GOOD


A sixth-grader in Texas with the user name, "Gummy Bear," pops onto my laptop screen. She's doing a National History Day project about "rights and responsibilities" that highlights the Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines that I was a plaintiff in.

She wants to know why I wore a black armband to school in eighth grade in 1965, and why the Court ruled on February 24, 1969, that neither students nor teachers "shed their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

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Schools across the country are adorned with posters of the 44 U.S. presidents and the years they served in office. U.S. history textbooks describe the accomplishments and challenges of the major presidential administrations—George Washington had the Revolutionary War, Abraham Lincoln the Civil War, Teddy Roosevelt the Spanish-American War, and so on. Children's books put students on a first-name basis with the presidents, engaging readers with stories of their dogs in the Rose Garden or childhood escapades. Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian Institution welcomes visitors to an exhibit of the first ladies' gowns and White House furnishings.

Nowhere in all this information is there any mention of the fact that more than one in four U.S. presidents were involved in human trafficking and slavery. These presidents bought, sold, and bred enslaved people for profit. Of the 12 presidents who were enslavers, more than half kept people in bondage at the White House. For this reason, there is little doubt that the first person of African descent to enter the White House—or the presidential homes used in New York (1788–90) and Philadelphia (1790–1800) before construction of the White House was complete—was an enslaved person.

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Ordinary Citizens Catalyzing Change: A 'People's History' of 2013

The real story of 2013 was "ordinary people" in the streets who challenged injustice and worked for "good."



This year has been full of examples of people making history. Although newspapers and textbooks often focus on political and military leaders, the real story was with "ordinary people" in the streets who challenged injustice and worked for "good."

At the Zinn Education Project, our goal is to help teachers introduce these stories from a people's perspective. Teaching outside of the textbook and the mainstream news helps students see the roles they can play in making the world a better place.

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What Climate Activists Can Learn From the Abolitionist Movement

We don't need to copy abolitionists' tactics, but we should learn from their willingness to defy those who put profit above people.


On this Earth Day, those of us fighting for climate justice and an end to the world's fossil fuel domination should take heart from the struggle against slavery.

Imagine for a moment that it is 1858 and you are an abolitionist. Talk about discouragement: The previous year, in its Dred Scott decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no black person—whether enslaved or free—was entitled to become a U.S. citizen. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that the framers of the Constitution believed that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. . ." The decision declared that the federal government could not ban slavery in U.S. territories. A few years before, Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which vastly expanded the U.S. government's authority to seize and return to slavery individuals who had fled to freedom—or even those blacks born free in the North. Many Northern blacks crossed into Canada rather than live in constant fear.

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Ten Years After: How Not to Teach About the Iraq War

A decade after the U.S. invasion, social studies textbooks are so full of propaganda, they might as well have been written by the Pentagon.


In 2006, with U.S. troops occupying Iraq, the great historian and humanitarian Howard Zinn expressed his desire for the end of the war: "My hope is that the memory of death and disgrace will be so intense that the people of the United States will be able to listen to a message that the rest of the world, sobered by wars without end, can also understand: that war itself is the enemy of the human race."

At least in a formal sense, our country's memories of war are to be found in school history textbooks. Exactly a decade after the U.S. invasion, those texts are indeed sending "messages" to young people about the meaning of the U.S. war in Iraq. But they are not the messages of peace that Howard Zinn proposed. Not even close.

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Best of 2012: 11 Resources For Teaching a People’s History

The most popular books, articles, films, and lesson plans for teaching a people's history.


Do you remember anything about your history textbook other than how heavy it was? If so, it might be a few names of famous people who singlehandedly made history, and dates of glorified wars. As historian Ray Raphael explains, "In textbooks students learn that a handful of celebrated personalities make things happen, the rest only tag along; a few write the scripts, the rest just deliver their lines."

The Zinn Education Project was launched in 2008 to provide resources for teachers to "teach outside the textbook"—focusing on the role of "ordinary people" and how they have worked together to challenge injustices, to work for “good.”

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