In 2012, the Zinn Education Project launched a new monthly column, “If We Knew Our History.” The column aims to draw attention to the need for teachers to “teach outside the textbook,” by revealing biases in the approach to history and social issues taken by corporate-produced curriculum, and will highlight alternative approaches featured at www.zinnedproject.org.
For example, in one of our early columns, Bill Bigelow described how conventional teaching materials fail to explore the real causes of the Irish famine, which led to the greatest migration from Ireland to the United States. Bigelow critiques the corporate textbooks’ “dull and lifeless paragraphs,” but also points out that the books fail to explore the fact that during the famine, the British landlords exported non-potato crops that could have easily fed all who were starving. He argues that this profit-first approach to agriculture is still with us, another fact the corporate texts fail to explore. The column touched a nerve, garnering hundreds of Facebook “shares,” and was republished by many sites, including CommonDreams and AlterNet.
April’s column was a collaboration between Bigelow and the prominent environmentalist Bill McKibben, “Changing the Climate in School,” which focused on the failure of commercially produced teaching materials to deal forthrightly with the climate crisis. In May, we featured an article by high school teacher Moé Yonamine called “Teaching Untold Stories During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month,” about teaching the almost-never-told history of the internment of Japanese Latin Americans during World War Two. For the anniversary of Helen Keller’s birth in June, teacher educator Ruth Shagoury wrote “Who Stole Helen Keller?” Shagoury reveals the textbook and children’s book omission of any description of Keller’s active role in key 20th century social movements.