Mitch Daniels, Howard Zinn and "censorship" in education

As liberals in academia are up in arms about e-mails sent by former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels regarding a controversial history textbook by Leftist activist Howard Zinn, we all need to chill out and contemplate a couple realities. First, education necessarily involves “censorship.” Second, state government has a legitimate role to play in selection of materials for teacher training as well as what is taught in K-12 schools in the state.

The first claim might be a little shocking, but is self-evident. There is simply not enough time in the day, or in thirteen years in Indiana’s government school system, to teach everything there is to know. Therefore, decisions must be made as to what materials are appropriate, what textbooks should be used in each course (which necessarily requires exclusion of textbooks not used) and what areas of study are most important to teach Hoosier children.

If one history textbook (or a textbook on any other course) is deemed to be less valuable from a scholarly standpoint than another one, is it “censorship” for schools to use the better textbook and not teach from the lesser one? Technically, the answer is “yes,” but it is necessary. At some point a decision has to be made on what to use.

Indiana is an interesting state in that we have an elected Superintendent of Public Instruction as well as a State Board of Education appointed by the governor. Education always features prominently in both elections for governor and the policy agenda of the governor. Because the governor has a prominent role in education of Hoosier students, it is logical that he would be motivated to ensure that the best materials are available in the schools and that sub-par materials in classrooms are replaced by superior ones.

This is not to get into the value of Zinn’s history textbook. I have not read it, I have no plans to read it, and I do not have an opinion on it. That subject can be explored and debated by others. My main point with this post is that selection of materials is entirely appropriate, and the governor (who is responsible for making the state’s schools as good as possible) has a role in making sure that students are getting the best education from the best sources possible.

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