The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools
Published on March 15, 2012 in Common Dreams

By Bill Bigelow

Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing.What is not often taught in schools or known by the many who routinely celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, is that throughout the Irish ‘Potato famine’ there was an abundance of food produced in Ireland, yet the landlords exported it to markets abroad.

Sadly, today’s high school textbooks continue to largely ignore the famine, despite the fact that it was responsible for unimaginable suffering and the deaths of more than a million Irish peasants, and that it triggered the greatest wave of Irish immigration in U.S. history. Nor do textbooks make any attempt to help students link famines past and present.

Continue reading at Common Dreams »

The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools
Published on March 14, 2012 in Huffington Post

By Bill Bigelow

“Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing.

Sadly, today’s high school textbooks continue to largely ignore the famine, despite the fact that it was responsible for unimaginable suffering and the deaths of more than a million Irish peasants, and that it triggered the greatest wave of Irish immigration in U.S. history. Nor do textbooks make any attempt to help students link famines past and present.

Continue reading at Huffington Post »

Who’s Afraid of “The Tempest”?: Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies proscribes Mexican-American history, local authors, even Shakespeare.
Published on January 13, 2012 in Salon.com

By Jeff Biggers

As part of the state-mandated termination of its ethnic studies  program, the Tucson Unified School District released an initial list of books to be banned from its schools today.  According to district spokeperson Cara Rene, the books “will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.”

Facing a multimillion-dollar penalty in state funds, the governing board of Tucson’s largest school district officially ended the 13-year-old program on Tuesday in an attempt to come into compliance with the controversial state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies.

The list of removed books includes the 20-year-old textbook “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” which features an essay by Tucson author Leslie Silko.  Recipient of a Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Silko has been an outspoken supporter of the ethnic studies program.

Continue reading at Salon.com »

Why Do Schools Still Teach an Oversimplified Thanksgiving Story?
Published on November 24, 2011 in GOOD News

By Liz Dwyer

My acting debut came in an elementary school play that reenacted scenes from the first Thanksgiving. I was assigned to play a Native American, complete with a construction paper feather headband. The story we told on stage is the one that millions of Americans are celebrating today—the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims sitting down together in unity, giving thanks for a bountiful harvest.

It wasn’t until after college, when I picked up Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, that I learned that no one ate cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie on the first Thanksgiving, and that the holiday is steeped in brutality and betrayal. Such conversations could serve as a useful teaching moment and opportunity for discussion for millions of students every year, but the vast majority of schools persist in teaching a simplistic version of Thanksgiving’s history.

“If you don’t go along with the traditional story, you’re seen as a naysayer who’s spoiling the fun,” says Deborah Menkart, executive director of Teaching for Change. The nonprofit organization (together with Rethinking Schools) runs the Zinn Education Project, an effort to encourage teaching populist history in middle- and high-school classrooms across the country. Menkart says one of the reasons organizers created the project is to “ensure that resources that tell a more accurate perspective of history are easily available to classroom teachers.”

Continue reading at GOOD News »

Occupy the Curriculum
Published on November 7, 2011 in Rethinking Schools Blog

By Bill Bigelow

The other day on the Zinn Education Project’s Facebook page, we asked “What period in history—or theme in history—are you teaching this month?

New Jersey Teacher Activist Group stages Teach-In at Occupy Wall Street last month.

The responses were fascinating.

Chris Conkling is teaching about “Forced removal of Native Americans/Andrew Jackson.”

Ariela Rothstein is teaching about the “Haitian revolution and the effects of colonialism on the Caribbean.”

Samantha Manchac is teaching about “the early women’s movement” from Chapter 6, “The Intimately Oppressed,” in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Melanie Lichtenstein is teaching about Afghanistan, before and after 2001.

Mustafa Miroku Nemeth is using the film The Corporation to teach about the development of corporate “personhood” with the manifold consequences we see today.

Ian Martin is teaching about industrialization and imperialism and how they are inseparable.

Ruth Razo is teaching about the U.S. war with Mexico and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

I found people’s responses enormously encouraging. In this age of standardized, scripted curriculum and corporate-produced textbooks, it looks like not everyone is following the script. Teachers are “teaching outside the textbook,” in the slogan of the Zinn Education Project.

Continue reading at Rethinking Schools Blog »

Why We Support the #OccupyWallStreet Movement
Published on October 12, 2011 in What’s Possible: The Tides Blog

By Melissa Bradley

The Zinn Education Project has been promoting the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in actively shaping history for years. I can only imagine how the 99 percent movement will be taught in years to come.

#OccupyWallStreet is clearly a people’s movement. There is a minimal presence of organized labor and it has purposely forgone the sometimes distracting charismatic personalities of many other movements in the making. Understated, organized, and committed are adjectives that best describe #OccupyWallStreet. Others are scalable, patient, and strategic. All of these qualities seem to elude the press.

As expected, conservative media are characterizing #OccupyWallStreet as an anomaly comprised of crazy anarchists. Other relatively progressive but mainstream media organizations are also undermining the power of these massive pods of patient protestors popping up all over the country. Dismissing the wisdom, history, and innovation of the group, these media outlets have framed #OccupyWallStreet as a group of misinformed individuals without an agenda or clear plan.

Nonsense!

From the bus boycotts to the Black Panthers, #OccupyWallStreet represents the results of historical marginalization and lack of true representation in the US Congress, on Wall Street, and in local elected offices. #OccupyWallStreet represents the best of American ideals and ingenuity. They are inclusive, intergenerational, focused, and democratic.

Continue reading at What’s Possible: The Tides Blog »

Teaching Against War, for Humanity
Published on October 1, 2011 in War Resisters League magazine

By Bill Bigelow

Wars? What wars? On the eve of the U.S. midterm elections, WikiLeaks released the largest cache of classified war documents in history, covering years of U.S. conduct in Iraq. And, as Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman pointed out, “It barely warranted a mention on the agenda-setting Sunday talk shows.” As columnist Gary Younge commented in The Nation, “The American people, it seems, are bored with war. Like a reality show that’s gone on too long, it ceases to shock, shame, or even interest.”

Regrettably, the school curriculum mirrors this lack of curiosity about the impact of U.S. military intervention thousands of miles from home. One of the most widely used high school global studies texts, McDougal Littell’s Modern World History, includes a propagandistic two pages on the Iraq War. The textbook includes no mention of the massive antiwar protests that preceded the U.S. invasion. The result of the war, according to McDougal Littell: “With the help of U.S. officials, Iraqis began rebuilding their nation.” The book gives George W. Bush the last words: “Free nations will press on to victory.”

The production of teaching materials in the United States is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few multinational corporations, none with any interest in equipping students with the skills to critically consider issues of war and militarism. Thus, in schools as on the news, wars are either absent or lied about. Sparked by a conversation between the late historian-activist Howard Zinn and a former Zinn student-turned-philanthropist/activist, William Holtzman, the Zinn Education Project created a website, www.zinnedproject.org, to offer teachers materials to counter the dull and conservative fare that is the norm in school classrooms.

Continue reading at War Resisters League magazine »

The Zinn Education Project – Continuing the Work
Published on March 1, 2011 in Teacherken-Daily Kos

By teacherken

“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”

It seems appropriate to begin with those famous words by George Orwell, because to me they explain the importance of the life and work of Howard Zinn, best known for his A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. That work was far from his only significant historical writing, nor did his productivity end when it was published in 1980.

His life and his work offered a different way of perceiving our history, one that was far more critical than traditional American histories, and thus far more honest.

The Zinn Education Project is the result of someone who wishes to remain anonymous, who after seeing the biographical film on Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, wanted to get Zinn’s work more widely known and more widely used.  Zinn, whose lectures he had attended while at Boston U in the 1970s, put him touch with Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change (two organizations all progressives should support), and the Zinn Education Project is the result.

Please keep reading.

Continue reading at Teacherken-Daily Kos »