Council Resolution Introduced to Promote “A People’s History of the United States” in High Schools
It’s easy to dismiss Council resolutions as meaningless, mostly riskless displays of showmanship, and most of the time they are. But the rationale behind the resolution introduced by Councilpersons Jim Kenney and Jannie Blackwell last week recommending that Howard Zinn’s populist reading of history, A People’s History of the United States, be required reading for history students in the city’s high schools, is hard to dispute.
The resolution, to be voted on this Thursday, has less power as a recommendation than it does as a broad critique of the time-honored tradition of giving the victor both the spoils and the publishing rights to historical fact. The bill is written somewhat, well, eloquently:
The empowering potential of studying U.S. history is often lost in a textbook-driven trivial pursuit of names and dates. Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” emphasizes the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history; not simply the version retold by those powerful enough to ensure history remembers their actions in a positive light, regardless of the truth.
One of the remarkable things about Howard Zinn’s scholarship is his capacity to narrate stories that are often unbelievably horrific and yet never lose sight of the goodness that courses through human experience. Philadelphia needs a new generation of high school graduates that do not expect progress to simply happen for them. Young people need to idolize unsung heroes in order to believe they themselves have the power to ensure every new chapter of our City’s history is brighter than those that came before it…
Despite the fact that the School District doesn’t have the cash on hand to purchase a few thousand copies of a book for a new history curriculum, it’s one of the bolder, more insightful resolutions Council has passed in recent memory. Just when Blackwell does something you can’t stand—like hold up the conveyance of buildings in her district to use as leverage for whatever political scheme—she does something else disarmingly endearing, like legislatively indict the one-sidedness of history-telling or hold a birthday party for homeless people.