News Release

Should Negative Things About the U.S. be Taught?


On Thursday Trump attacked the work of Howard Zinn, whose books include A People’s History of the United StatesUntil his death in 2010, Zinn was repeatedly featured on news releases.

Kumashiro is former dean, University of San Francisco School of Education. His books include Teaching toward Democracy.
He said today, “Here we go again. Yesterday’s attacks by the Trump administration on efforts to raise awareness about the historical and systemic nature of race and racism are not new.

“Divisive, un- or anti-American, biased, inflammatory — for decades, such were the claims made about efforts to teach a more accurate and complete history of the United States. From the multicultural curriculum of the Civil Rights era and the ‘people’s history’ by Howard Zinn, to recent struggles to include ethnic studies curriculum and the 1619 Project in schools, scholars and educators have long argued that curriculum is irresponsible, misleading, and undemocratic when it fails to include the experiences of marginalized groups, as well as the dynamics, systems, and ideologies that caused or perpetuated their disenfranchisement. Such inquiry is particularly important to make visible the many ways that race and racism are invisible, normalized, obscured, or rationalized, including in the curriculum itself. Not surprisingly, it is this whitewashed curriculum that often gets framed as objective and neutral, whereas efforts to raise awareness about the discomforting realities of race and racism get framed as, in Trump’s words, ‘toxic propaganda.’

“Two weeks ago, the White House directed against using taxpayer dollars to support ‘divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions’ — and by explicitly flagging trainings about ‘critical race theory’ and ‘white privilege,’ demonstrated once again the easy tendency to conflate studying racism with being divisive or weakening the nation. Yesterday, at the White House History Conference, Pence warned that, in schools, ‘some are seeking to erase our history.’ Trump attributed this erasure to ‘decades of leftwing indoctrination’ by the likes of Zinn and others, even threatening to withhold funding from California schools that teach the 1619 Project. Earlier that day, Education Secretary DeVos praised the ‘1776 Unites Curriculum’ for its more positive portrayal of the experience” of African Americans in the U.S. when “compared to the 1619 Project, and Trump echoed this praise and suggested that the government should support the creation of more such ‘pro-American’ curriculum.

“Our country cannot become more just and democratic without illuminating, addressing, and healing from its long legacies of injustices, including imperialism, colonialism, and racism, which means that continuing to deny or ignore the legacies and systems of racism that have defined the United States for centuries will only perpetuate the problems. The battle over what story about the United States gets taught in schools, and who gets to tell that story, is what makes education, at its core, one of the main sites of ideological struggle for any democratic society — and is, therefore, a battle that the general public must engage.”

See talk by Howard Zinn at MIT in 2005: “The Myth of American Exceptionalism.” “Democracy Now” played a clip from an interview with Zinn Friday morning that talked about overlooked heroes in U.S. political history, like Mark Twain, who was the Vice President of the Anti-Imperialist League and Helen Keller, who was a socialist.