The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the use of Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States and other materials for teaching a people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country. The website offers more than 100 free, downloadable lessons and articles organized by theme, time period, and reading level. The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by two non-profit organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.
Its goal is to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of United States history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula. The empowering potential of studying U.S. history is often lost in a textbook-driven trivial pursuit of names and dates. Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States emphasize the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history. Students learn that history is made not by a few heroic individuals, but instead by people’s choices and actions, thereby also learning that their own choices and actions matter.
We believe that through taking a more engaging and more honest look at the past, we can help equip students with the analytical tools to make sense of — and improve — the world today. For a more complete description, read A People’s History, A People’s Pedagogy.
In late 2007, former Boston University journalism student William Holtzman watched You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, the film about the life of historian, professor, and activist Howard Zinn. It brought back memories of attending Professor Zinn’s remarkable lectures at Boston University in the 1970s. He always marveled at how Zinn’s “people’s history” was so much more alive and accurate than the traditional history he received in high school.
After a successful career in technology, Holtzman wanted to bring Zinn’s work to a new generation of students. So he called Howard Zinn. “I contacted Howard and said I that I wanted to honor him and extend the reach of his work,” said Holtzman. “Howard didn’t care about the former, but was very open to the latter.”
Zinn introduced him to two non-profit organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change. Each group has over 20 years of experience in providing social justice resources and professional development for pre-K-through-12 classroom teachers and teacher educators.
With the support of Holtzman and others, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change partnered to launch the Zinn Education Project.
Some 30 years after his exposure to Howard Zinn’s “people’s history,” the former Boston University student who initiated this project demonstrates that classroom experience can have a lifelong impact.
|June 2008: Distributed 4,000 free teaching people’s history packets to educators across the United States and its territories. The packet included the DVD Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, a copy of A People’s History of the United States, and a teaching guide developed especially for this project. (Report on the distribution of the 4,000 packets.)|
|November 2008: Helped to coordinate the keynote presentation by Howard Zinn at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference and gave a copy of the Teaching a People’s History teaching guide to 800 attendees.|
|December 2009: Launched new website, with over 75 free downloadable teaching activities and hundreds of books, films, and posters.|
|January 2010: Conducted an Author on Air interview with Howard Zinn based on questions submitted by teachers from across the country.|
|Spring 2010: Began the Teaching Outside the Textbook campaign by soliciting stories from teachers about how they teach a people’s history. Essays were submitted by 88 teachers. Sent A People’s History of the United States class sets to 21 teachers.|
|Summer 2010: At the request of the filmmakers, produced the teaching guide for The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.|
|More highlights from 2010.|
|January 2011: One of 40 progressive organizations selected for the 2011 CREDO/Working Assets donations ballot. Read more.|
|Summer 2011: Selected as a national partner for the Storycorps National Teacher Initiative. Listen to selected conversations here.|
|September 2011: The dedication of the Zinn Room at Busboys and Poets with keynote speakers Cornel West, Beverly Daniel Tatum, and many more, was a fundraiser for the Zinn Education Project. Read more.|
|More highlights from 2011.|
|March 2012: Launched the If We Knew Our History series on Huffington Post, Alternet, and Common Dreams.|
|April 2012: The first-ever Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching a People’s History is awarded to Sean Arce, co-founder and director of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, Ariz.|
|May 2012: Reached the milestone of 20,000 teachers registered for the Zinn Education Project.|
|June 2012: Partnered with Democracy Now! at the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) on a workshop titled “Teaching a People’s History, Teaching Democracy Now!: Role Play on the Climate Crisis and Online Resources for Critical Media Literacy.”|
|September 2012: Partnered with the Children’s Defense Fund on the Youth Advocate Leadership Training at the 2012 Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Community and Youth Empowerment Conference.|
|November 2012: Sean Arce Awarded the Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching a People’s History at National Council for the Social Studies Conference. Read more.|
|March 2013: New, improved, and enhanced version of the Zinn Education Project website launched. Read more.|
|April 2013: Partnered with StoryCorps on promoting the animated short “Facundo the Great” with resources for teaching on the politics of naming. Read more.|
The primary support to sustain and build the Zinn Education Project comes from individual donors. Learn more.
Howard Zinn grew up in Brooklyn in a working-class, immigrant household. At the age of 18 he became a shipyard worker; three years later, he joined the Air Force. He flew bomber missions during World War II, after which he returned to Brooklyn, got married, and occupied a basement apartment. His experiences in the shipyard and in the Air Force helped shape both his opposition to war and his passion for history. More.
Launched in 1986, Rethinking Schools is a nonprofit publisher working for equity and justice in public schools and the broader society. Major projects include:
Since 1989, Teaching for Change has provided teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world. Awarded Organization of the Year by the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) in 2004, Teaching for Change pursues its mission through: