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'Howard Zinn Read-In' Celebrates Power of 'Dangerous' Education

Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels' attempt to censor Zinn's classic 'A People's History' backfires, sparks ongoing interest in late historian's work.

Andrea Germanos

In organizing a Howard Zinn read-in at Purdue University, students have cultivated what is described as an "imaginative and defiant response to the corporate attack on our students and our schools."

Controversy flared the summer when the Associated Press revealed that Mitch Daniels, former Indiana Governor and now Purdue University president, attempted to censor Howard Zinn's classic A People’s History of the United States from Indiana classrooms. As Zinn Education Project co-director Bill Bigelow told Common Dreams, "When Governor Mitch Daniels attempted to prevent teachers and teacher educators from using Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, this was an attack on academic freedom and on students' right to learn a fuller, more honest history than is found in their textbooks."

"[A People's History of the United States] is dangerous  because it presents a perspective that ordinary people can change the world, which is the main secret that the richest 1% and their political advocates cannot allow young people to find out." –Jesse Hagopian, high school history teacher

But Daniels' efforts to censor the classic work already backfired, instead sparking a surge in public interest in the late historian's work just a month after Daniels' 'Zinn witch-hunt' was revealed.

The censorship controversy also provided the impetus for the Howard Zinn read-in taking place at Purdue on Tuesday.

As event organizers explain:

'The Zinn Read-in Committee' envisions the event to be a commemoration of academic freedom and a declaration of anti-censorship.

The event will also symbolize the ongoing fightback in the United States against the privatization of public education, attacks on teachers and teachers unions, and the need for real democracy in both schools and curriculum. Zinn's A People's History of the United States is an important text for understanding the history of underrepresented populations; the fight for the right to teach this history is never separate from the fight to improve the material lives of students, teachers, minorities and workers around the world.

"As the event organizers point out," Bigelow continued, "Daniels' attempted censorship is part of larger corporate school reform efforts to undermine public schools along with any teaching that helps students question inequality and injustice. The Zinn Read-In is an imaginative and defiant response to the corporate attack on our students and our schools."

Speakers at the Purdue read-in include historian, labor activist and author Staughton Lynd; peace activist Ann Wright; Anthony Arnove, editor, with Zinn, of Voices of a People's History of the United States; and Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Seattle's Garfield High School, where he helped lead the MAP test boycott that gained national attention.

"Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels believed that Howard Zinn’s book A People's History of the United States was a dangerous text for students to read and should be removed from every classroom in the state," Hagopian told Common Dreams in a statement. "Daniels is right about one thing, A People's History is dangerous."

"It's dangerous because it presents a perspective that ordinary people can change the world, which is the main secret that the richest 1% and their political advocates cannot allow young people to find out in an age where wealth inequality is destroying our society," Hagopian stated.

In addition to the event at Purdue, solidarity read-ins are taking place at 9 other campuses across the nation including the University of Chicago, Stony Brook University, New York, and Indiana University.

Organizers will be live streaming the event, which begins at 6PM ET, at, and live discussions on Twitter will be using the hashtag #ReadZinn.

Update: Though the event is over, video of the full two-hour read-in at Purdue is available to watch on YouTube thanks to WeAreManyMedia. Click here to watch it.


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