Arkansas Legislature to Consider Banning the Works of Howard Zinn

The Arkansas bill is the latest attempt to banish Zinn from schools

Howard Zinn

A bill proposed by Arkansas State Representitive Kim Hendren seeks to ban books by historian Howard Zinn from the state’s schools. According to a report from The Arkansas Times, the legislation, which would apply to both public and charter schools, prohibits any classroom reading of Zinn’s writings from 1959 until his death in 2010, including his seminal 1980 study, A People’s History of the United States.

While Conservative groups have challenged A People’s History in the past — Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels attempted to remove the work from classrooms in 2013, and in 2009 Fredericksburg, Virginia parents accused the text of being “un-American, leftist propaganda” — Rep. Hendren’s proposed legislation marks the first attempt at a wholesale ban on Zinn’s work.

The proposal comes at a moment of heightened tension around the definition and necessity of “free speech” at educational institutions. Howard Zinn, in his words, wrote “from the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated.” i.e. people of color, women, and native populations who, especially in 1980, were ignored by the glorified nationalism of conventional American historical education. While debate rages over bigoted right-wing psuedo-thinkers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray and their right to free speech, Rep. Hendren’s effort to subvert institutional curricular freedom over political disagreement illustrates the hypocrisy of Milo and Murray’s deffenders. While the merits of Zinn’s anti-capitalist sentiments could be subjected to debate (disclaimer: I endorse them), the deplorable treatment of marginalized groups in the U.S. is a fact. The desire to argue that Columbus was not a delusional and genocidal maniac is laughable. The desire to silence the author who helped elucidate that truth to the larger American populace is, at best, alarming. Free speech is not a guaranteed platform to spew from, it’s a protection against the erasure of those at risk.

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