A Howard Zinn Pandemic

In the midst of a global pandemic, left-wing pundits and politicians spin the blame to comport with the propaganda coming from Communist China, the regime responsible for the virus’s spread in the first place.

And as students are forced to take classes remotely, companies such as National Public Radio, Newsela, and the Zinn Education Project—with the assistance of U.S. taxpayers—are ensuring they get the left-wing version of current events along with their history lessons.

Consider a March 27 email from the Zinn Education Project, the propaganda arm for the late Howard Zinn and his Marxist A People’s History of the United States. It began: “It feels impossible to start any email during this strange and scary time without first acknowledging our shared circumstances: a pandemic, an inept, untrustworthy, racist demagogue in the White House; and the disruption to almost every tiny square of our personal and professional lives.” This, by the way, one day after a two-day campaign that offered free e-books of A Young People’s History of the United States.

The Zinn project’s Soviet-style rhetoric serves to introduce new products for teachers and parents educating children at home. Offered were two lessons on pandemics that made connections between the coronavirus and climate change, and another was “The 1918 Flu: How Information Policing and Nationalist Propaganda Worsened a Pandemic a Century Ago.”

The Zinn Education Project also announced online mini-classes led by “people’s historians.” The first one, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” was conducted by Jeanne Theoharis, a Brooklyn College professor who specializes in “civil rights and Black Power movements and the politics of race and education,” and by Jesse Hagopian, who teaches ethnic studies at Garfield High School in Seattle, where he also serves as co-advisor to the Black Student Union and an editor for Rethinking Schools, the nonprofit that produces and distributes materials for the Zinn Education Project.

The Zinn project also recommends a number of podcasts as “teaching tools”: The 1619 Project, “Democracy Now!” (a show to the left of MSNBC), Code Switch (which “explores overlapping themes of race, ethnicity, and culture”), Justice in America (on mass incarceration), Reveal (“in-depth stories,” such as on the coronavirus and the environment), Scene on Radio (podcasts calling “into question the United States’ claim to democracy”), School Colors (about “Ocean-Brownsville in Brooklyn where Black and Puerto Rican parents tried to exercise power over their schools”), This Land (how a murder case “opened an investigation into half the land in Oklahoma and the treaty rights of five tribes. . . . the Trump administration’s involvement, the larger right-wing attack on tribal sovereignty. . . .”), and Uncivil (profiles of “everyday people whose current circumstances are inextricably tied to the Civil War and its memory” like “Pa Shed, who escaped slavery, joined the Union Army, [and] led a daring and successful raid with Harriet Tubman”). In the line-up were also two products from publicly funded National Public Radio: Story Corps and Throughline.

NPR is not Big Bird, as proponents for funding, even during a national emergency, claim. NPR, through these two programs, is partnering with the Zinn Education Project. It seems to be a well-suited match: StoryCorps “interviews highlight people’s memories of movements and events in U.S. history, like the Stonewall riot, voter suppression, Japanese American internment, racial profiling, immigration, and more.”

Thoroughline is a weekly series that “explores the history of stories in the headlines today,” with recent episodes covering “the history of vaccinations in the United States, the biography and legacy of [Iranian terrorist] Qasseim Soleimani, LGBTQ activism before Stonewall, Andrew Johnson’s impeachment and more.”

The Zinn Education Project is also one of 100 partners of Newsela, a news gathering source that adapts articles to grade level and offers teachers labor-saving “assignment planning,” “writing prompts,” and “built-in assessments”—with multiple choice quiz questions devised and graded by Newsela staff.

On March 13, Newsela, which is already reaching “90 percent of all schools in the U.S.” (more than “20 million students and 1.8 million teachers”), offered “complimentary access” to help teachers “embrace distance learning” during school closures. As one headline brags, this “content repository” is “replac[ing] traditional textbooks.” And that content, ostensibly created to be “relevant” and to inspire “empathy,” is produced with the help of a “partner,” the Southern Poverty Law Center, which groups discussions around “identity, diversity, justice, and action.” Recently, Newsela added social-emotional learning (SEL) to their list of products and in their March 31 newsletter advertised “SEL content,” along with Distance Learning Collections and Student Reading Clubs, “to help your students adapt, one day at a time, to at-home learning.”

Newsela was founded by Matthew Gross, who today is CEO. Gross, a former Teach for America music teacher, claims he was inspired to found the company when he tried to find content to engage students, and help his son, a struggling reader. But Gross also had some connections: he was “Executive Director of the Regents Research Fund, a privately funded affiliate of the New York State Board of Regents and Education Department that helped lead the implementation of Race to the Top-driven education reforms.”

Recall that Race to the Top was the Obama-era stimulus program that dangled prize money before states in 2009 and 2010 in exchange for accepting the yet-to-be-written Common Core standards. This young music teacher, amazingly, “played a leadership role in the development of the Regents Research Fellows, a team of nationally recognized thought leaders.” These “thought leaders” helped lead “the implementation of the Common Core,” and next-generation assessments. The name Newsela combines “news” and “ELA” (English Language Arts). Under Common Core, ELA standards replaced much of the literary reading with nonfiction, and emphasized listening and discussion skills.

Last year, Newsela raised $50 million, some of it from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Newsela has more than 100 employees, and the highest paid executive makes $490,000; average executive pay elsewhere is around $215,000.

Newsela recently adapted six of the Zinn Education Project’s high school-level lessons for four reading levels—between the third and ninth grades. These are “Columbus Discovered the Taino People, Then Tried to Erase Them,” “Explaining the Summer of 1919” (i.e., the race riots), “What We Don’t Learn About the Black Panther Party—but Should,” “The Other ’68: Black Power During Reconstruction,” “Life in an Internment Camp Drove Yuri Kochiyama’s Commitment to Social Justice,” and “Education Project Aims to Set the Record Straight on Historical Myths,” the last a Washington Post column from 2017 that repeats Zinn talking points (which I have debunked) and describes how local students have used Zinn Education Project lessons for activism.

As examples, SEED Public Charter School students “joined hundreds of other students from throughout the Washington area in a show of support” for a protest against the Dakota access pipeline (#NativeNationsRise march to the White House). They also began a campaign to change the name of the Washington Redskins football team.

At Capital City Charter, students began a petition drive to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples Day” and asked the Washington D.C. city council to hold hearings (as the Zinn Education Project “Abolish Columbus Day” campaign kit instructs). As it turned out, the council and mayor agreed to change the name to Indigenous Peoples Day for 2019 (a vote by Congress is needed to make it permanent). Thanks to Newsela, third-graders can learn about the wonderful things the Zinn Education Project does!

Other Newsela partners include the Smithsonian (which hosted two ZEP teacher “teach-in” workshops last fall), The Undefeated (“premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture”), and news outlets (who no doubt are happy to provide content to future consumers), like the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, Aljazeera, WGBH (Boston public broadcasting), PRI (Public Radio International), The American Prospect, and various local news gathering organizations. Only two—the Council of Economic Education and the Bill of Rights Institute—present non-social justice materials, but their positions rarely find their way into classroom materials. There are no right-leaning news outlets among Newsela’s more than 100 “partners.”

Newsela is no doubt hoping teachers and administrators get so hooked on their product that once schools are back in session, they will keep their subscriptions (paid by tuition and taxpayers, of course). Newsela will offer yet one more means by which the leftist disinformation that is called “A People’s History” can spread, like a contagion, among America’s youth.

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About Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., a resident fellow at The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, is author of Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America and Debunking "The 1619 Project.” She currently is writing a biography of George Schuyler.

Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

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