Howard Zinn taught at Spelman College and Boston University where he had an extraordinary influence on his students’ understanding of history and their role in the world. The “Howard Zinn: Our Favorite Teacher” series highlights Zinn’s lasting impact as a professor.
Happy Birthday Professor Zinn! It was a distinct honor and privilege to study with Howard at BU in 1981. The course I took was “Passivity and Rebellion.”We studied Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” works of Gandhi and others. I was able to ‘debate’ my way from a B+ to an A- at the end of the term… He was probably right that my paper deserved a B+ originally, but given the chance to explain how what he had taught had obvious effects and moved me he realized that the teaching had taken hold. That I was moved to action. I explained how I had believed that there was a continuum of the events outlined in his theories but came to find that they were circular… and that life revolved around cycles. That was a revelation for this 20 year old student. This oral presentation of my paper convinced him my work was worthy of an A-.
I remember he taught us to be cautioned around anyone who considered themselves an expert. They probably were trying to corner the market on some stagnant piece of knowledge to be able to manipulate or mislead others. I remember this to this day.
He also taught us to be rooted in the work behind any of the roles in the life of high integrity and not be impressed by the money or stature. He told us he only made $13,000 a year at BU. We were so surprised that such an erudite man could choose to teach us and enrich us while he was not being remunerated for his work in a manner one might perceive. He would publish The People’s History that year.
He was very kind to hear me out, and I shall never forget his wonderful teachings and his lessons in humanity. A wonderful soul, an adorable person, and a spirit larger than life. May there be others who pursue great thinking and appreciation for the quotidian lives of sacrifice and perseverance that built the best of America.
A wonderful soul. The world is a better place because of him. Thank you for the honor of learning from you.
Howard Zinn taught at Spelman College and Boston University where he had an extraordinary influence on his students’ understanding of history and their role in the world. This series highlights Zinn’s lasting impact as a professor. Read more stories and submit your own.