I started studying history with one view in mind: to look for answers to the issues and problems I saw in the world about me. By the time I went to college I had worked in a shipyard, had been in the Air Force, had been in a war. I came to history asking questions about war and peace, about wealth and poverty, about racial division.
Sure, there’s a certain interest in inspecting the past and it can be fun, sort of like a detective story. I can make an argument for knowledge for its own sake as something that can add to your life. But while that’s good, it is small in relation to the very large objective of trying to understand and do something about the issues that face us in the world today.
Students should be encouraged to go into history in order to come out of it, and should be discouraged from going into history and getting lost in it, as some historians do.
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Download the interview with Howard Zinn to find more answers to commonly asked questions about teaching a people’s history. The questions include:
- What do you see as some of the major problems in how US history has been taught in this country?
- How do you prevent history lessons from becoming a recitation of dates and battles and Congresspersons and presidents?
- How can teachers foster critical thinking so that students don’t merely memorize a new, albeit more progressive set of facts?
- Is it possible for history to be objective?
Interview conducted by Barbara Miner for Rethinking Schools in 1994.
This interview was published by Rethinking Schools in Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 1: Teaching For Equity and Justice. For more readings like “Why Students Should Study History: An Interview with Howard Zinn,” order Rethinking Our Classrooms, Vol. 1 with creative teaching ideas, compelling classroom narratives, and hands-on examples that show how teachers can promote the values of community, justice, and equality while building academic skills, edited by Wayne Au, Bill Bigelow and Stan Karp.