“We the People” or “Just Some of the People”: Proposed Bill Would Censor Zinn’s People’s History
By: Cathy Collins
Legislation just proposed in Arkansas this week would ban books by or about Howard Zinn from all public schools in the state. The bill, submitted by Representative Kim Hendren, would prohibit any public school district or charter school from including anything written by the controversial Boston University professor between 1959 and his death in 2010.
Zinn is best known for his 1980 book, “A People’s History of the United States,” which reinterpreted American history by shedding light on the hidden histories of those who faced class struggle and exploitation.
In response, the Zinn Education Project is offering to send a book by Howard Zinn and “A People’s History for the Classroom” to any Arkansas teacher who requests them. The offer is made possible by donations from individuals and from publishers, including Haymarket Books, Seven Stories Press, The New Press and HarperCollins. As of March 5, more than 600 middle and high school librarians and teachers have requested copies, along with comments about the importance of sharing hidden histories.
In our current “post-truth” era, the teaching of social studies and history are more important than ever. Students need to learn to distinguish facts and evidence, and to carefully consider the sources of their information. They need to learn to constantly, diligently question whose story is being told, and whose story is being left out.
Those who are marginalized are part of America, too, and have been a part since our nation’s establishment. Their voices deserve to be heard as they are part of our nation’s past and present. In our roles of educators, librarians and U.S. citizens, it is our responsibility to open our students’ minds and hearts to the value inherent in exposure to multiple perspectives. Do we want informed citizens who think critically and care about others, or do we want a future U.S. of “sheeple,” who blindly accept what they are told?
This is not the first time that the works of Zinn have been targeted for censorship. Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels sought to ban Zinn’s works from that state’s classrooms and the Tucson, Arizona, school district banned “A People’s History” from all classrooms in 2012.
Books such as “A People’s History of the United States” empower young people by bringing to light multiple perspectives they might not otherwise have considered. Through the process of comparing the book with other mainstream sources, such as traditional textbooks, students are able to better understand how history is constructed and for whom, and to develop invaluable media literacy skills.
Zinn’s work, as one excellent example of the incorporation of multiple perspectives into the curriculum, also provides students with an opportunity to reflect on their own biases and the role of power and privilege in the way history gets told. In its capacity to help students develop empathy through reflection, Zinn’s work has great meaning and value. As warriors in the censorship battle, librarians and history teachers must continue to fight for open access to information and the right of all students to learn hidden histories through books such as Zinn’s.
Cathy Collins has worked as a media specialist/librarian for 15 years. She is currently a library media specialist at Sharon High School, where she has worked for the past five years. She began her career as a reporter who covered business, arts and education-related issues. She received a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. in 2014 and is the recipient of AASL’s Intellectual Freedom Award (2014). She was named an MSLA “Super Librarian” in 2014, and earned National Board Certification as a Library/Media Teacher in 2009. She received the HNA “Teacher of the Year” award in 2015 for excellence in teaching about China. In her spare time, she enjoys nature walks, reading, world travel and yoga. Find her on Twitter @TechGypsy11.
“A Different Mirror” by Prof. Ronald Takaki is another masterwork of U.S. history from a diversity and multicultural standpoint. Some of the same folks might object, but they would not have the argument the book is “Marxist.” Just a suggestion, and it’s an EXCELLENT book. Prof. Takaki was a history professor at UC Berkeley for many years.
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