by Patrick Courrielche
Children are uniquely malleable beings, readily convinced of magically colorful tales – Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are the first that come to mind. This innocence is beautiful, but it is a quality that can easily fall victim to radically foreign ideas if taught consistently and pervasively at an early age. One need only look at the birth of fascism or socialism to see a recipe for how radical ideas become ubiquitous among a nation's youth.
Enter Howard Zinn – an author, professor and American historian – who, with the help of Hollywood and the History Channel, intends to change the way our pre-K through high school children learn American history. His current curriculum suggestions, like introducing three-year-olds to the lynching of African-Americans, or quizzing seven-year-olds on which Presidents owned slaves, should be a red flag to parents.
Zinn has spent a lifetime teaching college students about the evils of capitalism, the promise of Marxism, and his version of American history – a history that has, in his view, been kept from students. His controversial 1980-book The People's History of the United States paints traditional American history as a façade – one that has grotesquely immortalized flawed leaders and is based on principles that victimize the common man. In 2004, Zinn wrote a companion book entitled Voices Of A People's History Of The United States, which includes speeches and writings from many of the people featured in The People's History.
These two books have now become the basis for a new documentary, entitled The People Speak, to be aired December 13th at 8pm on the History Channel. The trailer portrays the documentary as a collage of compelling one-person readings, told through the words of "ordinary" people who have struggled throughout American history against oppression. Produced by Zinn, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore, the documentary appears to be cloaked, ironically (given Zinn's admitted socialist agenda), in many of the traditional ideas that were behind our founding. The verdict is still out on the doc, but it is not for the books that inspired the film as well as the educational initiative associated with it.
Perhaps due to their one-sided perspective of America's past, Zinn's history books have largely been limited to colleges and universities, until now. In the press release announcing the broadcast, HISTORY introduced a partnership with VOICES Of A People's History Of The United States, a nonprofit led by Zinn that bares the same name as his companion book, to help get his special brand of history into classrooms.
Delving into Zinn's nonprofit is where this story gets interesting, and the organization's grade school educational ambitions concerning.
VOICES' function is to provide live performances of readings from the book Voices of a People's History as well as educational materials to schoolteachers. The nonprofit's site provides teachers with resources, including a teaching guide that explains how to get students excited about Zinn's history books. Their educational materials also includes the Zinn Education Project, a resource for teaching Zinn's perspective of American history to – drum roll please – pre-Kindergarten through high school students! Included in the curriculum for pre-K students (that's three and four year-olds) is "Rethinking Columbus," which counters "the myth of Columbus." In Zinn's view, our pre-K children "need to hear from those whose lands and rights were taken away by those who 'discovered' them."
Another teaching lesson for our three-year-old students is "One Country! One Language! One Flag!" that includes teaching ideas for "examining the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and the political milieu in which it was written." The teaching plan suggests introducing our pre-K-ers to the lynching of African-Americans in the 1880s, and introducing the history of violence and discrimination against minority groups. It also proposes a discussion on an old "One Language!" chant allegedly used in classrooms up until 1942, and poses teachers with the question, "Why not lead kids in the original Pledge to the Flag, including the 'One Language!' chant and the Nazi-like salute, and then lead a discussion about the politics of the Pledge?"
This discussion is proposed for kids age three to seven?
Zinn also includes a youngster version of his influential book entitled A Young People's History of the United States as an introduction to his untold American History. The publisher of the book highlights a review by the magazine Socialist Review, who proclaimed "Howard Zinn has adapted his People's History of the United States for younger readers, but in no way do these books pull their punches. Zinn feels the younger reader is entitled to look at US history honestly."
The background of the board of directors and advisers of VOICES' can only be described as jaw dropping and begins to show a clear motive behind teaching this predominantly anti-American history at such a young age.
Made up of several notables including Zinn, Kerry Washington, and Marisa Tomei, all of whom make appearances in the documentary, the VOICES board also includes radicals who play a role in our public schools. Brian Jones, a New York teacher and actor, is a board member of VOICES and has also played the lead in Zinn's play Marx in SoHo. You can see Jones speaking about Zinn and the play below, recorded for a performance in Greece, where he extols the benefits of this one man play as a tool to introduce people to Marx's ideas:
Jones is also a regular contributor to Socialist Worker, International Socialist Review, and speaks regularly on the beneficial principles of Marxism, including this year at the 2009 Socialism Conference. He recently gave a speech on the failure of capitalism, proclaiming that "Marx is back."
Sarah Knopp, a Los Angeles high school teacher, is also on Zinn's Teacher Advisory Board. Like Jones, Knopp is also a regular contributor to International Socialist Review, Socialist Worker, is an active member in The International Socialist Organization, and was also a speaker at the 2009 Socialist Conference. Here is Knopp speaking about the benefits of socialism, how capitalism destroys lives, and how she advocates workers taking over their factories:
Is it becoming clearer why this group might want to teach children to think poorly of the American system?
Then there is Jesse Sharkey, a schoolteacher in Chicago. Sharkey is another of Zinn's Teacher Advisory Board Members and, completely uncharacteristic of this group, is a contributor to… Socialist Worker.
This is the group that the History Channel is working with "to develop enhanced, co-branded curriculums for a countrywide educational initiative." If readers choose to watch The People Speak, which we at BigHollywood encourage, keep in mind the context of the documentary's creator and the pre-K to high school curriculum that the History Channel and VOICES could possibly create given the makeup of the board members.
I am not advocating that we spare our kids the harsh truths of American history, but I am suggesting, given Zinn's far-left political affiliation, this project is designed to breakdown our vulnerable children's views of American principles so that they can be built back up in a socialist vision.
Zinn's one-man play Marx in SoHo provides an example of his attempt to reestablish the socialist ideology. The play, created in 1999, places Marx in New York after bargaining with the authorities of the after-life for a chance to come back to earth to clear his name. At the end of the cold war, Zinn felt that Marxism was unfairly discredited through being anchored to the fall of the Soviet Union. Through the play, Zinn wanted "the audience to see Marx defending his ideas against attack." Those associated with the play have described it as an attempt to reestablish Marx's philosophic and economic outlook – a philosophy that views capitalism as corrosive to the human condition. It doesn't take a great leap to surmise that instilling in children a pessimistic view of the American experience could make his ideas more palatable.
Zinn's socialist philosophy has definitely made its way into the documentary, including a speech by prominent socialist Eugene Debs. In his speech, which is a prose to the ills of the capitalist system, he speaks to a court that convicted him of sedition:
"I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man, who does absolutely nothing…to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence."
The promotional videos can be viewed here:
It is not surprising to me that there are groups sympathetic to Marx's ideas throughout our country. What is surprising is that the most powerful persuasion machine in the world (Hollywood) and the History Channel would provide Zinn such a prominent soapbox to stealthily build a case for a destructive ideology to our children, and as a result mainstream his ideas with the magic of cool music, graphics, and celebrity. Groups that push Marx's philosophy are like a virtual organism that will not die off even when stung by the undeniable historical evidence showing human behavior makes such a system unsustainable. If we let this virtual organism into our grade schools, it will take decades for our kids to unlearn the ideology.
And if there are any doubts of the intentions of Howard Zinn's movement, I provide a quote of his in closing. When a reporter asked Zinn, "In writing A People's History, what were you calling for? A quiet revolution?" Zinn responded: "A quiet revolution is a good way of putting it. From the bottom up. Not a revolution in the classical sense of a seizure of power, but rather from people beginning to take power from within the institutions. In the workplace, the workers would take power to control the conditions of their lives. It would be a democratic socialism."
It appears that Zinn's ilk have started the institutional phase of their agenda.