In December, the Zinn Education Project (ZEP), a non-profit co-founded in 2007 by William Holtzman, one of Howard Zinn’s Boston University students (class of 1974), to spread the lessons of Zinn’s bestselling A People’s History of the United States, excitedly announced in a fundraising appeal that his goal of signing up 100,000 teachers had been reached.
The effort to appear to be a legitimate educational organization supported by small donors was enhanced by Holtzman’s pledge of up to $15,000 in matching donations. Later, Dave Colapinto (class of 1982) promised to do as he had done in 2018, pledging $10,000. But the latest tax records on file show that for fiscal year 2016/2017 over $117,000 came from Holtzman and $100,000 came from the New Venture Fund, which hides donors like George Soros.
Nor is the organization educational in any meaningful sense, as evidenced by the solicitation’s claim that “Many of the students in high school today will be voting in 2020.” ZEP’s lessons are as un-political as Zinn’s tract, which for forty years has been spreading communist disinformation through wildly distorted quotations of sources, omission of critical evidence, and plagiarism, as I discovered in writing Debunking Howard Zinn. While Zinn lazily cut and pasted paragraphs from the historically suspect works of fellow radicals, he praised the Viet Cong by twisting the words of foreign service officer Douglas Pike to mean their opposite. In his book, Pike described the Viet Cong’s strategies as “agitprop” and accused them of “genocide.” Zinn said Pike claimed the Viet Cong were community builders helpfully teaching “communication” skills. My search through contemporaneous newspaper and magazine articles revealed that Zinn’s claims that the U.S. kept secret the World War II Japanese-American internment camps and that Vietnam War protestor Mary Moylan “was never found” after she refused “to surrender to the FBI” were patently false. It’s just a sampling of what I found.
In terms of current politics, it’s easy to discern how ZEP wants students to vote. Consider some of the lessons:
“Deportations on Trial: Mexican Americans During the Great Depression” begins, “The Trump administration’s war on immigrants has been nothing short of horrifying in its scope.”
“Taking the Fight Against White Supremacy into Schools” presents as “racist” President Trump’s predictions about the snowballing effects in taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee.
“Teaching More Civics Will Not Save Us from Donald Trump,” by curriculum writer Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, takes issue with traditional civics, i.e., teaching the Constitution as “holy text.” For Wolfe-Rocca, “the evil of … the white supremacist, nativist, misogynist language we have heard spill from the lips of Donald Trump resonates with the 39 percent who steadfastly support him precisely because it has deep roots in U.S. history and politics” — a history of “land theft, genocide, slavery, and the disenfranchisement of women and people of color.”
Indeed, one week after the 2016 election, the post “Teaching After the Election of Trump” affirmed ZEP’s “solidarity with those who have denounced Donald Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and Islamophobia — as well as his ignorant proposals about the environment and climate change.” Taking encouragement from “young people — in our classrooms and in the streets,” they suggested lessons that would show students how “social movements … made strides even during [such] dark times.” They would “help students explore aspects of Trump’s agenda,” including his “‘divide and conquer politics.’” Suggested lessons included those on Southern tenant farmers [communist] unions, “Teaching with the Black Panthers’ Ten Point Program,” the “FBI’s War on the Civil Rights Movement,” heroic Muslims (including anti-Semite Linda Sarsour), and climate change.
But ZEP is not satisfied with the ability to produce such propaganda while enjoying tax-exemption. In 2017, they successfully pressured Scholastic to stop distributing positive books about President Trump. They conducted protests against the Bill of Rights Institute, including publicly at the 2014 National Council for the Social Studies annual meeting, and then claimed victory when the Institute was absent in 2015. Due to Southern Poverty Law Center lobbying, Zinn lessons on Reconstruction are taught throughout South Carolina. ZEP partners in providing news content to classrooms via Newsela.
The Zinn Education Project continues to conduct NEH-sponsored summer institutes for K-12 teachers — even after then-Governor Mitch Daniels in 2010 sought to expel Zinn’s book from Indiana schools after hearing about one such workshop. His showdown with Purdue University faculty members in 2013 boomeranged, with a graduate student scholarship in Zinn’s name and a fundraising/book distribution drive by ZEP.
In many schools, ZEP lessons supplement Zinn’s book. A Young People’s History of the United States is the textbook for all eighth-graders in Portland, Oregon public schools. A People’s History appears on syllabi in states across the country, especially in Advanced Placement courses, which were rewritten to far-left standards under the Obama administration. Other teachers and professors recommend it as “extra” reading.
The testimonials of Zinn’s students laud him for raising “consciousness” and inspiring protest. When Zinn died in 2010, tributes came from celebrities in the worlds of rock music, Hollywood, media, and correctional facilities. Jane Fonda sadly recalled their unfulfilled dinner plans. Bill Moyers hailed Zinn as a fighter of the plutocracy at that year’s Howard Zinn Lecture at Boston University. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam mourned the loss of a “truly bright light.” On Prison Radio, cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal called Zinn a friend and “brilliant, ground-breaking historian.”
Matt Damon, who grew up next-door to the Zinns in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and who read from Zinn’s newly published book to his fifth-grade class, exalted the book in his movie Good Will Hunting. He continues to promote Zinn, giving ZEP $10,000 in 2016/2017.
Zinn still inspires protesters. ZEP supported Occupy Wall Street, and A People’s History was the staple at the library in Zuccotti Park. Black Lives Matter activists DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie received the Zinn Freedom to Write Award in 2015. This summer, Willem Van Spronsen, member of Antifa and the John Brown Gun Club, who died in his attempt to blow up an ICE detention facility, left a manifesto invoking Zinn’s book. Indeed, A People’s History celebrates martyrs — like murderous abolitionist John Brown, and Buddhist and American protesters who died by self-immolation during the Vietnam War.
Zinn’s book has attained the status of a holy book. In April, JoBeth Hamon used it in place of the customary Bible in her swearing-in to the Oklahoma City Council. In Fairfax County, Virginia, a wealthy D.C. suburb and one of the largest school districts in the nation, “Rachna Sizemore Heizer … swore the oath of office while holding a copy of . . . Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States,” according to a December 20 article celebrating the new “historically diverse” school board, part of the transformation of this community and 32 others toward racial “equity” through groups funded by Soros and others.
Not surprisingly, Fairfax County students will soon have one day off for protesting. The Zinn Education Project will provide plenty of resources, from abolishing Columbus Day to protesting climate change.
Mary Grabar is the author of Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America and a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization.