(COMMON DREAMS) Matthew Kovac — Michigan State Senator Patrick Colbeck is at it again. Back in 2013, Colbeck sponsored a bill calling for schools to institute a Patriot Week that would indoctrinate students with nationalist and militarist “history” lessons. Now, in a series of red-baiting Facebook posts, Colbeck is railing against late civil rights activist and historian Howard Zinn and the use of his book A People’s History of the United States in Michigan classrooms.
First published in 1980, A People’s History popularized “history from below” by emphasizing the struggles of those overlooked by mainstream historical accounts: indigenous people, African Americans, women, and working people. In the decades since its publication, this bottom-up approach to U.S. history has sold more than two million copies.
Zinn’s work is hardly a new target for right-wing censors. In an e-mail exchange with education officials after Zinn’s 2010 death, then-Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels expressed relief that “this terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away” and solicited advice on how to keep A People’s History out of Indiana schools.
Colbeck is wrong to claim that the Left is on the march in America’s schools. It is the right wing, after all, that has been whitewashing U.S. history, from successfully lobbying for a more conservative AP U.S. History curriculum to banningethnic studies classes in Arizona.
But he is right to be worried. A People’s History and its ideological successors do not merely question the shallow, uncritical nationalism Colbeck promotes. They offer documented examples of past social struggles that marginalized communities today can learn from and put into action. From its chronicling of the abolitionist movement to the labor wars of the late 19th century to G.I. resistance to the Vietnam War, A People’s History is a veritable instruction manual for challenging injustice.