Everyone knows that history is written by the victors. Thus we are taught a very skewed version of American history that discounts indigenous peoples, women, and social movements. Howard Zinn, who wrote A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, died a few years ago. This book (he wrote many) has sold more than two million copies and is assigned reading in many high schools and colleges. In a 2007 letter responding to criticism of the focus of his book, Zinn responded:
I want young people to understand that ours is a beautiful country, but it has been taken over by men who have no respect for human rights or constitutional liberties. Our people are basically decent and caring, and our highest ideals are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which says that all of us have an equal right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Arkansas and Indiana are trying once again to ban or remove his work within their states and on the campuses. Arizona actually legislated against it as part of their ban on Latin American and ethnic studies: How One Law Banning Ethnic Studies Led to Its Rise
Fortunately, people have fought back and most of these actions seem to have the opposite effect. I’ve listened to A People’s History of the United States and the performances derived from it. I am about to purchase his follow-up: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times
I think it should be part of every United States history curriculum and I think ethnic studies should be an elective in high school and mandatory in colleges. Promoting diversity is about more than just percentages, proportions, and population. Keeping the “rights” we are guaranteed requires knowledge and involvement. We need to honor those who’ve acted in the past and we need to act in the present. Their kind of commitment is needed once again.