Still awaiting implementation (happily) is a 2013 City Council resolution calling on the Philadelphia School District to make Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States (1492-2001)" a required part of the high school U.S. history curriculum.
Since City Council had no authority to demand this, the non-binding resolution (introduced by Jannie Blackwell and Jim Kenney) was useless as a fan in a hurricane.
Howard Zinn was a self-radicalized historian, a Marxist who authored several revisionist histories.
I read the book because one ought to before forming an opinion. I doubt many on Council did that.
While plowing through the 700-page tome, I called the School District to ask what history book(s) is required for use in our high schools.
The answer surprised me so much a few days later I called the School District again to ask if I had heard the spokesman right.
I had. "There is no specific textbook required. There are only suggested textbooks and materials," I was told.
I have no idea how wide-spread this is, meaning schools with no "official" history text, but I know "People's History" is used in many schools.
I also remember Jay Leno's person-in-the-street feature in which a distressingly high number of people, usually under 40, didn't know who we fought in the Revolutionary War, couldn't name the three branches of government and who think the Louisiana Purchase is a fried chicken chain.
I guess City Council felt the book is a remedy to history texts that present the United States as a noble enterprise, glossing over many evils of our system. The biggest stain on America's honor, and violation of our enshrined principles, was slavery, which actually is not glossed over.
Zinn's 2.2-pound "People's History" has mirror-image deficiencies as he turns his spotlight on our failures and almost never allows for good intentions behind America's actions. Every social gain — the five-day work week, the eight-hour work day, the minimum wage, as examples — are presented solely as throwing crumbs to the masses to keep them from exploding into revolution.
Zinn is an ideologue whose work has shaped the world view of many on the Left. Like one-note radical Noam Chomsky, his singular view finds nothing but fault with America.
Am I biased? On Page 631 (way at the end) Zinn says his book "is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of peoples' movements of resistance. That makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction." (Italics are mine for emphasis.)
That "certain direction" is Left. Far left. He would say he is just providing balance to standard texts.
It's amusing to me that he supports "peoples' movements" of resistance — except ours. He sees the American Revolution only as an attempt by the rich, land-owning overlords to maintain their power. Patriots become oligarchs.
When he points to the evils in our society, he doesn't provide historical context, which is necessary for a fair presentation, but being fair isn't in Zinn's wheelhouse. He admits his bias. He's proud of it.
The axe he has to grind is so big he opens the book, which is supposed to be about the United States, with a very long passage about Christopher Columbus' arrival and murder and enslavement of people not in the United States at all. He couldn't resist the opportunity to dump on Europeans.
Slavery was a moral evil, without question, but it was a world-wide practice a couple of hundred years ago and it was planted in the Western Hemisphere by Europeans. It was not a "made in the U.S.A." institution.
While America's birth certificate declared "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to be of our essence, it wasn't true for black Americans. That is a fact.
It's also a fact "America" began in 1776 and "we" eradicated slavery by 1865, too long, yes, but we fought to a war, with 600,000 deaths, to get it off our back.
Some of the early American heroes were slave owners. That is a fact. Other delegates to the Continental Congress wanted to abolish slavery. That is a fact.
Had they insisted, the South would not have joined the Union, and only God knows how long slavery would have persisted in the South. That is not a fact, but speculation based on fact.
There were also crimes committed against Native Americans, immigrants, the poor, and others, and while that is part of the story of America (and every other country), it is not the whole story of America.
What saves Zinn from being a flat-out propagandist is that when he ventures from the facts into speculation and assumption he (very) subtly lets the reader know, but the reader has to be paying close attention.
When he says "it could be that" or "it appears" or "some believe," that's when you know you are in B.S. land. When he talks of "conspiracy" on the part of government, but allows "It was not a conscious conspiracy," you know he's full of mysticism as well as beans.
Zinn seems deeply unhappy and thinks the middle class — with their cars, vacation homes, flat-screen TVs and cell phones — should feel oppressed. It kills him that they're content.
Another example of Zinn's jaundiced view is the Marshall Plan after World War II by which the U.S. poured $103 billion (in today's dollars) into ravaged post-war Europe. Standard texts portray the plan as a humanistic attempt to restore European civilization, to bring it to health and alleviate its suffering.
In Zinn's view, Europe was rescued largely because American manufacturing was producing more than Americans could consume and we needed a market where we could sell our wares.
While the mercantile needs did exist, it is also true -- but unstated by Zinn -- that no other nation ever attempted such a mammoth rescue project and a battered Europe benefited as much as America (while simultaneously saving Europe from falling into the chasm of communism, which is destructive of economies as well as souls).
A Marxist would never admit that.
I read Zinn's book not because I wanted to, but because I wanted to see America through the "anti-American" prism of some of my friends, who are disaffected and, to me, dismally ill-informed.
I thought I would hate the book. I didn't. As a journalist, I believe in hearing opposing opinion, and in facts. Facts must be heard.
But as a journalist I also know when facts are altered or missing.
Zinn's view is that America is a bad country, and always has been, from even before its founding. Its founders were middle and upper class property owners, white European males (which is true) who established this nation specifically and solely to maintain their privilege.
I can't quote Zinn as saying all that, but my interpretation of his words is as valid as his reading of the motives of John Adams, Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.
There is plenty of interpretation and plenty missing in Zinn's "A People's History of the United States (1492-2001)."