As has been amply demonstrated by others, Howard Zinn was an anti-American secular humanist with heavily Marxist leanings. As I have already written, teaching the Zinn Education Project in public schools likely violates the California education code. It discriminates against particular races (namely, non-minorities) and all traditional religion (particularly with regard to its view of homosexuality). Zinn himself called for violating the education codes wherever possible:
“Don’t obey the rules… you have to play a kind of guerrilla warfare with the establishment in which you try not to be fired… You have to depart from the curriculum… outside the lines that are set for us by the school administration, or the politicians.”
Zinn, Josh Brolin, Chris Moore, Matt Damon
Of course, that doesn’t stop schoolteachers everywhere from teaching Zinn. According to the Oxnard Union High School District, Zinn’s on the California Department of Education Recommended Reading List.
He’s taught at the San Lorenzo Unified School District Re-Entry Intervention Program, which targets kids coming back to school after being expelled, students with ten or more days of suspension who are on track for expulsion, students coming back to school from Juvenile Hall – in short, the worst of the worst. This makes perfect sense – after all, what better way is there to teach borderline-criminal kids about good citizenship than pillorying America and giving them delusions of victimhood?
He’s taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District, at the Stern Math and Science School, where teacher Benjamin Weber’s curriculum is designed to focus on various minority groups struggling against the repressive evil of the American system.
He’s taught throughout the Seattle School District; in 2002, pressure from liberal interest groups forced the school district to adopt Zinn’s work in a stated attempt to include “cultural diversity” in the curriculum. Not coincidentally, the district came up with an action plan that included “more aggressive recruitment of minority teachers, better training of teachers about students’ varied cultural backgrounds, and racially proportionate admissions of students to special education and ‘highly capable’ programs.” He’s also taught in the Philadelphia School District, which recommends all of his books.
Our public schools can’t get kids to read, write or do math. But they can teach them to be victims, to hate religion, and to despise America’s history.
There’s no question that teaching Zinn violates school codes all over the country. The truth is that it should also violate current understanding of the First Amendment Establishment Clause.
First, the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The original meaning of this clear dictate has been obscured by a century of bad Supreme Court law, so there’s no reason to go into it. Instead, let’s focus on what the Supreme Court currently says the Establishment Clause means. Under Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), state and federal governments have no business participating in any activity unless (1) the action has a secular legislative purpose; or (2) it does not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion; or (3) it does not result in “excessive government entanglement” with religion. The easy argument here is that Zinn’s Education Project has a primary effect of inhibiting religion – as I’ve explained in the past, the Project targets religion in particularly pernicious ways.
But there’s another argument that deserves an airing here. That is the argument that Zinn’s form of propaganda truly amounts to religious proselytizing.
The Supreme Court has never actually settled what constitutes a “religion” under the Establishment Clause. The Court has, however, worked around the edges of what constitutes religion. Most relevant in this context is a footnote from Justice Hugo Black in the 1961 decision Torcaso v. Watkins, in which he stated:
“Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others.”
The courts have backed away from this pronouncement for Establishment Clause purposes, however; in Kalka v. Hawk (D.C. Circuit, 2000), for example, the court declared, “The Court’s statement in Torcaso does not stand for the proposition that humanism, no matter in what form and no matter how practiced, amounts to a religion under the First Amendment. The Court offered no test for determining what system of beliefs qualified as a ‘religion’ under the First Amendment.” This is weak tea at best – no doubt the Court would declare reconstructionist Judaism just as much a religion as Orthodox Judaism, despite reconstructionism’s lack of an active God, any real ritual, and any formalized belief system.
The fact is that Howard Zinn’s philosophy has direct parentage in formalized secular humanism. His philosophy, reflected in his writing, was a self-described combination of “anarchism” and “democratic socialism.” Here’s how he described it:
“I believe that we need a society where the motive for the economic system is not corporate profit, but the motive is the welfare of people … Where there is a greater equalization of wealth, and a society which is peaceful, which devotes its resources to helping people in the country and elsewhere. And I believe in a world where war is no longer the recourse for the settling of grievances and problems. I believe in the wiping out of national boundaries … I think we need to move toward a global society.”
Further, he stated:
“I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization … [The world should be organized] of collectives of different sizes ….”
As you can see, this is basically a jumbled translation of Auguste Comte, who predated Marx. As Comte wrote, “Social positivism only accepts duties, for all and towards all. Its constant social viewpoint cannot include any notion of rights, for such notion always rests on individuality.” Comte recognized the religious nature of his philosophy so deeply that he attempted to found a “religion of humanity,” including rituals and saints.
Zinn had no rituals (other than reflexive America-bashing) or saints (other than those who dislike America intensely). But that does not mean that his philosophy isn’t a religious one, any more than reconstructionist Judaism isn’t a religion. He believed in a utopian one-world vision where war ends and wealth is distributed equally, certainly an ideal that must be taken as a religious end-time fantasy. He sought to impose his utopia through the schools.
Not all religion is right wing or God-fearing. Some is left-wing and humanity worshipping. Zinn’s education was in the latter mold. Under the Establishment Clause, it should certainly be just as suspect and (and morally speaking, far more suspect than) teaching the Ten Commandments in class or allowing silent prayer.
Zinn’s advocates suggest that the First Amendment should allow Zinn into the classroom, no matter whether his material violates the Establishment Clause or educational codes, simply because it is a “point of view.” This is illogical. As Justice Rehnquist states in his dissent in Board of Education v. Pico (1982):
Education consists of the selective presentation and explanation of ideas. The effective acquisition of knowledge depends upon an orderly exposure to relevant information. Nowhere is this more true than in elementary and secondary schools, where, unlike the broad-ranging inquiry available to university students, the courses taught are those thought most relevant to the young students’ individual development. Of necessity, elementary and secondary educators must separate the relevant from the irrelevant, the appropriate from the inappropriate. Determining what information not to present to the students is often as important as identifying relevant material. This winnowing process necessarily leaves much information to be discovered by students at another time or in another place, and is fundamentally inconsistent with any constitutionally required eclecticism in public education.
Rehnquist is correct. School boards routinely throw right wing and religious perspectives out of the classroom using the Rehnquist justification; there is far more reason to throw Zinn out of the classroom using that same justification. Sadly, the fact is that it is far more probable nowadays that school districts will discard Bill Bennett on the curriculum than Howard Zinn. Public schools have become hotbeds of anti-American indoctrination over the last four decades. It is about time that they restored the will of the people when it comes to public education, and embrace the dictates of their own education codes – the same education codes that state, in relevant part:
Section 52720. In every public elementary school each day during the school year at the beginning of the first regularly scheduled class or activity period at which the majority of the pupils of the school normally begin the schoolday, there shall be conducted appropriate patriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy the requirements of this section. In every public secondary school there shall be conducted daily appropriate patriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy such requirement. Such patriotic exercises for secondary schools shall be conducted in accordance with the regulations which shall be adopted by the governing board of the district maintaining the secondary school.
52730. (a) Providing instruction that promotes understanding the concepts of “pledge,” “allegiance,” “republic,” and “indivisible,” and understanding the importance of the pledge as an expression of patriotism, love of country, and pride in the United States of America shall satisfy the requirement of Section 52720.
Americans are still patriotic, even if the public schools aren’t. And if the public schools refuse to abide by education codes or the dictates of grooming future citizens, we should stand on our legal rights to force them to do so.