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Purdue Univ. Pres. Mitch Daniels Defends Book Challenge

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Purdue University President and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels responded Wednesday to allegations that he had infringed upon academic freedom, the Associated Press reports. Daniels contends that his interest in removing Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States (Harper & Row, 1980) from K-12 classrooms and teacher preparation programs did not constitute an attempt to "quash academic freedom." In a statement on Purdue's website, Daniels distinguishes between censorship of scholarly production and quality control of K-12 curriculum material:

I want to be equally clear that if Howard Zinn had been a professor at Purdue University, I would have vigorously defended his right to publish and teach what he wanted. Academic freedom, however, does not immunize a person from criticism and certainly does not confer entitlement to have one's work inflicted upon our young people in the K-12 public school system.

The AP previously published a series of e-mails from February 2010 in which Daniels excoriates the book and its use in professional development and undergraduate curriculum for K-12 teachers. In the exchange, Daniels calls for "a cleanup of what is credit-worthy in 'professional development' and what is not." Part of the proposed "cleanup" would have shifted emphasis away from humanities and toward STEM fields: "Don't the ed schools have at least some substantive PD courseware to upgrade knowledge of math, science, etc?" Daniels wrote.

Stressing STEM subjects as key to American economic competitiveness is a familiar narrative but, as Zinn wrote in Howard Zinn on Democratic Education (Paradigm, 2004), history learning can also provide a toolkit for success: "Students should be encouraged to go into history in order to come out of it, and they should be discouraged from going into history and getting lost in it."

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