In perhaps the strongest criticism of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States to date, Stanford education professor and historical thinking guru Sam Wineburg concludes that teachers who teach American history using Zinn’s book are failing their students. Here is a taste:
A history of unalloyed certainties is dangerous because it invites a slide into intellectual fascism. History as truth, issued from the left or from the right, abhors shades of gray. It seeks to stamp out democratic insight that people of good will can see the same thing and come to different conclusions. It imputes the basest of motives to those who view the world from a different perch. It detests equivocation and extinguishes perhaps, maybe, might, and the most execrable of them all, on the other hand. For the truth has no hands.
Such a history atrophies our tolerance for complexity. It makes us allergic to exceptions to the rule. Worst of all, it depletes the moral courage we need to revise our beliefs in the face of new evidence. It ensures, ultimately, that tomorrow we will think exactly as we thought yesterday–and the day before, and the day before that.
Is that what we want for our students?
Read the entire essay.