archives, Zinn suggest[ed] the atom spies Morton Sobel and Julius Rosenberg were railroaded with "weak" evidence and their subsequent trials were simply to show "what lay at the end of the line for those the government decided were traitors." When Sobel confessed his espionage to the The New York Times earlier this year, Zinn told a reporter, "To me it didn’t matter whether they were guilty or not."

Well, he was clearly unconcerned with historical truth, by his own admission.

And in between the accusations of intentional dishonesty [which I usually attributed to scholarly incompetence], I confess I imagined David Barton bending a fact and telling himself, "Howard Zinn gets away with 10 times worse, so why not?"

a) Because you're not as good a liar as Zinn
b) You're not accredited by the establishment
c) You're not Harvard
d) You're not a left-winger

although c) and d) are pretty much redundant. [A right-wing version of a fraud like Howard Zinn does not and could not exist at Harvard. A right-wing version of anyone barely exists at Harvard.

Q: As a staunch neoconservative and the author of a new feminism-bashing book called "Manliness," how are you treated by your fellow government professors at Harvard?

Harvey C. Mansfield:
Look, if I only consorted with conservatives, I would be by myself all the time.

So your generally left-leaning colleagues are willing to talk to you?

---People listen to me, but they don't pay attention to what I say. I should punch them out, but I don't.

Heh heh. But you know what? No more. These creeps have been getting away with poisoning the minds of our kids, and it's time they get exposed.

Naum said...

@Tom Van Dyke, it is obvious you've never read Howard Zinn. Because if you did, you'd know, he's no apologist for Stalin, communism, or any mass murdering ideology, including that which was carried out under the American flag.

And maybe Zinn's works are dated now, and with the internet, off less value. But in the age which he first published, they were indeed a refreshing antidote to the tripe spewed by whitewashed jingoistic historians (which still goes on today -- most prominent historians are first and foremost, defenders of the state, imbued with nationalistic fervor and worse, unlike Zinn, completely blind to how their own prejudice and prebiased political points of view stream out into their words).

You really come off as a sour pharisaical fundamentalist, sore that a truth-teller dared to cast history from the common / little people POV, instead of a grand game conducted by great figures that should be worshipped and venerated. Indeed, you are narrow minded and so bigoted in this regard, I feel sorry for you.

Naum said...

Alice Walker: "I was Howard’s student for only a semester, but in fact, I have learned from him all my life. His way with resistance: steady, persistent, impersonal, often with humor, is a teaching I cherish. Whenever I’ve been arrested, I’ve thought of him. I see policemen as victims of the very system they’re hired to defend, as I know he did. I see soldiers in the same way. In some ways, Howie was an extension of my father, whom he never met. My father was also an activist as a young man and was one of the first black men unconnected to white ancestry or power to vote in our backwoods county; he had to pass by three white men holding shotguns in order to do this. By the time I went off to college, the last of eight children, he was exhausted and broken. But these men were connected in ways clearer to me now as I’ve become older than my father was when he died. They each saw injustice as something to be acknowledged, confronted, and changed if at all possible. And they looked for signs of humanity in their opponents and spoke to that. They both possessed a sense of humor and love of a good story that made them charismatic teachers. I recently discovered, and it amuses me, that their birth dates are close, though my father was 13 years older."

Naum said...

Bob Herbert: "Our tendency is to give these true American heroes short shrift, just as we gave Howard Zinn short shrift. In the nitwit era that we’re living through now, it’s fashionable, for example, to bad-mouth labor unions and feminists even as workers throughout the land are treated like so much trash and the culture is so riddled with sexism that most people don’t even notice it. (There’s a restaurant chain called “Hooters,” for crying out loud.) I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?"

Naum said...

Daniel Ellsberg: "The interviewer asked me who my own heroes were, and I had no hesitation in answering, first, 'Howard Zinn.'"

Naum said...

Eric Foner: "I have long been struck by how many excellent students of history first had their passion for the past sparked by reading Howard Zinn. Sometimes, to be sure, his account tended toward the Manichaean, an oversimplified narrative of the battle between the forces of light and darkness. But A People's History taught an inspiring and salutary
lesson--that despite all too frequent repression, if America has a history to celebrate it lies in the social movements that have made this a better country. As for past heroes, Zinn insisted, one should look not
to presidents or captains of industry but to radicals such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Eugene V. Debs."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Gushing praise from other leftists. That's a duh.

I give up on the colleges. Just keep his perversions of history away from our K-12 kids--paid for with our tax dollars. It's time to bring this fraud to scholarly justice.

Just how poor is Zinn's history? After hearing of his death, I opened one of his books to a random page (Failure to Quit, p. 118) and was informed that there was "no evidence" that Muammar Qaddafi's Libya was behind the 1986 bombing of La Belle Discotheque in Berlin. Whatever one thinks of the Reagan administration's response, it is flat wrong, bordering on dishonest, to argue that the plot wasn't masterminded in Tripoli. Nor is it correct to write that the American government, which funded the Afghan mujahadeen in the 1980s, "train[ed] Osama bin Laden," a myth conclusively debunked by Washington Post correspondent Steve Coll in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Ghost Wars.

Of Cuba, the reader of A People's History is told that upon taking power, "Castro moved to set up a nationwide system of education, of housing, of land distribution to landless peasants." Castro's vast network of gulags and the spasm of "revolutionary justice" that sent thousands to prison or the executioners wall is left unmentioned. This is unsurprising, I suppose, when one considers that Zinn recently told an interviewer "you have to admire Cuba for being undaunted by this colossus of the North and holding fast to its ideals and to Socialism....Cuba is one of those places in the world where we can see hope for the future. With its very meager resources Cuba gives free health care and free education to everybody. Cuba supports culture, supports dance and music and theatre."

There is also no mention of the Khmer Rouge or Pol Pot, though in a misleading digression into the so-called Mayaguez Incident, Zinn mentions that "a revolutionary regime had just taken power" in Cambodia and treated its American prisoners rather well. And it is untrue, as Zinn claims, that President Gerald Ford knew Cambodia had released its American captives in 1975 but still allowed a small Marine invasion simply to show American muscle after the Vietnam humiliation.

A People's History is full of praise for supposedly forgotten truth-tellers like "Dalton Trumbo and Pete Seeger, and W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson," all apologists for Stalinism. (Both Du Bois and Robeson were awarded the Stalin/Lenin Peace Prize by the Kremlin, and both enthusiastically accepted.) There is no accounting of communism's crimes, though plenty of lamentations that, after the Second World War, "young and old were taught that anti-Communism was heroic." Indeed, in the comic book version of A People's History, Zinn writes that the Cold War "would last for over 40 years" but "to keep it going required political and social repression on both sides" (emphasis in original).

Despite conclusive evidence from Russian archives, Zinn suggests the atom spies Morton Sobel and Julius Rosenberg were railroaded with "weak" evidence and their subsequent trials were simply to show "what lay at the end of the line for those the government decided were traitors." When Sobel confessed his espionage to the The New York Times earlier this year, Zinn told a reporter, "To me it didn’t matter whether they were guilty or not."

This is a strange sentiment for someone whose job, one assumes, is to mine the historical record in search of historical truth.

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