Zinn & Sharing Knowledge

So – here is my first ever attempt at blogging. I’ve been interested in writing online for sometime, but just have never found the impetus to do it. So thank you Ed Computers 355 for giving me the motivation to write about things that I normally just think about in deep, profound, meditative and contemplative silences.
A few weeks ago, when designing a unit plan for English Language Arts 30, I was researching the notion of public memory and its affect on social consciousness. After considering the myriad ways public memory manifests and is accessed, I came across a website dedicated to the memory of educator and historian, Howard Zinn.


After having nosed around the site a bit I noticed a lot of really interesting material one could use teaching lessons of all kinds. I also realized I had never read Zinn’s most important work   entitled A People’s History of the United States. So, on our next mission to Regina’s only giant book store, Chapters, we promptly located and purchased the book. Over the last few weeks I’ve read the first hundred pages or so of the 700 page account and, predictably, it has left me informed and depressed. Zinn begins the book by discussing Columbus and the other Spanish conquistadors who colonized much of South America. In their insatiable pursuit of gold, Columbus and company shed so much blood that within a hundred years entire races had vanished from the earth. After colonization, Zinn moves into the American Slave Trade and recounts how millions of Africans from various countries were caught and death marched to the shores where boats awaited them. Only one in four Africans survived the marches and the trip across the sea – and, even then, only survived to live a life of enslavement.

Anyway, enough doom and gloom for the moment. In a brief discussion I had with the professor of Ed Computers 355, the notion of “paying it forward” was mentioned in relation to the spreading of technological knowledge. Although I am big believer in this concept, for some reason it didn’t resonate as well with me in regard to technology. For whatever reason I’ve never seen technology and social media as reliable forms of knowledge. However, when I consider the work Zinn has done for us, there is little difference between the text in his pages and what could potentially be posted in this blog. So, I will discontinue my spurn for the Web 2.0 and join the masses who write for the pleasure of writing and possibility of being read.

And so I say to you good reader: Feel content when reading, when writing, and when eating and drinking with friends and family. After all, what else is there?

Ciao for now.

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8 Responses to Zinn & Sharing Knowledge

  1. Alec Couros says:

    Hopefully, it will resonate with you in time – from your own experience.

    I’ve sent this post out to a few trusted individuals – hopefully you’ll see some replies emerge here. Stay tuned.

  2. MissShuganah says:

    You could also wring your hands over much of American history. And European history. And…. so on.

    But why not focus on those who have paid it forward? Some people are quietly heroic. Are you interested in oral histories? I would recommend Studs Terkel. I also like Barbara Tuchman. What I like best about history is when it is told like a story. And these historians write more like that. History is a living, breathing thing, but it’s often treated like just a recitation of dead events.

    I loved my high school history classes because they were team taught and had us re-enact certain things. Not exact re-enactments of various negotiations and so on, but to get a feel for how things may have been.

    As a writer I have always been curious about people’s personal histories. How did they get where they are now? Why did their families settle in certain places and not others? Why did certain family members feud with others?

    Paying attention to a microcosm is interesting. I would also recommend books like PrairyErth (A Deep Map): An Epic History of the Tallgrass Prairie Country by William Least Heat-Moon because there is a profound focus on such a microcosm. I am enthralled by the idea of a deep map.

    I’ll be interested in what others have to say.

  3. Alan Stange says:

    I found Zinn’s book available on Kindle; so there, social media and technology do contribute to the spread of knowledge. Welcome to the conversation, or perhaps more accurately, thank you for joining this medium for conversation. As an undergraduate listening and dancing to disco I had little connection to colleagues across the province (let alone world). My connections for learning were limited to classmates and professors. I envy your greater connection.

    “… to write about things that I normally just think about in deep, profound, meditative and contemplative silences.” I have been blogging for a number of years now. I like the potential for collaboration and the challenge of articulating my thoughts; never-the-less, I continue to value meditation.

  4. Wow! My first replies to my first blog! I feel privileged to have been read by readers who are capable of crafting such thoughtful replies.
    I too appreciate history most when it is structured in the form of a narrative. It actually strikes me as odd that an historical account should be thought of an anything but a story. It seems that in an effort to give certain historical records more social and political weight, those accounts are shuffled beyond the realm of mere story and are thought of as something other than fictionalized accounts. However, in having retold any story either orally or textually, the story is changed due to interpretation. So, in the end, everything is just a story. As Thomas King said, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.”
    I guess that is all we are – billions of walking, breathing, living stories. With a billion stories behind us and a billion more to come.
    I’d never heard of the term “deep map” before, but now that I know who William Least Heat-Moon is I’ll keep my eye out for his work.
    I saw a man named Narcisse Blood speak a few months ago on the topic of Indigenizing the Academy. He spoke extensively about understanding how the land has changed in the last few hundred years. His talk was an awesome blend of oral history and academic research. The crossing of these two forms of knowledge intrigues me.

  5. A People’s History is also available on the web if you want to use it with students.

    I asked students in my blended learning US History course to read the afterword to Zinn’s book along with a review of a review of Patrick Schweikart’s A Patriot’s History of the US, which paints a different picture than Zinn. They then reflected on these two perspectives in conjunction with their own. It generated some interesting discussion.

  6. Lisa M Lane says:

    There are a few ways to read Zinn, or any other work that one finds surprising and depressing. By all means, do look at what’s being said — that so much of the history of ordinary people has been left out of the record, and that horrible things do happen, and that ignorant or wrong-headed people make them happen and let them happen. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind before getting hopelessly depressed.

    One is called historiography, or “the history of history”. Zinn’s book is deliberately designed to counter the prevailing trend of glossing over the confrontational, ambiguous and controversial events. He’s countering those histories which emphasize a common narrative that makes the nation look good, leaving out those who were disenfranchised. Those histories, themselves, were also responses to more critical approaches that came before.

    Another thing that might bring hope is the courage of those historians who do take a stand. As Zinn himself put it, “you can’t stay neutral on a moving train”. He believed in a historian’s role as interpreter, not just reporter, of the past. He believed that history is not objective, that historians do their students a disservice if they don’t share their point of view and how they came to it. It takes courage to go against the prevailing norms of any discipline, and Zinn’s work is inspiring.

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