Arkansas lawmakers are considering a bill to ban books in public schools that were written by historian Howard Zinn.
The best-selling author is known for “A People’s History of the United States,” which was first published in 1980. Zinn’s critics call him a radical liberal.
Adam Kirby teaches social studies at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas and uses Zinn’s lessons in his classroom. Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Kirby about the need to defend the author’s work.
Here’s our full interview with Zinn from August 2008:
On his opposition to State Rep. Kim Hendren’s bill to ban Howard Zinn books from public schools
“I do believe that education is ultimately about creating critical minds. And just that clip you played of Howard Zinn. He is talking about us processing a long and complex history. Our role is to expose young people to as many voices as they can be exposed to. When you begin to limit a voice, you begin to limit perspective. When you limit that perspective, you really do create a society that’s not excelled in critical thinking.”
On Zinn’s critics, and teachers’ responsibility to show students a breadth of information
“He does have critics. That’s part of the dialogue that has to continue. I would not say that we should just read Howard Zinn. I would say we need to read everybody. I’ve been teaching 14 years. The students I see today — as opposed to the ones I saw starting out — they have been surrounded by the internet and technology from day one. They don’t have a memory when they don’t have a smartphone in their hand. They have access to more information than I could have ever imagined at their age. As an educator, it’s my job, it’s my responsibility to help them see the depth and the breadth of what’s going on in the world. And if that’s showing them some Howard Zinn, if that’s showing them someone who would critique that idea, then that’s my responsibility. And if state legislators or politicians begin to tell public school teachers what they can and cannot put in front of students, I think that really harms our society, which is based on an advanced citizenry reading, thinking critically and pushing forward with ideas.”
On the role of parents in deciding what their children study
“I am a parent. I understand the push of some parents to say, ‘Well, let me determine what my child can and cannot learn.’ I hear that complaint loud and clear. I would respectfully just add to that, when you begin to think — and I said this in my letter to Hendren — that if you think of our history as a child growing up, America as a child and we’re growing up, we have warts, we have flaws, we have things that need to be addressed. My child is the apple of my eye. I love my daughter, she’s wonderful. But to believe that she is flawless then that’s, in my opinion, that is just not the kind of parent that is empowering their child to be successful. I want to see my child wrestle with not only her imperfections but with the imperfections of our country. Because we can always improve.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post’s headline incorrectly stated that the state of Arkansas wants to ban Zinn’s books from public schools. A state lawmaker has introduced a bill to that effect. The headline has been updated.