In November 2005, C-SPAN’s BookTV recorded an interview with Lynne Cheney, wife of then Vice-President Dick Cheney, about a new book in which she provides her chronology of selected events in U.S. history. During that interview, she explained how she saw her book as an antidote to Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States:
Click on this audio player (below) to play a brief (1 minute, 21 seconds) audio clip that includes the text below, or right-click here to download and save the clip.
I spend a lot of time worrying about what we teach in our schools, and I discovered that the book most often used to teach future teachers is Howard Zinn’s History of the American People [sic]. Now this is really interesting, for those of you who know the book, which presents a very dire and dark picture of America. His thesis is basically that we’ve made no progress in this country, AT ALL, EVER [her very pronounced emphasis] — that there’s no progress — [that] my idea of expanding freedom is simply not correct. For example he says that, yes, we ended slavery; but we subsequently enslaved people economically, so that we were no better off. I really wrote this book because I think the truth is otherwise.
While I confess that I have not read this book in its entirety, I read the first chapter every year with my own preservice teacher education students. In that chapter Zinn presents strong criticism of the ways historians have used the idea of progress in the telling and teaching of our nation’s history; but nowhere does he take a position anything like that ascribed to him by Cheney.
In fact, there is a Wall Chart published in connection with Zinn’s book — and with Zinn himself credited as first author — which I have regarded as a display celebrating the great progress on many fronts that has been accomplished through the valiant struggles of people in the United States. So, if the truth is that Zinn does recognize and celebrate these great accomplishments, then what exactly is Cheney’s problem with his book? When she says that she is writing directly in opposition to him, she might actually be saying something truthful; but the true opposition is certainly not one of Zinn denying any progress, and denying that we’re any better off, while Cheney sees the opposite of that.
Cheney’s opposition to Zinn’s telling of the story, and the alternative that she presents through the alphabet books about America that she writes for childrens, is something very different from what she says it is.
But I’m not going to write now about the true nature of that opposition, as I see it. Instead, I am launching a wiki alternative to Cheney’s alphabet books. Later I will add an ABC book where people can post entries about great and heroic Americans and their struggles. But first, inspired by Cheney’s taunt concerning “progress,” I am starting this wiki for people to post entries on the ACCOMPLISHMENTS that have resulted from the efforts and struggles of people in the United States.
Please jump in and start making your own additions to this wiki! You can add your own pages and links, or you can just add items to the alphabetical list, which others can add to, or which you can come back and develop later. There is a page now under “P” for “Pluralism” that has not yet been developed as a page on pluralism, but instead — for now — is offered as sort of a template with some pointers and directions for creating and editing other pages of your own.
Have fun, ask your own students to contribute, and let’s develop a little wiki alphabet book on Great American Accomplishments that can serve — among other things — as a factual resource for considering the different stories being told about America.
A Time for Freedom: What Happened When in America
National Archives & Records Admin.
Washington, District of Columbia (United States)
ID:190123 – 11/30/2005 – 0:56 – $29.95
Cheney, Lynne, Spouse
Weinstein, Allen, Archivist of the U.S., National Archives & Records Admin.
Mr. Weinstein interviewed Lynne Cheney at an evening event hosted by the National Archives. Mrs. Cheney talked about her book A Time for Freedom: What Happened When in America, published by Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, based on a timeline of key moments in American history. Ms. Cheney explained that it is important for Americans to learn the details of American history, including westward expansion and the sacrifices that were made by American soldiers. She asserted that these historical events help people fully appreciate being citizens of the United States. Mrs. Cheney focused on great American leaders and presidents, the importance of teaching American history to young people, and her experiences and reflections on writing about American history. Following the interview, she answered questions submitted by members of the audience. This interview, “A Chronology of Freedom: A Talk with Lynne Cheney,” was the first of the National Archives American Conversations, a series of informal conversations between the archivist and people who’ve shaped the dialogue about the interpretation and use of American heritage.