I’ve mentioned a number of times that I am using Eric Foner’s new textbook, Give Me Liberty!: An American History. I recently learned and am continuing to follow the controversy surrounding David Horowitz’s inclusion of Foner as one of the 101 most dangerous professors in this country. The reason I chose Foner’s book was that I wanted a text that went beyond the standard dry and boring narrative that is typically written by a group of historians but lacks any overarching theme. I also wanted a book that went beyond the more traditional themes of American history and included much more social history. The book does all of that and still provides the content that is necessary for my AP students to master for their test in May. A number of them have commented that the book reads well and Foner’s broad theme of surveying competing interpretations of freedom connects disparate sections of the book in a way that more traditional texts cannot match.
My question is whether I should share Horowitz’s criticisms and the responses with my students. I encourage my students to question everything and this seems an ideal place to touch on issues related to more general cultural and political questions related to interpreting American history. Personally I find Horowitz’s accusations of Foner to be just a bit ridiculous and bordering on a McCarthy-style paranoia. The book clearly betrays Foner’s commitment to those groups that have been left out of traditional narratives, but is that a reason to be concerned? Anyway, should I introduce my students to this debate? If so, how should I go about it? Would this create additional problems as we finish the year with a close examination of more recent controversial events such as Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc.?