Rob Burgess

I have no idea if Republican Arkansas State Rep. Kim Hendren has read a single book by historian Howard Zinn, but if he has his way, students in that state won't be allowed to.

As Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times first reported, House Bill 1834 was filed Thursday and referred to the House Committee on Education. The legislation is described as “an act to prohibit a public school district or open enrollment public charter school from including in its curriculum or course materials for a program of study books or any other material authored by or concerning Howard Zinn.”

Not only does the bill prohibit Zinn's work published between 1959 (when his first book, “LaGuardia in Congress,” was published) and 2010 (when he died at age 87), but also any work “concerning” him.

This attempt to censor Zinn is a familiar cause to conservative lawmakers.

As I wrote in my Aug. 8, 2013 column, “A People’s History of Mitch Daniels,” a Freedom of Information Act request by Tom LoBianco (then of The Associated Press, now of CNN) revealed current Purdue University president Mitch Daniels had targeted Zinn’s 1980 book “A People’s History of the United States” for deletion from college course work during his tenure as governor. I asked for an interview with Daniels on the subject and was eventually denied. In that same column, I issued the following challenge: I would read one chapter per day of “A People’s History” and tweet about it using the hashtag #zinnbookclub with each post.

As I wrote in my Sept. 18, 2013 column, “Read a banned book,” the same historians Daniels cited to defend his actions in his original response to the revelations, including Michael Kazen and Sam Wineburg, joined in denouncing his attempts at censorship. (These columns eventually helped make up my entry that won second-place for Best General Commentary for Division 5 in the 2014 Hoosier State Press Association Foundation Better Newspaper Contest.)

And, it's not just states who want Zinn banned. As I wrote in my Sept. 30, 2014 column, “Author, professor, book smuggler,” both the Tucson Unified School District in Tucson, Arizona and the Jefferson County School District in Golden, Colorado have taken the extraordinary step of banning Zinn's book.

Luckily, there are many educators and supporters willing to fight back, including the Zinn Education Project, which is coordinated by two nonprofit organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

“The Zinn Education Project defends the right of teachers in Arkansas to use materials by and about Howard Zinn,” reads a statement made Thursday. “It is urgent that we help these students fight censorship and protect their right to learn people’s history and critical thinking in the classroom. With your donation, we will send copies of a book by Zinn and 'A People’s History for the Classroom' to Arkansas teachers.”

I still have the used copy of “A People's History of the United States” I purchased and re-read for my project. It was just collecting dust on a shelf, so I reached out to The Zinn Education Project and asked if they could send me the name and address of an Arkansas teacher who could use this potentially soon-to-be contraband material. On Saturday, Deborah Menkart, executive director of Teaching for Change, kindly responded with contact information for just such an educator. (She told me my readers could donate at zinnedproject.org/donate/ and that Arkansas teachers could request materials at by visiting https://zinnedproject.org/2017/03/arkansas-request-free-zinn-book/ now.)

“Already, 400 middle and high school teachers and school librarians have sent requests and more come in by the minute,” read part of the statement Sunday.

So, today, I'm going to head to the post office with a package destined for Arkansas in hand. And it's all thanks to the actions of State Rep. Hendren. If he hadn't filed his ill-conceived bill it wouldn't have even occurred to me to do such a thing.

Rob Burgess, Tribune city editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.

Here are the previous stories and columns I have written about Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States":

 
 
 

2015-04-29 – “House of Burgess - An open letter to Mitch Daniels” [Page: A4]

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