Howard Zinn on the Limitations of American History Books
Howard Zinn is a historian, political scientist, social critic, activist and playwright, best known as author of the bestseller A People's History of the United States.
Zinn has been active in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements in the United States.
The author of some 20 books, Zinn is currently Professor Emeritus in the Political Science Department at Boston University. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, the artist Roslyn Zinn. The couple have two children, Myla and Jeff, and five grandchildren. Both artist and editor, Roslyn has had a role in editing all of Zinn's books and many of his articles.
Question: How are traditional American history books limited?
Howard Zinn: The basic problem of traditional history books is that they’re nationalistic and they’re elitist. By nationalistic, I mean they look upon the world centered around us and they look upon American policy as benign.
A more realistic and more truthful history would take a look at American foreign policy over the last several hundred years, really. It will take a look at American foreign policy and see it for what it has been--expansionist, violent and militaristic. In other words, it would be a history that would be honest in the way that we expect individuals to be honest about themselves and their past and to rectify their mistakes.
To do this is not to be unpatriotic or un-American, unless you think that being American means approving everything your government does or being patriotic means supporting everything your government does.
No, being honest about our past, being honest about what we have done in the world, a history that looks at what we have done from the standpoint of Black people, Native Americans, poor people, women, people who have generally been omitted from traditional history. When you look at our history from the point of view of the people at the bottom, rather than people at the top, everything looks different. Policies look different. You have different criteria for measuring what the country does.
Question: Do strong nations like the U.S. have an incentive to write accurate historical accounts?
Howard Zinn: The leaders of the nation don’t have such an incentive. The textbook publishers don’t have such an incentive.
The only people who have such an incentive are the teachers and students and people who are not benefiting from the present system. If there’s going to be a change in teaching history, it will have to come from below. Whatever change has taken place so far, and there has been some change in the teaching of history, whatever changes does take place will take place because teachers and students begin acting in a different way, reading different materials, moving away from the traditional textbooks, rejecting the No Child Left Behind demands of standardized tests and dates and the old view of looking at history through generals and presidents. It will have to come from below.
Recorded On: July 5, 2008
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Do strong nations have an interest in writing accurate historical accounts?
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.