Why ‘The People Speak’ and the Zinn Education Project May Be Illegal in Public Schools

“The People Speak” College Tour concluded with a standing-room-only crowd in UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall last Friday afternoon.

After the video presentation, host professor Ellen DuBois facilitated an audience question-and-answer session with her guests, actor Josh Brolin and producer Chris Moore, while Howard Zinn‘s partner Anthony Arnove (whom Brolin credits for his own participation) paced the back of the theater.

school indoctrination

Asked about his project’s intended use in K-12 public school settings, Mr. Moore answered:

We have a whole educational program. There’s a curriculum, there’s a whole educational thing. There’ll be a website that has tools, that’s searchable… There is definitely a plan.

That plan includes “The Zinn Education Project” which:

…promotes and supports the use of Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States and other materials for teaching a people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country. The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by two non-profit organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

In “A People’s History,” Prof. Zinn declares:

Objectivity is impossible, and it is also undesirable… because if you have any kind of a social aim… then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.


Professor Zinn announces the overtly political agenda of A People’s History in an explanatory coda to the 1995 edition. Zinn explains to the reader that he has no interest in striving for objectivity, and that his history is ‘a biased account.’ Professor Zinn explains: ‘I am not troubled by that. I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of the social struggle. I wanted to be a part of history and not just a recorder and teacher of history. So that kind of attitude towards history, history itself is a political act, has always informed my writing and my teaching.’

That subjective social aim and biased accounting, when used as the basis for student instruction, is inconsistent with state education codes, local school board policies and administrative regulations.

Public schools are required to provide varying points of view and deal with issues in a factual, rational, objective manner and in a spirit that clearly indicates an attempt to promote greater understanding. They are prohibited from engaging in viewpoint discrimination.

Teachers are both legally and ethically restricted from using their positions to forward their own political, economic or social biases. Teachers may express their personal opinions, but must first identify them as such and not express them for the purpose of persuading students to their personal points of view.

The Zinn Project’s other materials for teaching a people’s history are provided by its collaborators:

  • Teaching for Change: a social justice organization that, “Encourages teachers and students to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable, multicultural society, and become active global citizens.”
  • Rethinking Schools: an activist publication that claims, “Schools are integral not only to preparing all children to be full participants in society, but also to be full participants in this country’s ever-tenuous experiment in democracy. That this vision has yet to be fully realized does not mean it should be abandoned.”

A lesson plan, formulated by social justice teacher Bill Bigelow: “One Country! One Language! One Flag!” crystallizes the Zinn Project:

It asks students:

What does it mean to “pledge allegiance” to the flag? What would it mean to not pledge allegiance to the flag? [The Pledge bonds child and flag in a way that may inhibit young people from thinking critically about actions taken in the name of the flag…].

The lesson is designed to persuade students that the American Flag stands for an unjust nation whose history is one of repression, intolerance and shame, equating the Pledge itself to immoral ideologies and totalitarian regimes:

Why not lead kids in the original Pledge to the Flag, including the “One Language!” chant and the Nazi-like salute, and then lead a discussion about the politics of the Pledge?

State laws require public school days to begin with patriotic exercises intended to promote the understanding of the concepts of “pledge,” “allegiance,” “republic,” and “indivisible,” and understanding the importance of the pledge as an expression of patriotism, love of country, and pride in the United States of America.

On what legal, professional or ethical grounds can or should public school boards and administrators allow their teachers to provide instruction to students that is, in this case, specifically designed to subvert their state patriotic exercises statutes?

These teachers are already participants:

  • “I love all the materials I received in the packet and have so far seen an amazing effect with my students … Thank you for letting me and my classes participate in this program!”
— Angela Hubbs, Junior High School Teacher, San Diego, CA

  • “Thank you so very much for sharing Zinn’s materials with us. We badly need to get a message of advocacy and action into our communities and into our hearts. Your support makes this easier, in a fight that feels overwhelming …” — Nancy Jean Smith, California State University Stanislaus, Stockton, CA

This would explain the Arkansas fifth-grader that made news recently by claiming there is no “liberty and justice for all” in America as his reason for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance during his school’s daily patriotic exercises.

Hopefully schools will become more cautious before agreeing to institute such curriculum and lesson plans in their classrooms.

Howard Zinn is a famous educator.

Does what he and his Zinn Education Project collaborators and celebrities think will advance causes of humanity comply with the law, and is it ethical instructional material?

If not, then it is inappropriate for use in America’s public schools.


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