Honoring Howard Zinn’s Life by Teaching People’s History

Dear Zinn Education Project friends,

Howard Zinn passed away three years ago, on January 27, 2010. At the time, writer and activist Naomi Klein spoke for many of us: “We just lost our favorite teacher.”

Howard approached life with hope and humor, kindness and courage—with an unshakable confidence in the possibility of a fundamentally just and equal world. It was that belief in the future that shaped how he approached the past.

Recently, we came across a fine special issue of The International Journal of Social Education, on “The Life and Work of Howard Zinn.” In an excellent article on Zinn and history, James Anthony Whitson reminds us of a quote by Howard that speaks powerfully to why he was not only our favorite teacher, but also our favorite historian:

If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future, without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past, when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than its solid centuries of warfare.

This is the Howard Zinn who was—and remains—such a treasure to students and educators and activists—to everyone in the 99 percent. History must “anticipate a possible future,” Howard insisted. We must probe the past for those “fugitive moments” that show us a better world, that reveal human potential, that contradict and denounce the cynicism that is at the root of a global economic system premised on greed.

On this third anniversary of Howard Zinn’s death, we remember the extraordinary teacher and visionary who imagined that education—like history—should serve the future. Through his life and labor, Howard Zinn urged us to “teach outside the textbook,” to have confidence in our capacity to make a difference. The rest is up to us.


Bill Bigelow and Deborah Menkart
Co-directors of the Zinn Education Project


Letter sent to the Zinn Education Project mailing list on January 26, 2013 that featured resources by Howard Zinn, including the new book called Howard Zinn Speaks: Collected Speeches 1963 to 2009 and the video of his keynote speech to teachers at the 2008 NCSS conference. Read the full email with more resources.


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