A People’s History Inspires Students’ Political Activism

L.A. students of color in lime green shirt
In an experiment with nearly 700 students from nine Chicago-area schools, Matthew Nelsen (a PhD candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University) gave out readings on the abolitionist movement, the National Farmworkers Association, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Half of the readings were from the corporate textbook The American Pageant and the other half from A People’s History of the United States. Afterwards, when Nelsen asked students to report on their willingness to participate in political activities (voting, campaigning, or demonstrations), Black and Latino youth reported a greater willingness to participate when they read passages from A People’s History. When asked why, one student replied: “this made me want to get more involved. …paragraph three mentions the activism of janitors. So even acknowledging them was like ‘Wow.’ Even these people who are unheard in their career are getting involved.”

Read the full article “America’s classrooms shut down this spring. Civics lessons shifted to the streets” in the June 22, 2020 edition of the Washington Post.


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