Teaching History Differently: The Zinn Education Project

History is often told from the winner’s point of view, neglecting many different populations of people who have histories of their own. In the context of US History, the story told has been dominated by White men leaving other stories untold in a public school setting. Paulo Friere in his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed states the importance of teaching history as “a means of understanding more clearly what and who [a people] are so that they can more wisely build the future” (Friere 84). How can today’s students wisely build the future if only one narrative is being told?

The Zinn Education Project, Teaching A People’s History, attempts to break the White male dominated narrative by offering curriculum that emphasizes the roles of minorities like the working class, people of color, and women along with organized social movements. The Project was initiated by a Boston University journalism student, William Holtzman who wanted to further Howard Zinn’s work. Zinn is famous for his civil disobedience and non-violent activism specifically during the 1960s. He has authored many books, but perhaps his most famous work is A People’s History, which portrays US History from a minority perspective. Holtzman worked with Zinn and in conjunction with two non-profits advocating for social justice related curriculum: Teaching for Change and Rethinking Schools.

  • How to use this resource: The Project offers different teaching materials by time period, theme, or resource type for free. Teachers of any age group could go on the website, register, and pick an activity or article to download for a specific time period. In addition to planning the activities corresponding to what students are currently learning, a class set of A People’s History of The United States and Voices of A People’s History of The United States would help round out the activities with readings and references from the textbooks. Activities do not indicate how long to plan for, but some of them are very extensive. For example, the role play activity on the origins of modern high schools could take three class periods. Time for the lesson would depend on preparation, an activity, and a debriefing. A pedagogy that would strengthen this curriculum would be one where the teacher guides students with questions–problem-posing. This would allow the students to maximize the activities and articles by letting them do the questioning and discovery with the help of the teacher to guide them.
  • Goal– This resource supports peace education by offering a change in perspective from the status quo helping learners become more culturally proficient in diversity. Teaching students about different peoples’ histories and narratives could open their minds and change their world views. The knowledge of minorities and mass protests could inspire questioning and critical analysis of the current system, making them well-informed global citizens who challenge popular opinion and decisions by looking deeper.
  • Audience- Two stakeholders who could benefit from this program are Social Studies and History teachers for any age group and students of any age interested in different historical perspectives. This information is by no means limited to these two large groups of people; anyone can benefit from re-examining history from a different perspective. Any person who has taken US History should take a look at atleast Zinn’s two works listed above for a more accurate portrayal of how the US has developed. The only difficulty in implementing this change in a curriculum would be standardized testing as the things they are looking for students to know do not necessarily align with this particular version of the US History narrative.
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About Chelsie Kuhn

This is my space to think and theorize about the world.

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