Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Great Loss - Howard Zinn RIP

I will never forget, as a brand new social studies teacher in Brooklyn, being told of Howard Zinn's A Peoples' History of the United States by veteran teacher Jack Urlich at Sarah J. Hale High School back in 1986. Jack emphasized that this was the seminal work and could easily be used in the classroom.

I was already familiar with voices of dissent like Noam Chomsky, but Zinn's book help me put it all together. It provided me with the chronology and overview of our history in a way that help me contextualize Chomsky and others. What's more is that his work was useful in my teaching of U.S. History, Economics and Government. My students always found the readings refreshing compared to the stale textbooks. I continue to use A People's History in my classroom today.

I had two occasions where I had the honor of meeting Howard. The first time he came to our school, Murry Bergtraum High School, in Manhattan around 1992. He was persuaded into coming by Margo Mack, a teacher there and old friend of his. Howard spoke to an assembly of students in our library. I was struck with his tall stature, broad smile and sense of humor. The second time, when living in Boston, I attended a lecture and spoke with him afterward. He reminded me so much of my father, also a substantial figure, in that I could sense the generational characteristics. He told me he knew where Murry Bergtraum High School was, as he helped organize the tenants across the street in the Smith Houses. Our nation, indeed the world, are blessed with his gifts to us.

Thanks Howard!

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