I can’t go into every instance of Zinn’s dishonesty because life is way too short. But here is one that I constantly run across.
I teach a lot about the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas, and for me it’s easier to teach students who know nothing at all than the ones who are educated in the Howard-Zinnish model. They are convinced that the indigenous were completely peaceful little tribes that were profoundly feminist and gay friendly. They didn’t even know what violence, rape, or disliking anybody who is different from you was! Then evil Europeans came, and that’s the first time the noble little savages discovered violence and intolerance.
Yeah, I know. That’s my reaction, too.
Of course, this goes all the way back to Rousseau who, in turn, learned this way of narrating history from the Spaniard Las Casas. Rousseau and Las Casas weren’t historians, though. They were trying to achieve political and ideological goals, and history, to them, was simply a story you can modify at will. You can’t teach the fairy-tales of “the noble savage” as history. Unfortunately, nobody informed Zinn about it.
The result is that young people are convinced that the Americas were a paradise where noble savages lived in the state of pristine and sinless humanity until evil Europeans snaked their way in and brought the sins of violence, inequality, cruelty, and domination into this paradise. I swear, this is what is being taught in schools. Things were wonderful, and then Europeans came and made everything horrible.
For the longest time, I kept wondering, where are they getting this from? Then I read Zinn, and it’s all there. Everything is narrated in this good guys vs bad guys vein that appeals to small children and undeveloped, primitive minds.
This is your explanation for why the mobs today deface the Cervantes statue and want to destroy our statue of St Louis. Cervantes, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Junípero Serra, St Louis – they all represent the snake in paradise. In this story of good versus evil, they are the European evil that spoiled the original paradise of the Americas. If you really believe this version of history – and why wouldn’t you if that’s the only thing you are taught? – I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to destroy these statues.
So yes, what is taught matters. And most parents don’t have the time, the energy, or the knowledge to re-teach the school material at home. Nor should anybody expect them to.
And by the way, it’s getting worse. In the years I’ve been a teacher in the US, it’s gotten worse. Students only perk up when they hear the familiar stories of how everything Western or American is evil. It’s getting very hard to get them to listen to anything else.