Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Memoriam Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn was one of the greatest historians, public intellectuals, teachers, and activists of the last 50 years. He died January 27th, 2010. He is probably most well-known for his numerous public lectures and books on history that raise our critical consciousness, most notably People's History of the United States.

Our own Jacqueline Edmondson connected me with Truthout's eulogy to Zinn written by former Penn State professor Henry Giroux who is now at McMaster. It's both fierce and lovely.

Contained within it is a kernel from Zinn's autobiography that I think we all hope for.
"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."
But what brilliant trouble it is to enable people to become agents of good instead of reliquaries for the status quo's most prized assumptions and sacred cows. Where would the civil rights movement have gone?

I relish the trouble that recognizes the power of not just standing for something, but moving for it and inviting our students to move for good. That is the path of ecological literacy, ecological justice, and ecopedagogy. It is a path that is not objective but recognizes that the facts of history, science, politics, economics, literature, and art have to serve someone. To follow in Zinn's footsteps would be to have these disciplines serve our good, not to have us serve them nor to have us serve unjust masters. This is "trouble" that comes from people who "believe that addressing human suffering and social issues matter[s], and never flinche[s] from that belief." We should add the Earth's suffering to that.

But in this suffering we can find our greatest meaning and greatest joy. This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking and Polly Anna smiling stupidly in the face of the overwhelming. It is the recognition of constant and chronic suffering, that we are a part of it, and that as we move on this Earth and in our lives in the most economically and militarily powerful nation the Earth has ever had, that we can do something about it where and when we are. As a teacher, we can do great things. Just look at Zinn!

We miss you Howard Zinn. Most of all, we thank you for your great work and shining example. May we be accomplish some portion of your good in our quest for justice.

1 comment:

  1. "Yes, dissent and protest are divisive, but in a good way, because they represent accurately the real divisions in society. Those divisions exist - the rich, the poor - whether there is dissent or not, but when there is no dissent, there is no change. The dissent has the possibility not of ending the division in society, but of changing the reality of the division. Changing the balance of power on behalf of the poor and the oppressed."
    `Howard Zinn