"But I don’t think we teach in order to prepare people for exams. In order simply for them become quote successful and make their way in society and become sort of another little cog in society’s machinery. Not that we want our students to starve, yes, of course, everybody has to make a living and so on.
But it seems to me that people who teach social studies want something more than that. They want it that young people should come out of their classes, I think, you know, imbued with the desire to change the world. A modest little aim, right? That’s what we want." - Howard Zinn
When I dedicated my teaching career towards working for equity and social justice, I quickly realized that I did not have a lot of models or mentors in my life to discuss the challenges and struggles of teaching for social justice. My early inspirations in those days were the folks I was reading who dedicated their life's work to critical pedagogy and reimagining what teaching and education could look like. In my last year of my undergrad degree, I came across a little book entitled, "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn. This work, and more importantly to me, the philosophy of teaching and education that Howard Zinn held is probably one of the most influential authors to have impacted me as a teacher.
I've read almost every article, essay, and book that Howard Zinn has written and for me, even though I never met him or sat in on one of his classes, he is one of my favourite teachers. Specifically, I completely admired Howard's ability to lift up the voices of the marginalized or disenfranchised in his telling of American history. I've spent much of my years teaching social studies acquiring resources and searching out the stories of those that are often overlooked in our history textbooks. I can't tell you how much students enjoy learning new stories of the history of Canada that they may have never encountered before. Most importantly, as important as it is to tell the story of those who have faced injustice it's also important to tell the stories of those who have stood up to injustice and fought for a better world. I never want to leave my students in a state of despair and offer stories of hope where ordinary people stood up to insurmountable odds to create a better world are just the thing that Howard Zinn's work and teaching has pushed me to do.
Howard's work and example as a teacher is more important for me today than when I first came across his work many years ago. Specifically, he was the only educator who outwardly took a stand on social issues in his classroom destroying the myth of objectivity. There is pressure for many teachers to remain neutral or objective in the classroom not letting their students know their true feelings on many important issues. But for Howard, and for me, being neutral on poverty, racism, sexism, and homophobia just isn't an option. For those of us who have worked with marginalized students, we know that tackling these issues head-on in the classroom and letting students know that we are with them to help reduce and eliminate the barriers they face is essential to being a successful educator in that context.
Howard Zinn will forever be a part of my teaching practice as a social studies teacher. He's not perfect by any means but his example of being an ally to his students, raising the voices of those in the margins and teaching for social justice are just a few of the reasons why he is one of my favourite teachers.