Thursday, January 28, 2010

U.S. Historian Howard Zinn Dies

Started scrolling through the blogroll and quickly stumbled on a post at Integral Options Cafe about one of favorite writers and historians, Howard Zinn. His desire to write about everyday people, to re-frame our understanding of history in terms of regular people working together to change their individual and collective lives, has inspired me for most of my adult life. Even moreso, though, was the man's courage to be active, involved, and unafraid to speak unpopular views that sliced through the hubris and power-imbalances in our world. His commitments to social justice, grassroots democracy, and non-violence have been models for my own life.

Beyond all this, though, was the deep sense of optimism that pervaded the writings, speeches, and general manner of the man. Clearly, he was in touch with what we Buddhists call buddhanature, as no matter how bad things seemed to be in this nation, or anywhere, Dr. Zinn was able to punctuate his critical views with an unencumbered view that people are capable of doing great things at any time, no matter what. Dogen spoke about having one foot in the deep ocean, while swimming on the surface at the same time. And I think Howard Zinn was able to do this, and as such, he's an inspiration to many of us.

Zinn wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (1994), "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." Beautiful! And his actions brought these words to life.

For anyone interested in his work, his most well known history text is People's History of the United States. Further writings are available at his website. May his work continue to inspire.


Robyn said...

His death is a huge loss to us all. Fortunately, before he died, he collaborated on making a children's version of his most famous work - two volumes. I highly recommend them to any parents interested in offering their children an alternate view of history. Or even to people like your ESL students who might find the original too challenging.

Artisalie said...

Very sad to hear this news. Listen to NPR on the way home and a little shock that they didn't bring it up.