In 2008, Howard Zinn have a keynote address at the National Conference for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference. He offers clear examples of how history teachers can help students think outside of the box. This is an excellent film to be shown in parts or in full for staff discussion.…
GMS: Let's start with the second resolution of the March 4 Manifesto: "To devise means for turning research applications away from their present emphasis on military technology toward the solution of pressing social and environmental problems." Would you explain the importance of this idea of scientific reconversion?
It's been a long-standing problem of science being used for destruction or for construction. It goes back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki—it goes back to the atomic bomb. In fact, that probably was the first really dramatic instance of the use of the latest scientific knowledge to kill human beings.
"A more realistic and more truthful history would take a look at American foreign policy over the last several hundred years, really. It will take a look at American foreign policy and see it for what it has been–expansionist, violent and militaristic. In other words, it would be a history that would be honest in the way that we expect individuals to be honest about themselves and their past and to rectify their mistakes."
This interview was conducted at at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and included in the book, Original Zinn: Conversations on History and Politics.
Historically, how do you think schools have served as a catalyst for social change and furthering the human rights movement?
Zinn: I think it works both ways. Students who learn in school about what is going on in the world are motivated to do something about it, to act on what they have learned. When I say it goes both ways, when you have students become active in human rights and feel that human rights has touched them personally, then they are likely to come back into the classroom and have the curriculum reflect their own consciousness.
aA:Do you see historical amnesia – that is, forgetting both recent and distant history – as an ailment of the younger generation, or as a continuation of the “way we’ve always been”?
hZ: It's not an ailment of the younger generation but of that part of the older generation that controls the media and the educational system. I find that young people are hungry for information, but their sources are too often the major television channels, which are controlled by a tiny group of wealthy corporations, with ties and interests close to the government.
A sellout crowd filled the 92nd Street Y in New York recently to celebrate a publishing milestone: the sale of one million copies of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. First published in 1980, the book, updated by the author, continues to be assigned in countless college and high school courses, but its commercial sales have remained strong as well. It is probably the only book by a radical historian that you can buy in an airport.
MP: How is your approach to History conducive for positive social change? HZ: I hope it gives people the History of previous social movements to show how they can bring about change, to show that it is possible, to give people faith that if they participate, if they do even small actions, that might have an effect, if not today, tomorrow or next year.