Friday, June 25, 2004

Parents worried because their children receive a steady diet of politically correct propaganda in schools and colleges often ask for suggestions of things they should get for their children to read, in hopes of deprogramming them.

Summer is a good time to let young people know that what they have been told in class is not the only side of the story or the only way to look at the world.

If all today’s students seem to know about American history are its negative aspects — which it shares with human societies in general — then they may think we are a truly awful country, without asking the question, “Compared to what?”

It speaks volumes about our schools and colleges that far-left radical Howard Zinn’s pretentiously titled book, “A People’s History of the United States,” is widely used. It is one indictment, complaint and distortion after another.

Anyone who relies on this twisted version of American history would have no idea why millions of people from around the world try, sometimes desperately, to move to this country. The one virtue of Mr. Zinn’s book is it helps identify unmistakably which teachers use their classrooms as propaganda centers.

There are still some honest history books around. Best-selling British historian Paul Johnson has written an outstanding book titled “A History of the American People” and another excellent book on recent world history titled “Modern Times.”

If you want a thorough, accurate, no-spin history of U.S. race relations, the best is “America in Black and White” by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom. For a history of American ethnic groups in general, there is my own “Ethnic America.” I cannot be unbiased about it, of course. But it has been translated into six other languages, which suggests other people liked it too.

If you would like to know the fundamental basis for the Constitution of the United States under which we all live, there is no book more important than “The Federalist” or “The Federalist Papers,” as it is sometimes called. It is a series of popular essays by those who helped create the Constitution, explaining to their fellow Americans why they did what they did and what they hoped to achieve — and prevent.

It is as readable today as it was two centuries ago — and just as much needed. “The Federalist” should be at or near the top of any summer reading list.

Sometimes the way to understand your own society is to find out about other societies and economic and political systems, so you have an idea of the nature and size of the differences.

Two Soviet economists’ accounts of the U.S.S.R. economy makes the difference between a market and a centrally planned economy stand out in sharp relief. That book is “The Turning Point” by Nikolai Shmelev and Vladimir Popov.

“India Unbound” by Gurcharan Das tells about India’s turning toward a market economy — and the benefits that followed. The best book about the Third World in general is “Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion” by the late Peter Bauer of the London School of Economics.

Socialism’s appeal — its beauties in theory and its painful consequences in practice — are discussed in a very readable book titled “Heaven on Earth” by Joshua Muravchik. The young need not be embarrassed by finding socialism attractive. Many who were old enough to know better also fell for it.

Economic illiteracy is almost as dangerous as slanted political propaganda. A painless source of some economic realities would be the popular, topical, often humorous treatment of economic issues in John Stossel’s book, “Give Me a Break.”

The current issue of the “Cato Journal” strongly recommends “two remarkable books” on economics as a way for voters to understand economic issues in this election year. The books are “Basic Economics” and “Applied Economics.” The former takes the reader “on an exhilarating tour” of economics, it says, and the latter is characterized by “cogent reasoning.” I could not use such glowing terms myself, since I am the author of both.

Happy deprogramming this summer.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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