As a senior in high school, I dated a gorgeous girl. On our first date, she was sitting on my lap. I thought, "My life is now perfect!" Then she started spouting some Marxist gibberish. I began disputing with her. No more kisses. I stood up and walked off her porch, never to see her again! That was at the end of the 1950s.
Fast-forward about forty years to 1997. I had transferred into a high school for gifted students in New York City, one of those specialized high schools with high Asian and white enrollments, and ever diminishing black and Hispanic enrollments. It was one of a group of schools that require students to pass a difficult examination for admittance. At that time, the enrollment of black and Hispanic students ranged at around 30-35%, whereas today it is in the 10-12% range.
During the first week of the school year before classes began, teachers gathered in departments to review plans for teaching their subjects. The U.S. history teachers gathered in a room. It was my first week, and within a few minutes, it came to my attention that the teachers in the room all planned on regularly distributing excerpts from Howard Zinn's bestselling college textbook A People's History of the United States. Suddenly, I realized I was in a dark coven of male commies. Collectively, purposely, and without hesitation, they were agreeing on teaching that American history was a betrayal of the people by the power-mad white capitalist elite. Our history was presumably a history of oppression, suppression, and exploitation of "the people."
When I told them Zinn was a communist (pretending I was telling them something they did not already know as they discussed distribution of photocopies from Zinn's textbook), they replied with utter contempt for me. One snake said, "What do you know?! Have you ever published anything?" You would be shocked (maybe not) at their dismissive tone and attitude toward a colleague as I questioned their use of Zinn in the classroom. I told them that even if they agreed with Zinn, it was their duty and responsibility as teachers not to present Zinn as the only final and legitimate interpretation. As professionals who are teaching, they should not use the classroom as a bully pulpit for Zinn. If they wanted to use Zinn, they should at the very least present other historical takes on the same events or criticism of Zinn's interpretations by other authors. My main point was that it would be best not to use Zinn at all in the classroom because he was identified with such a fundamentally anti-American, anti-liberty ideology.
Yet, less than one week later, one of these educated, older, anti-American leftists said to me, "Communism is over in the USSR, but it's alive and well in this high school!" Three years later, this same teacher, while teaching AP European History, spent an entire month on the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Many of the gifted students taking the course saw that this was not teaching of the curriculum, but teaching the teacher's personal ideological obsession. They complained to the chairman of the Social Studies Department, and no action was taken to stifle this teacher who lacked both truth and integrity.
Introducing excerpts from the Zinn book involved extra work photocopying the desired sections. Since Zinn's book is considered a college textbook, it was not on the NYC official textbook list. That list provided some flexibility in that there were five non-communist textbooks teachers could choose from. None of the five books pushed the image of American oppression and exploitation, and the choice provided some flexibility for instruction depending on teacher interests and expertise. However, after about ten years, freedom of choice of one's textbook went the way of many of our American liberties. One textbook was bought for the department: The Americans published by McDougal Littel. Including maps and glossary, this history book is 1,123 pages.
This huge tome is Howard Zinn light. There is no discussion of the influence of Protestant Christianity on the development of the colonies and of political rights theory. The drafting of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson and the influence of John Locke on that document get only four paragraphs out of over 1,000 pages. There is no mention of the Black Robe Regiment - the pastors in their pulpits who so powerfully insisted that the colonies were being oppressed and tyrannized by the British. The powerful biblical, Judeo-Christian influence on the founding of the country is completely ignored. It is an example of historical bias at its worst.
The word "Christianity" in the index has only three references. The references apply to Spanish settlement in the West and Southwest. The very fact that they do not present the English colonial experience as defining the political, ideological, and linguistic foundation of this country is itself a basis for real concern. Fourteen pages are indexed referring to Cesar Chávez and Mexican-Americans, yet checks and balances gets only one page, and division of powers gets one reference. Federalism is not noted in the index. "Native Americans" has 96 page referrals in the index, whereas inventions (you know, little stuff like the cyclotron, the airplane, the transistor, polio vaccine, etc.) has six page references. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and George Whitefield are not mentioned in the index, although there are two page references for the Great Awakening. There are six page referrals to Puritans and one page reference to Judaism. There are 71 page references to labor force and labor movement. The Higher Education Act has one page reference, but there are no index references to colleges or universities as general categories, although there is one page reference to Harvard.
Five persons are listed as authors of this volume, and they in turn are listed with a host of consultants and reviewers. One of the authors is a professor of comparative ethnic studies, another is a professor of Afro-American studies, another author specialized in maps, another is focused on the history of women, and the fifth specializes in secondary school social studies teaching. Thus, none of the authors is explicitly a professor of American history. Each is expressive of the identity politics specialties and thus brings the left-wing bias of identity politics to this volume. We can see that this now popular textbook had the effect of displacing the books that saw a unity in American history for a more left-wing interpretation that tends to balkanize our culture. And the communist teachers can still introduce excerpts from Zinn if they wish.
Tens of thousands or more people are graduating high school having used this book, and thus are influenced to believe that American history is mainly about the exploitation of women, minorities, and workers. The book does not flat out say that, but the narrative is deeply infused with that idea. Further, adding in the Zinn influence on many of those students, we see a momentum developing toward the belief that the economic, legal, and political structure must be radically altered.