Howard Zinn in the College Classroom


The left cannot get enough of the late Howard
Zinn. The radical professor’s A People’s
History of the United States
consistently holds a place in the top 15 of
the 100 bestselling political books on Amazon‘s “blue,” liberal side.  The million mark in sales has long been
passed, an outstanding figure for a work of history.  This despite the fact that his “People’s
History” is an unrelievedly hostile take on the nation’s past.

Healthy sales can be attributed in large part
to the use of the book as a textbook in high school and college. Generally, 20
to 30 percent of students in my freshman composition classes say they have read
Howard Zinn in high school.  Students now
have eNotes to explain Zinn.  There is a teaching edition geared for
college teachers, and at least one for high school teachers, especially
those teaching Advanced Placement history. They assign his book in suburban
Gwinnett County, Georgia, and in rural Hoschton, Georgia.  I
have a large file of syllabi for such AP history classes.  Students who complete their college history
requirements in high school do not escape Zinn.

Furthermore, 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.

Many college students will get the Zinn
version of history in their one U.S. history course.  These include those taking History 102 at Yosemite Community College this
semester and those taking an equivalent course at El Camino Community College in
fall 2010 that relied on Zinn’s Voices of
a People’s History of the United States

I found Zinn’s books on the syllabi of U.S. history survey courses at
Bloomsburg University (Summer 2011), San Jos


  • Mary Grabar

    Mary Grabar is a visiting fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization.

6 thoughts on “Howard Zinn in the College Classroom

  1. I do not hate Zinn’s book. High Schools students in AP classes do not read the entire book. My experience is they read selected chapters that fit the teachers agenda. “Lies My Teacher Told Me” is treated they same way. I have read the complete versions of both books and find them valuable.


  2. Dr. Gordon Sly’s comment that historical writing is “interpretive” makes no sense. History is what it is, i.e. it is what occurred in the past, which makes it impossible to be “interpretive” and “subjective” unless one lies about it for use as propaganda by the 1% and their stooges.

    For example, under the original Constitution America was not the home of the free, for it allowed black, American Indian, and white (indentured servants) slavery, and debtor’s prison. Child labor was not only condoned but encouraged to help families that could not survive on wages paid by the white religious male wealthy class, who were the only ones allowed to vote.

    The following are links to photos and documents that need no “interpretation,” they are, in fact, Howard Zinn’s writing in photography.

    Treatment of Native Americans: —-
    (1) “War Comes to the Cheyenne,” Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
    “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.”
    Col. John Milton Chivington, U.S. Army[15]

    Treatment of Southern Blacks: How southern conservatives brutally treated African Americans around the turn of the 20th century can be seen in the following lynching photography sites: – lynching photos – lynching photos

    Treatment of Children: “Child Labor in America 1908-1912.” ─ Photos by Lewis Hines

    Treatment of American Veterans: “Bonus Army” ─ WWI veterans
    Bonus Army Images from Google

    Treatment of Labor: “A Photo Essay on the Great Depression”

    Great Depression Pictures from

    Great Depression Pictures from Google

  3. While I would take issue with many of Professor Zinn’s views, his idea that you quote late in your piece–that objectivity is neither possible nor desirable–is on the mark. Objectivity is an illusion, Ms Grabar. Historical writing is interpretive and therefore subjective. And all views must be heard: censorship of the sort advocated by Daniels is never the the best course. We arrive at a textured image dialectically, after all, so have nothing to fear from the extreme.

  4. I remember putting myself through college in the late 70’s & being publicly ridiculed by my English prof. for reading Ayn Rand. My nephew,
    a once pretty conservative high school kid graduated 4 yr. SUNY history degree with the remark that Pres. Bush should get a bullet in his head to which his father shrugged,”That’s
    what their taught there”. Education has become a disgrace.

  5. The thing that stick from learning history from Zinn, seem to be what a dreadful country this is, genocide on Indians, Uniquely responsible for slavery and really not much else, but they really absorb those three points.
    Why can’t we make “A People’s History” such a laughingstock that any school board would be embarrassed to allow it to be assigned? Emphasize over and over the facts he got wrong. Repetition works. They have taught us that. Repeat something often enough and pretty soon people will come to believe it. Mot even Zinn’s warts are true. The book can only be defeated with ridicule.

  6. The damage is done. No one graduating from college today has any real understanding of who we are and how we got here. Their minds are full of political screed.
    The roots of the problem date back to the Vietnam Era. Many male college students, not wanting to be drafted, went into teaching because it was available and carried an automatic deferment. Once in the education field, they fell in love with the easy schedule, long vacations and contractual raises.
    But they always resented to fact that they had to teach, rather than follow their ‘dreams.’
    Those who hated teaching gravitated towards administration. The elite went into tenured positions in the university, where they took revenge on their country and culture by advocating trash like Howard Zinn.
    They then solidified their position by hiring and promoting only their acolytes.
    All is lost.

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