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Daniels: Goal was to keep kids from reading Zinn

Friday - 7/19/2013, 8:00pm  ET

TOM LoBIANCO
Associated Press

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -- Purdue University President Mitch Daniels on Friday stood by his efforts to keep liberal historian Howard Zinn's work from being taught in Indiana schools, saying the actions he took while governor were meant to keep the book out of the hands of K-12 students.

Meanwhile, the university's board of trustees threw their support behind the former politician, approving a $58,000 bonus to reward him for his first six months on the job.

Daniels told reporters after a meeting of the board that a statement he made as governor that Indiana should "disqualify the propaganda" he saw being used in Indiana's teacher preparation courses was meant only to keep Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" from being taught in the state's K-12 classrooms.

"The question is, would this lead to this material being taught to innocent school children? I promise that if the parents of Indiana understood what was in the book in question, 99 if not 100 out of 100 would want some other book used," Daniels said after the trustees' meeting on the West Lafayette campus.

Daniels has come under fire in academic circles for the 2010 emails, which were obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

After learning that Zinn's book was being used in a summer teacher training course at Indiana University, Daniels signed off on education adviser David Shane's proposal to review university courses across the state to determine what should count as credit.

"Go for it. Disqualify propaganda and highlight (if there is any) the more useful offerings. Don't the ed schools have at least some substantive PD (professional development) courseware to upgrade knowledge of math, science, etc.," Daniels wrote.

After being told Zinn's work was being used at Indiana University in a course for teachers on the Civil Rights, feminist and labor movements, Daniels wrote:

"This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state. No student will be better taught because someone sat through this session. Which board has jurisdiction over what counts and what doesn't?"

Critics say the emails support their contention that he is not qualified to lead a major university.

But supporters say Daniels was right to challenge the use of Zinn's work, which addresses American history from the viewpoint of those whose plights he said were often omitted from most history textbooks. It has been widely criticized by many conservatives and scholars and characterized by historian Eugene D. Genovese as "incoherent left-wing sloganizing."

The American Historical Association, a nonpartisan group that sets academic standards of review and publication for historians nationwide, on Friday issued a statement saying it "deplores the spirit and intent" of Daniels' emails. The association said it considered any governor's effort to interfere with an individual teacher's reading assignments "inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom."

"Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of Howard Zinn's text, and whatever the criticisms that have been made of it, we believe that the open discussion of controversial books benefits students, historians, and the general public alike. Attempts to single out particular texts for suppression from a school or university curriculum have no place in a democratic society," the statement read.

Daniels says he is a firm supporter of academic freedom.

Keith Krach, who stepped down as chairman of Purdue's board of trustees Friday, said he was unaware of the 2010 email exchange when trustees appointed Daniels president in mid-2012 but said they wouldn't have changed his decision.

"One of the big things that we talked with Mitch about during the search and selection process is academic freedom, as we would any other president. And he not only believes in it wholeheartedly, but he's demonstrated it as president," Krach said.

Since taking over at Purdue, Daniels has hosted a lecture on speech suppression at universities nationwide, and he sent an "open letter" to the Purdue community in January saying universities have squashed free speech rather than encourage it.

Daniels appointed a majority of the Purdue trustees, including Krach.


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