Dear Lord, today I go to war:
To fight, to die,
Tell me what for?
Dear Lord, I’ll fight,
I do not fear,
Germans or Japs;
My fears are here.
—Excerpt of the 1943 “Draftee’s Prayer,” quoted in A People’s History of the United States
Nearly one million high school students are entering college—even your Christian college—with an outlook of America as expressed in the above prayer—a prayer celebrated by a celebrated academic. Howard Zinn (1922–2010) self-identified as a historian, playwright, author, and communist. If any students missed his writings in high school, they are likely required to read them in college.
Howard Zinn taught history and political science for almost 30 years and wrote over 20 books. His best-selling is “a Step toward a coherent new version of American History.” That’s the promotional blurb by The New York Times Book Review for A People’s History of the United States (1492–2001).
Matt Damon, Zinn’s neighbor and disciple while growing up, plugged the book in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, which helped to propel its popularity. The Sopranos and The Simpsons also gave it a shout-out.
Up to his death in 2010 at the age of 89, Zinn had one focused mission for this book and all of his writing:
What most of us must be involved in—whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do—has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world. (Artists in Times of War and Other Essays, 2003, emphasis added)
Jesus changed the world, so it seems that Zinn could be in very good company.
Zinn also centered his writing and teaching around finding solutions to the plight of the poor, the underprivileged, and the marginalized from society.
So did Jesus!
So, what’s the problem?
Why do secular universities and 44,500 high school teachers of history, political science, literature, and women’s issues require reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and Christian universities do not?
Let’s do a very brief analysis:
Changing the World: Howard Zinn vs. Jesus
Zinn’s solution to the world’s poverty and the violence against America lies in stark contrast to that of Jesus.
Since the age of 13, Zinn absorbed the books on the street passed around by the neighborhood communists. In doing so, he became a self-described radicalized communist, anarchist, and Marxist. He wrote in chapter 16 of A People’s History that Mao’s Marxist revolution was “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.”
With this mindset, Zinn promoted two core goals:
- Provoke an uprising: Zinn wanted America’s youth to change America into his radicalized communist, anarchist, Marxist solutions on behalf of the poor and marginalized.
Jesus wants to see Americans mobilized for change, too, first in their hearts by becoming His disciples. Then these disciples with changed hearts would become judges and teachers and leaders, doing as He did for the reasons He did them. That requires in-depth knowledge of the Bible—not Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. No secular school or book on communism can teach what Jesus wants us to know and do.
- Relieve world poverty so others won’t hate us: Zinn believed that if America never went to war with any nation or placed troops anywhere in the world, but only supplied poor nations with clean water, food and medical aid, then no one would hate America or want to kill Americans.
Jesus fed masses of people, offered everyone the source of living water, and healed incurable diseases in front of their eyes. Yet, the people still hated and wanted to kill him. Why?
The people did not share Jesus’ worldview.
Worldview is the foundation upon which world-changing ideas turn into world-changing actions. In the Christian university, we expect students to be exposed to a variety of worldviews, even Marxism, socialism, communism, and terrorism—and we expect them to think critically, scholarly, and biblically about them.
We know that students won’t be exposed to the worldview of Jesus in secular universities. And they often do not learn basic scholarship standards when it comes to evaluating progressive, Marxist, Socialist ideas. Let’s look at how well Zinn himself applied academic/scholarly standards to his historical writing.
Academic Standards: Howard Zinn vs. Scholarship
One recognized goal of a college education is to learn how to evaluate and express ideas in a scholarly way. How well does Zinn meet this expectation in his own evaluation of history and expression of his ideas?
- Zinn’s quotations, facts, and ideas gleaned from others are often referenced by name and title of source, but without dates, publishers or page numbers, leaving the burden on the reader to hunt for the credibility and existence of each quote, fact, or idea, many of which are in secondary sources. Zinn defended this approach to his scholarship by stating in the book’s “Afterword“:
To indicate every source of information in the text would have meant a book impossibly cluttered with footnotes.
There are acceptable ways to deal with voluminous footnoting, such as endnoting, smaller typesetting, larger pages, a webpage, etc. Study Bibles handle it and so do scholarly historical texts. Yet, Zinn, a self-proclaimed historian, did not.
- How did Zinn choose which evidence to include in his revised History of the United States? Historians, by trade, are held to generally accepted guidelines of historical evaluation for the purpose of providing objective facts and ideas. As quoted in Wikipedia’s article, “Historical method,” these guidelines include asking these six critical questions:
1. When was the source, written or unwritten, produced (date)?
2. Where was it produced (localization)?
3. By whom was it produced (authorship)?
4. From what pre-existing material was it produced (analysis)?
5. In what original form was it produced (integrity)?
6. What is the evidential value of its contents (credibility)?
Zinn considered some of these guidelines to varying degrees. yet, he actually claimed to believe that the essence of his writing is to perform a social and political act.
From his 1995 edition of A People’s History, Zinn explains,
I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle. I wanted to be a part of history and not just a recorder and teacher of history. So that kind of attitude towards history, history itself as a political act, has always informed my writing and my teaching. (emphasis added)
Staying true to his historical methodology of political activism, Zinn avoids any fact that could lead a reader to believe that America has been a force for good in the world. On the contrary, he considers America to be a terrorist nation and the founding fathers to have created “the most effective system of national control devised in modern times …” (A People’s History, chapter 16).
- Stanford education professor Sam Wineburg in his online article “Undue Certainty” points to a typical claim by Zinn that black Americans had “widespread indifference, even hostility” toward World War II. Zinn’s sole evidence for the claim are these three anecdotes: a quote from a black journalist; a quote from a black college student; and the “Draftee’s Prayer” quoted at the top of this article, as published in The African American, Jan 16, 1943. (see A People’s History, 418–19)
How many high school and university professors are following Professor Howard Zinn’s standards of historical evaluation and criticism? How many of their students are in your Christian college and what can you do about it?
Howard Zinn’s Impact and Counterattack
Published by Harper Collins, the latest sales records of A People’s History of the United States have topped two million copies since the first edition in 1980.
After Hollywood gave Zinn an international platform, the parental modeling of Howard Zinn in his writings and teachings has nurtured a new generation of teachers who are likewise nurturing our K-12 public school students. The Zinn Education Project website proudly states,
We reached 44,500 K-12 teachers who are using free Zinn Education Project lessons. That’s almost a million students receiving a more honest and complex understanding of U.S. history.
What are the students in your care learning about academic integrity, scholarship, or critical thinking?
Whose worldview about America and the solutions to its problems do you want them evaluating these ideas by—Zinn or Jesus?
The obvious answer to these critical questions is a major reason why we need more students to attend Christian universities.
Howard Zinn’s concern for the poor and marginalized is to be commended. But, he would wholeheartedly reject the Christian worldview of humanity and The United States.
Worldview is everything.
Which worldview do you want your students to hold as they wage their individual fight?