Book Banning and the Fight to Stop It

Ideas and Issues

Montreal    Representative Kim Hendren had an idea and in the Age of Trump no one probably told him to just take a deep breath or think twice, so he probably thought it was a dandy idea to introduce a bill in the Arkansas legislature to ban Howard Zinn’s Peoples’ History of the United States and pretty much anything that Zinn had ever written, believing all of the late Boston University historian’s work was a threat to the country itself. He’s probably right in a weird way. Zinn’s history definitely tells stories of people and events left out of most books, yet still a vital fabric of the American experience regardless of the efforts of Rep. Hendren and others to whitewash the past to fit their own ideologies.

Hendren clearly didn’t realize that when it comes to book banning that he was kicking the hornets’ nest, but talking to Deborah Menkart, the executive director of Teaching for Change and the co-director of the Zinn Education Project, it was clear to me that he has met his match, no matter what happens to his little hater bill. Menkart and the Zinn Education Project responded to news of the bill by offering to make available copies of Zinn’s book and related teaching materials without cost to any Arkansas teacher or librarian that was interested. In the first blush they were overwhelmed with requests within days for 300 books, virtually depleting their entire stock. In the subsequent weeks the requests for copies has now crossed 700 volumes by the time I was interviewing her on Wade’s World. Thanks to Hendren the book has now gained a wider audience, something he clearly did not realize was going to happen.

Teaching for Change is no neophyte when it comes to insuring that the whole story gets told. They have been in business for twenty-five years and provide tools for teachers and students that are going to be even more valuable in this time when the US Department of Education is facing a leadership crisis at the top of their structure trying to go to war against public schools altogether. Menkart detailed a program that makes deep contributions in Latin American studies and a special project in Mississippi that has focused on allowing people in McComb in the southern part of that state to relearn the important role that courageous neighbors and community residents played, working largely with SNCC organizers, during the civil rights movement. Menkart’s points were telling. Fast forward three or four decades and the story becomes Cesar Chavez, Delores Huerta, Martin Luther King, and a few others rather than the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of small, but earth shattering, roles played by regular people saying “Yes” and saying “No,” in ways that were different and profound.

More than Howard Zinn’s book, the real fear that Representative Hendren and so many hundreds of legislators around the country have now is that they might have unleashed a level of people power that they can no longer contain. And, supporting Teaching for Change and the Zinn Education Project may be part of way loosens the bounds and allows for harder questions and a new way of thinking.