Jerry Davich: Daniels-Zinn debate sparks readers’ ire
JERRY DAVICH September 26, 2013 11:12PM
Hammond artist Bart Powers creating a piece for Saturdays Hooked on Art Fest in Chesterton to battle heroin addiction/deaths in Northwest Indiana. | Photo provided
Updated: October 28, 2013 7:06AM
“Education of the ignorant is the responsibility of the state, and the governor has every right to screen what is required reading in our public institutions supported by public funds.”
Or so says Betty L., one of many readers who contacted me regarding my recent column over the controversy with former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and the writings of historian Howard Zinn. Specifically, Zinn’s book, “A People’s History of the United States.”
“Jerry, I am surprised you would attend then print the lecture of (a professor’s) attack on our ex-governor,” Betty wrote. “I’ve not read Zinn’s book but I do know that too many professors have tried to rewrite our history to fit their agenda.”
“Arrogant professors who believe they have a monopoly on truth and take 90 minutes of time to attack ... Mr. Daniels — and you were invited so you could continue the conversation — need to be held accountable for what they preach,” Betty wrote.
I shared Betty’s comments with David Detmer, the Purdue University Calumet professor of philosophy who critiqued Daniels’ actions in a lecture I attended last week. At the standing-room-only event, Detmer publicly noted that Daniels’ claims, arguments and actions regarding Zinn’s book were “indefensible.” And I agreed.
Censorship, I wrote, isn’t executed strictly by burning books in a raging bonfire amid like-minded fanatics. It’s also the suppression of ideas, free speech and inconvenient information, especially by those in a position of power. Like, say, a state governor.
Daniels urged his governmental staff during his time as Indiana governor to purge all of Zinn’s work from the state’s educational teachings, Detmer noted.
“Jerry, I’m disappointed that (you) and Detmer kind (of) distorted Daniels’ comments on Zinn, whom I would like to read, but haven’t yet,” wrote Ruth V. “I thought Daniels just referred to the use of the book in Indiana public grade and high schools, NOT UNIVERSITIES. There is a BIG difference there. (You) and Detmer made it sound like he was dictating to ALL education. Am I correct?”
I shared her comments, too, with Detmer, who responded by saying he is not surprised that so many Hoosiers are under this impression.
“How can it be seriously maintained that Daniels’ emails ‘had nothing to do with higher education at all?’ ” Detmer replied. “Daniels’ initial email, in which he inquired as to how to ‘get rid of Zinn’s book’ so that it ‘is not in use anywhere in Indiana’ mentioned both high schools and colleges, and drew no distinction between them.”
“Then, the one class that was discussed was a course offered at Indiana University, not at a K-12 school. It was in connection with this college course that Daniels had instructed his subordinates to ‘Go for it — disqualify the propaganda.’” Detmer told guests.
“But don’t take my word for it,” he told Ruth and other readers who criticized his critique against Daniels, Purdue University’s current president. “I encourage you to read those emails yourself, at http://www.scribd.com/doc/154379086/Read-Mitch-Daniels-emails-about-Howard-Zinn-Part-1.”
Daniels didn’t merely “suggest” that Indiana educators refrain from using Zinn’s books, Detmer pointed out. Instead, he tried to take that decision out of their hands entirely.
“To quote your eloquent words once again, there is a BIG difference there,” Detmer wrote to that reader.
It should be noted despite assumptions that “the governor has every right to screen what is required reading in our public institutions supported by public funds,” this is not true for public universities.
“There, the faculty members are responsible for all curricular matters, including the selection of required texts,” Detmer wrote. “In any case, the focus of my talk was not on the question of whether or not then-Governor Daniels had the legal right to do what he did, but rather whether his actions constituted sound or wise public policy.”
Overall, the feedback I received was split roughly 50/50 in support of Detmer’s objections versus Daniels’ actions while governor. As one disgruntled reader told me via voice mail: “You wrote that Daniels’ actions was just name-calling and summary judgment, but that’s exactly what your column is.”
Yes, however, I’m a newspaper columnist quoting a college professor, not a state governor trying to censor public education through political propaganda. As Ruth V. noted earlier, “There is a BIG difference there.”
Hooked on art, not drugs
What do drug addiction and artwork creation have in common? More than you may think, but it’s obvious which one is preferred in our region.
No one knows this better than Frontline Foundations, a faith-based, not-for-profit substance abuse recovery program for young adults whose artistic talents are off the charts.
This Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Frontline is hosting its second annual “Hooked on Art” street art festival in downtown Chesterton. It will feature a 3-D chalk artist from Florida, its own clients’ artwork, live music, an interactive Kid’s Corner, and one-of-a-kind shopping opportunities.
For more info visit www.hookedonartfestival.com and tune in to my “Casual Fridays” radio show today from noon to 1 p.m. on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org.
I also will chat with Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris and Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey on their interesting yet often gruesome jobs. Call in with your questions or comments at 769-9577.
‘Law of Attraction’
Also this Saturday, at noon, I will be speaking to a “Law of Attraction” group at the Portage 16 Imax Theater about creating new, stronger or more meaningful connections in life. I’ll be reading related excerpts from my book “Connections: Everyone Happens for a Reason.” The public is welcome and I hope to see you there.