RANDOLPH – Good-bye Columbus. Hello Howard Zinn.
A national battle over what’s taught in public schools decamped in this affluent Morris County town last year prompted by the clumsy way the board of education handled Columbus Day. Over a few weeks beginning last spring, the board eliminated Columbus from the school calendar, then eliminated all holidays, and finally, reinstated Columbus Day – and all other holidays.
In reality, nothing changed, but the damage was done.
Hundreds packed the final school board meeting on this topic, many of whom condemned the board for catering to so-called political correctness, or to use the more contemporary term, woke culture. It was more than Columbus. Critics used the original incident to lambaste all sorts of “dangerous” things being taught in school, among them gender identity, some types of sex education and anti-Americanism.
Not one to miss a chance to rouse his base, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli incorporated what transpired in Randolph into his stump speech.
Meanwhile, another election was going on locally. A three-candidate slate emerged from the anger generated by the Columbus Day issue to seek board seats themselves. Only one of the three won.
That was Tom Duffy, who took his seat Tuesday night at the board’s 2022 reorganization meeting. Duffy is only one member, so his ability to do anything unilaterally is non-existent.
But like all other board members, he has a forum.
Which brings us to Zinn, who is best known for authoring “A People’s History of the United States,” which was a bestseller when published in 1980 and is still sold today. As the title suggests, the book is written from a liberal perspective with a concentration on immigration and civil rights.
An audience member addressed the board and said Zinn’s works were not suitable for the school district.
Duffy, speaking at his first meeting, agreed, describing Zinn as a Marxist and a man who hated America.
For the record, Zinn served in the U.S. military during World War II and flew bombing missions over Europe. It’s hard to square that with hating America.
More broadly, we now live in a time when some of the books students read in school are being criticized throughout the nation. On that score, Randolph is no exception.
On the other hand, it must be stated that simply because a book – any book – presents an argument with which some parents may disagree is no reason for students not to read it.
Should not students be encouraged to read and hopefully digest various points of view and form their own opinions?
The new board president, Ronald Conti, said he hoped this year for “robust debate.”
If the topic is curriculum in general and Howard Zinn in particular, he’s probably going to get it.