IU Bloomington panel to discuss the politics of teaching history

Colorado high school students walk out of class and carry petitions objecting to what they say are attempts to censor the curriculum for Advanced Placement U.S. history courses. Arizona education officials try to shut down Tucson ethnic studies classes for promoting “ethnic solidarity.”

And just a few years ago in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels asked his advisors to make sure the writings of radical historian Howard Zinn were not being taught anywhere in the state’s schools.

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn speaks at IU in 1967 (University Archives).

Politics and the teaching of American history keep colliding, and Indiana University faculty, students and community members will have a chance to explore what’s happening at a panel discussion on “High School Teaching and Culture Wars.” It will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 9, in Sycamore Hall 003.

The event, sponsored by the IU Bloomington history and American studies departments, is part of a series addressing current events of interest to scholars in the two disciplines.

“The idea arose from the controversy in Colorado,” said Susan Ferentinos, public history advisor for the Department of History. “But as we discussed the topic, the organizers agreed that this particular controversy was part of a much larger politicization of social studies teaching at the pre-collegiate level.”

Panelists will include:

  • Anthony Arnove, a Bloomington native and a longtime collaborator with Howard Zinn, who died in 2010. Arnove is co-producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary film “Dirty Wars”; the writer, director and producer of “The People Speak”; and co-editor, with Zinn, of the book “Voices of a People’s History of the United States.”
  • Carl Weinberg, an adjunct associate professor of history at IU Bloomington, who taught a National Endowment of Humanities-funded 2010 summer course for teachers on labor history that came under scrutiny from Daniels and his assistants.
  • William F. Munn, a retired Marion, Ind., social studies teacher who spent 42 years teaching history and political science in high schools and middle schools. Munn wrote about the politics of Indiana textbook adoption in the June 2014 Magazine of Indiana History.

Another development that’s expected to be discussed: the move promoted by the Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute to require students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam to graduate from high school. Arizona has adopted the requirement, and Indiana and other states are considering it.

Ferentinos said organizers of the panel aim to explore why these political battles are erupting now and to consider what their implications are for humanities scholars and for U.S. citizens.

 

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