If We Knew Our History Series - Articles that puncture myths and stereotypes | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

The Zinn Education Project’s “If We Knew Our History” series features articles by teachers, journalists, and scholars that highlight inadequacies in the history textbooks published by giant corporations and that too often find their way into our classrooms. Articles in this series puncture myths and stereotypes. But they also discuss why it is so important that our students have access to a richer “people’s history” that questions inequality and highlights efforts to create a more just society. Our premise is that if we knew our history, the world would be a better place.

Teaching More Civics Will Not Save Us from Trump

By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca
Working as a social studies teacher for almost two decades, I have noticed a predictable and perennial pattern. A study is published showing some alarming deficit in the knowledge of people in the United States. Two-thirds of respondents cannot find Iraq on a map. One-third cannot name a single right protected by the First Amendment.
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Black Power During Reconstruction | Zinn Education Project

The Other ’68: Black Power During Reconstruction

By Adam Sanchez
From the urban rebellions to the salute at the Olympics, commemorations of 1968 — a pivotal year of Black Power — have appeared in news headlines throughout this anniversary year. Yet 2018 also marks the 150th anniversary of 1868 — the height of Black Power during Reconstruction.
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Fireworks over New York | Zinn Education Project

Rethinking the 4th of July

By Bill Bigelow
Apart from the noise pollution, air pollution, and flying debris pollution, there is something profoundly inappropriate about blowing off fireworks at a time when the United States is waging war with real fireworks around the world. To cite just one example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London found recently that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed more than 200 people, including at least 60 children.
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What the Koch Brothers Want Students to Learn about Slavery | Zinn Education Project

What the Koch Brothers Want Students to Learn About Slavery

By Adam Sanchez
Given that the billionaire Charles Koch has poured millions of dollars into eliminating the minimum wage and paid sick leave for workers, and that in 2015 he had the gall to compare his ultra-conservative mission to the anti-slavery movement, he’s probably the last person you’d want educating young people about slavery. Yet the history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.
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Disguising Imperialism (Article) | Zinn Education Project

Disguising Imperialism: How Textbooks Get the Cold War Wrong and Dupe Students

By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca
Recently, with the possibility of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III subpoenaing President Trump in the headlines, I found myself discussing the Russian hacking allegations with my U.S. History class. Having just finished our Cold War unit, my students were much less concerned about Russia tampering with U.S. elections than they were about the historical amnesia regarding the past meddling of the U.S. government. Max said: “Why is the media making such a big deal about this? What the Russians are accused of is nothing compared to what the U.S. did in Cuba.” Sarah added, “I mean I know it’s bad to have the Russians hacking us, but it’s not like anyone died. In Congo, the leader was killed.”
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Pentagon Papers collage | Zinn Education Project

What Spielberg’s The Post — and Our Textbooks — Leave Out

By Bill Bigelow
It’s impossible to walk away from the film without understanding that at the heart of the struggle over the Pentagon Papers was the exposure of government lying about the war in Vietnam. The film offers papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post a warm pat on the back for publishing the Pentagon Papers and exposing these lies. But Spielberg’s film ignores the fact that there was abundant evidence of deceit long before these newspapers decided to publish the Pentagon Papers in June of 1971.
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The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated the United States (Article) | Zinn Education Project

The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated the United States

By Richard Rothstein
Racial segregation characterizes every metropolitan area in the United States and bears responsibility for our most serious social and economic problems — it corrupts our criminal justice system, exacerbates economic inequality, and produces large academic gaps between white and African American schoolchildren. We’ve taken no serious steps to desegregate neighborhoods, however, because we are hobbled by a national myth that residential segregation is de facto — the result of private discrimination or personal choices that do not violate constitutional rights.
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Christopher Columbus: No Monuments for Murderers

By Bill Bigelow
A New York Times article, following the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer, described the growing calls to remove monuments that celebrate the Confederacy. The article went on to cite some who balk, however, when “the symbolism is far murkier, like Christopher Columbus.”

But there is nothing murky about Columbus’ legacy of slavery and terrorism in the Americas. The record is clear and overwhelming. The fact that The New York Times could report this with such confidence — adding that “most Americans learn rather innocently, in 1492 [Columbus] sailed the ocean blue until he discovered the New World” — means that educators and activists still have much work to do.
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When Black Lives Mattered: Why Teach Reconstruction

By Adam Sanchez
Every day seems to bring new horrors as the U.S. president’s racist rhetoric and policies have provided an increasingly encouraging environment for attacks on Black people and other communities of color. The acquittal of yet another police officer accused of murdering a Black man in St. Louis, the raging battle across the country over whether symbols of slavery should be removed from public spaces, and the formation of a “Commission on Election Integrity” to further suppress voting by people of color are just a few of the recent reminders that racism is as American as apple pie. In moments like these, it’s worth remembering a time in U.S. history when Black lives mattered.
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Taking the Fight Against White Supremacy into Schools

By Adam Sanchez
As a history teacher, there are times when the past reasserts itself with such force that you have to put aside your plans and address the moment. Charlottesville is one of those times. The image of white supremacists openly marching in defense of a Confederate general, viciously beating and murdering those who are protesting their racism — is an image we hoped had died with Jim Crow. That this image is not a relic of the past, is a reality that teachers and students must face.
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Fighting for Okinawa — My Home, Not a Military Base

By Moé Yonamine
My family moved to the United States from Okinawa when I was 7. But Okinawa is still home — and I’m hurt and angered at how the United States and Japan continue to treat Okinawa as little more than a colonial outpost. As a teacher, I’m even more dismayed at how the conventional school curriculum keeps young people in this country ignorant about the abuse, but also about the resistance, in my home islands.
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Black Panther Party 50th Anniversary | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

What We Don’t Learn About the Black Panther Party—but Should

By Adam Sanchez and Jesse Hagopian
Fifty years ago this month, the Black Panther Party was born. Its history holds vital lessons for today’s movement to confront racism and police violence, yet textbooks either misrepresent or minimize the significance of the Black Panthers.

This local organizing that Panthers engaged in has been erased in the textbooks, yet it is precisely what won them such widespread support. Armed with a revolutionary socialist ideology, as the Panthers grew, so did what they organized around. They fought in Black communities across the nation for giving the poor access to decent housing, health care, education, and much more.
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Children holding signs - Indigenous Peoples Day Parade - Seattle | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

Support Indigenous Rights: Abolish Columbus Day

By Bill Bigelow
The movement to abolish Columbus Day and to establish in its place Indigenous Peoples Day continues to gather strength, as every month new school districts and colleges take action. This campaign has been given new momentum as Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas assert their treaty and human rights. Especially notable is the inspiring struggle in North Dakota to stop the toxic Dakota Access Pipeline, led by the Standing Rock Sioux.

Dave Archambault, chairperson of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, explains that the oil pipeline “is threatening the lives of people, lives of my tribe, as well as millions down the river. It threatens the ancestral sites that are significant to our tribe. And we never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is coming forward and just bulldozing through without any concern for tribes.”

The “bulldozing” of Indigenous lives, Indigenous lands, and Indigenous rights all began with Columbus’s invasion in 1492.
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Moral Monday March, 2013. Image: twbuckner/Flickr

What Happened to the Civil Rights Movement After 1965? Don’t Ask Your Textbook

By Adam Sanchez
Fifty years ago this week, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chairperson Stokely Carmichael made the famous call for “Black Power.” Carmichael’s speech came in the midst of the “March Against Fear,” a walk from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to encourage African Americans to use their newly won right to vote. But while almost every middle and high school student learns about the Civil Rights Movement, they rarely learn about this march—or the related struggles that continued long after the Voting Rights Act.
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Why We Should Learn About the FBI’s War on the Civil Rights Movement (If We Knew Our History) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

Why We Should Teach About the FBI’s War on the Civil Rights Movement

By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca
This month marks the 45th anniversary of a dramatic moment in U.S. history. On March 8, 1971—while Muhammad Ali was fighting Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden, and as millions sat glued to their TVs watching the bout unfold—a group of peace activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole every document they could find.

Delivered to the press, these documents revealed an FBI conspiracy—known as COINTELPRO—to disrupt and destroy a wide range of protest groups, including the Black freedom movement. The break-in, and the government treachery it revealed, is a chapter of our not-so-distant past that all high school students—and all the rest of us—should learn, yet one that history textbooks continue to ignore.
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Time to Abolish Columbus Day

By Bill Bigelow
Once again this year many schools will pause to commemorate Christopher Columbus. Given everything we know about who Columbus was and what he launched in the Americas, this needs to stop. Columbus initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in early February 1494, first sending several dozen enslaved Taínos to Spain. Columbus described those he enslaved as “well made and of very good intelligence,” and recommended to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that taxing slave shipments could help pay for supplies needed in the Indies.
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Coretta Scott King (R) with Women Strike for Peace founder Dagmar Wilson, 1963 | Zinn Education Project

W. E. B. Du Bois to Malcolm X: The Untold History of the Movement to Ban the Bomb

By Vincent Intondi
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. announced his strong opposition to the war in Vietnam, the media attacked him for straying outside of his civil rights mandate. In so many words, powerful interests told him: “Mind your own business.” In fact, African American leaders have long been concerned with broad issues of peace and justice—and have especially opposed nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this activism is left out of mainstream corporate-produced history textbooks.
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Preaching and Farming at Mission Delores by Anton Refregier | Zinn Education Project

Lying to Children About the California Missions and the Indians

By Deborah A. Miranda
In California schools, students come up against the “Mission Unit” in 4th grade, reinforcing the same lies those children have been breathing in most of their lives. Part of California’s history curriculum, the unit is entrenched in the educational system and impossible to avoid, a powerfully authoritative indoctrination in Mission Mythology to which 4th graders have little if any resistance.
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