The Summer 2017 issue of Bostonia, the Boston University alumni magazine, features a profile of Zinn Education Project co-founder William Holtzman and the recent book drive undertaken in response to a proposed Zinn book ban in Arkansas.
Hundreds of Arkansas teachers now own new copies of books by historian and longtime BU professor Howard Zinn—thanks in part to BU alums who took action against an effort to ban Zinn’s writings from their classrooms.
This spring, Republican state representative Kim Hendren filed a bill in the Arkansas House to prohibit the state’s public schools from including materials by or about Zinn in their curricula. Hendren told media outlets that he was not personally opposed to Zinn’s writings but that some of his constituents had raised concerns about Zinn’s approach to American history.
Zinn, who died in 2010, taught in the College of Arts & Sciences political science department from 1964 to 1988. His best-known and sometimes controversial book, A People’s History of the United States, tells the American story from the perspective of women, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrant laborers, and others who are often underrepresented in traditional textbooks.
The Arkansas bill died in committee, but not before it drew the attention of the Zinn Education Project (ZEP), a nonprofit that offers teaching materials to help middle and high school teachers present Zinn’s brand of history in their classrooms. After hearing of the Arkansas legislation, ZEP offered to send a book by Zinn and a teaching guide, A People’s History for the Classroom, to any Arkansas teacher who requested them.
On March 1, 2017, Arkansas Representative Kim Hendren (R) introduced Bill HB1834 to prohibit any publicly supported schools in Arkansas “from including in its curriculum or course materials any books or other material authored by or concerning Howard Zinn.”
This is not the first attempt to ban books by Howard Zinn in public schools. In 2010, Governor Mitch Daniels tried a similar move in Indiana. In 2011, A People’s History of the United States was removed from schools in Tucson, Arizona, as part of the ban on Mexican American Studies.
The Zinn Education Project (ZEP), a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, responded by offering a free book by Howard Zinn and A People’s History for the Classroom to any Arkansas middle and high school teacher who requested one. There was an enthusiastic response with more than 600 requests in just four days. The teachers and school librarians wrote inspiring notes such as this one from a Little Rock middle school social studies teacher:
We must stand against censorship in Arkansas’ classrooms. Our students are bright and appreciate being challenged. They want to be exposed to all points of view, not shielded from those others find abhorrent.
The proposed book ban caught national attention with coverage on WBUR, Melville House, Democracy Now!, Bill Moyers & Company, Huffington Post, Common Dreams, Boston Magazine, and many more. More than 400 people have donated to help send books to Arkansas, and some included comments about why they contributed. Publishers Haymarket Books, Seven Stories Press, The New Press, Beacon Press, and HarperCollins donated books to ensure all requests were met.
The bill was sent to the Education Committee and is pending review.
In a Washington Post article on February 9, 2017, Fareed Zakaria compared Steve Bannon and Howard Zinn, concluding that,
In a strange way, Bannon’s dark, dystopian view of U.S. history is closest to that of Howard Zinn, a popular far-left scholar whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a tale of the many ways in which 99 percent of Americans were crushed by the country’s all-powerful elites. In the Zinn/Bannon worldview, everyday people are simply pawns manipulated by their evil overlords.
In response, two letters to the editor of the Washington Post were sent. The authors have given us permission to publish them here. Read More
The third annual Howard Zinn Book Fair was held in San Francisco on December 4, 2016. Historian Carl Mirra shared with us a description of one of the sessions at the book fair. Mirra describes the panel “Making of a Radical Historian: Howard Zinn & War” where he was one of the presenters along with Ambre Ivol and Luke Stewart. Read More
Nov. 22 marks the birthday of Staughton Lynd, longtime friend of Howard Zinn. They both taught at Spelman College and can be described as long-distance runners for justice.
“I have admired [Lynd] enormously ever since I first met him,” Zinn wrote shortly before his death, because he is an “exemplar of strength and gentleness in the quest for a better world.” Read more about Lynd in this tribute by Andy Piascik.
by Andy Piascik
Suddenly Staughton Lynd is all the rage. Again. In the last several years, Lynd has published two new books, a third that’s a reprint of an earlier work, plus a memoir co-authored with his wife Alice. In addition, a portrait of his life as an activist through 1970 by Carl Mirra of Adelphi University has been published, with another book about his work after 1970 by Mark Weber of Kent State University due soon.
In an epoch of imperial hubris and corporate class warfare on steroids, the release of these books could hardly have come at a better time. Soldier, coal miner, Sixties veteran, recent graduate—there’s much to be gained by one and all from a study of Lynd’s life and work. In so doing, it’s inspiring to discover how frequently he was in the right place at the right time and, more importantly, on the right side.
Forty-nine years ago, during the tumultuous summer of 1964, Lynd was invited to coordinate the Freedom Schools established in Mississippi by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The schools were an integral part of the Herculean effort to end apartheid in the United States and became models for alternative schools everywhere.
The Zinn Education Project collects stories from former students at Spelman College and Boston University about his role as a teacher. Here is one example, a story by Suzanne Baker, Class of 1985 and 1995. If you are a former student of Zinn, please contribute your story here.
By Howard Zinn
This essay, written for Z Magazine in 1990, and reprinted in my book Failure to Quit, was inspired (if you are willing to call this an inspired piece) by my students of the Eighties. I was teaching a spring and fall lecture course with four hundred students in each course (and yet with lots of discussion). I looked hard, listened closely, but did not find the apathy, the conservatism, the disregard for the plight of others, that everybody (right and left) was reporting about “the me generation.”
I can understand pessimism, but I don’t believe in it. It’s not simply a matter of faith, but of historical evidence. Not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give hope, because for hope we don’t need certainty, only possibility. Read More
The Zinn Education Project collects stories from Howard Zinn’s former students at Spelman College and Boston University about his role as a teacher. Here is one example, a story by David Detmer, class of 1980. If you are a former student of Zinn, please contribute your story here.
We revisit Howard Zinn’s essay, “If History Is to Be Creative,” published in A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, a collection of essays from The Progressive magazine. The following excerpt is a reflection on the role and responsibility of the engaged historian, and is an inspiration for us all to continue the fight for justice. Zinn writes, “If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, and occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.”
By Howard Zinn
America’s future is linked to how we understand our past. For this reason, writing about history, for me, is never a neutral act. By writing, I hope to awaken a great consciousness of racial injustice, sexual bias, class inequality, and national hubris. I also want to bring into the light the unreported resistance of people against the power of the Establishment: the refusal of the indigenous to simply disappear; the rebellion of Black people in the antislavery movement and in the more recent movement against racial segregation; the strikes carried out by working people all through American history in attempts to improve their lives. Read More
Actor and activist Jesse Williams, best known for his role on Grey’s Anatomy, won the BET Humanitarian Award on June 26, 2016. Williams, who read in the 2014 Voices Performance in Los Angeles, and serves on the board of the Advancement Project, is the son of public school teachers and a former U.S. history teacher (in Philadelphia) himself. He acknowledged the role of teachers and students learning history (outside the textbook) in his acceptance speech. Here is an excerpt,
I want to thank my parents for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, they made sure I learned what the schools are afraid to teach us. Read More
The filmed stage performance of Howard Zinn’s play Emma is now available for rent or purchase.
Emma dramatizes the life of Emma Goldman, the famed anarchist, feminist, and free-spirited thinker who was exiled from the United States because of her outspoken views, including her opposition to World War I. Read More
June 27 marks the birth of Emma Goldman (June 27, 1869–May 14, 1940), an anarchist who was an early advocate of free speech, birth control, women’s equality and independence, and unions. After reading Richard Drinnon’s biography of Emma Goldman, Rebel in Paradise, Howard Zinn read Goldman’s autobiography, Living My Life. As a historian with a PhD, he was astonished he had never learned about Goldman in his studies. “Here was this magnificent woman, this anarchist, this feminist, fierce, life-loving person.” Read More
French filmmakers Daniel Mermet and Olivier Azam of Les Mutins de
Pangee have released part one of a three-part documentary about Howard
Zinn. Only available in French, it can be rented or purchased on
Vimeo.com. The 1:40 hour film, called Howard Zinn une histoire
populaire américaine, features interviews with Howard Zinn, Noam
Chomsky, and Chris Hedges.
Proceeds from film sales will help fund production of parts 2 and 3.
The Zinn Education Project collects stories from former students at Spelman College and Boston University about his role as a teacher. Here is one example, a story by Michael Stavros, Class of 1973. If you are a former student of Zinn, please contribute your story here.
As we approach a new calendar year, we revisit Howard Zinn’s warmth, humor, and optimism in this interview with David Barsamian from July 1997. Zinn discusses being considered non-scholarly in the academic world (“…if you write stuff that an ordinary person can read, you’re suspect”), the notion of a pure well of academe (“a well that I would argue was itself poisonous. It perpetuated an education that left out large numbers of the world’s people”), and how social change happens (“You never know what spark is going to really result in a conflagration”). Originally published in The Progressive, the following is excerpted from The Historic Unfulfilled Promise. Read More
As the school year gets underway, we share this excerpt from Original Zinn: Conversations on History and Politics on democratic education, the value of skepticism, and building trust with students. In this interview with David Barsamian at Alternative Radio, Howard Zinn explains that he built trust with his students “by showing them that outside the classroom I was not retreating into my home and my study. I was involved in the social struggle that related to their lives. When they decided to participate in this struggle, that I was with them, I was walking on picket lines with them, I was engaging in demonstrations with them, I was sitting in with them. And that, more than anything, created an atmosphere of trust, of democracy in our relationship.” Following are related classroom resources.
There are contrasting perspectives on what the term well educated means. What does it mean to you?
There is an orthodox view of what it means to be well educated, and the orthodox view is that a person is well educated who has gone through all the realms of education. And the higher up you go, the more degrees you have, the better educated you are. The more knowledge you have, the more facts you have acquired, the more languages you can speak, the more important people you can quote, the more reading you have done, all of that falls within the orthodox definition of higher education, of education itself, being well educated. And, of course, a lot of that is legitimate; that is, to me a lot of that makes sense.
But it is not sufficient for me. Read More
August 6 and 9 mark the anniversary of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. In the following excerpt from You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Howard Zinn, a WWII bombardier, recalls, “Hiroshima and Royan were crucial in my gradual rethinking of what I had once accepted without question—the absolute morality of the war against fascism.” He continues, “I had become aware, both from the rethinking of my war experiences and my reading of history, of how the environment of war begins to make one side indistinguishable from the other.” Related resources on Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and WWII follow.
There was only one point during the war when a few doubts crept into my mind about the absolute rightness of what we were doing. I’d made friends with a gunner on another crew. We had something in common in that literary wasteland of an air base: we were both readers, and we were both interested in politics. At a certain point he startled me by saying, “You know, this is not a war against fascism. It’s a war for empire. England, the United States, the Soviet Union—they are all corrupt states, not morally concerned about Hitlerism, just wanting to run the world themselves. It’s an imperialist war.” Read More
Visit www.howardzinnbookfair.com for updates, schedule, and more information.
Writing a column to appear in the July 4, 1975, issue of the Boston Globe, I wanted to break away from the traditional celebrations of Independence Day, in which the spirit of that document, with its call for rebellion and revolution, was most often missing. The column appeared with the title “The Brooklyn Bridge and the Spirit of the Fourth.”
In New York, a small army of policemen, laid off and angry, have been blocking the Brooklyn Bridge, and garbage workers are letting the refuse pile up in the streets. In Boston, some young people on Mission Hill are illegally occupying an abandoned house to protest the demolition of a neighborhood. And elderly people, on the edge of survival, are fighting Boston Edison’s attempt to raise the price of electricity.
So it looks like a good Fourth of July, with the spirit of rebellion proper to the Declaration of Independence. Read More