Open Veins of Conquest — AFT Union Disinternment of Howard Zinn, Tells PK12 Teachers to Drop People’s History of the United States?

This is a man’s world, so it talks a man’s language. The words are all words of power. You’ve come a long way, baby, but no way is long enough. You can’t even get there by selling yourself out: because there is theirs, not yours.

— Ursula K. Le Guin

The Call Now Is to Rein in a Union Against the People, Against a Narrative that Clashes w/ AFT’s Hierarchy of Needs — CASH

Hey, fellow travelers, it’s with regret that I have to even make this clarion call to alert you all to action about a grave robber, some two-bit dude writing a piece in the union’s American Educator magazine. Sure, there are ALL sorts of issues you need to attend to. We have Brooklyn College being attacked for a panel on divestment in Israeli goods and services. We have Brennan posited as the next CIA thug boss. Hell, Raul Grijalva should have been hands down the nominee for head of the Department of Interior. Instead, we have a blinking outdoorsy woman, with banking and Mobil Oil executive status who is now wrapped up as CEO of Goretex Incorporated (REI) in my state, Washington, up north of me, Seattle.

It’s really not just a pissing contest about what should be taught in so-called “history” classes in junior high school and high school. For goddamned sake, our youth are so disconnected from truths, from contexts, from ideas, reading, from their fellow human citizens — 99 percenters — ANY THING must be deployed to reconnect youth to some other narrative beyond learning for a test and studying to grab onto one of those prime little new economy jobs of the Knowledge Economy.

So, that inconsequential faux-scholarly article published in a rag that 1.5 million members of AFT might be cracking open is devoid of what history books and so-called historians are so often lacking — a mind tied to a passion tied to militancy tied to questioning the vanguard. Blood, sweat and tears.

I’ve seen the same crap coming, telling me that someone like Winona LaDuke should not be on campus, or Cornel West is not an intellectual, or that Naomi Klein is two-bit, or that Tim Flannery isn’t needed for discussing the “science” of climate change. A big fat broken system is KILLING our students.  So, I will let the people who are asking US, to write into the AFT’s bunker and to push back on this faux-scholarly article, speak below.

In the end, though, read Zinn. Galeano. Here’s Cornel West rousing us up to listen to another narrative. Then, at the tail-end of this DV School Yard Fights, a telling video I found in the world wide wasted web (WWWW) net. Look at these two white Brits. Look and listen. Bloodless, pompous, the very reason why WE need voice given to the 99 percent. These two Brits are fops and the Peruvian is holding his own, but floundering. This is the history and the critique that is empty, fat-hipped men or inbred thinkers sitting around and playing medicine ball with an author like Galeano.

Forwarded Message —–
From: merithew <UDE.USM.TEN-H.LIAMnull@wehtirem>
Sent: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 3:36 PM
Subject: The Assassination of a Dead Man: Howard Zinn PLEASE HELP
Date: 2013-02-05 12:37
From: Alex Zukas <ude.unnull@sakuza>

Dear Colleagues,

This post has two parts.  The first is a message from John Breitbart, a New York City high school teacher, followed by a message from Deborah Menkart of the Zinn Education Project (ZEP).

John Breitbart has given me permission to post his message, “The Assassination of a Dead Man: Howard Zinn PLEASE HELP,” on H-Labor.  He wants the largest possible audience for his concern.  John wrote:

Dear Activist Friends of Peace and Social Justice,

As a NYC pubic high school teacher, I regularly receive a quarterly magazine from the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) called the American Educator.  The December issue included an article attacking Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (Wineberg).  It calls upon educators to think twice about using this text in their classes and recommends that they do not.

My concern is that this magazine goes to the AFT’s 1.5 million members who include pre-K though 12th grade teachers; paraprofessionals; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; and nurses and other healthcare professionals (“American”).  This periodical does not always include a Letters to the Editor column, and they do not necessarily plan on publishing an article that presents a different perspective on Zinn’s work.

The author, Sam Wineberg, offers a detailed (8 pages, 53 footnotes) condemnation of  Zinn’s qualifications as a historian, questioning whether his lack of objectivity should entitle his work to the accolades it currently receives.  The article focuses on a selection of periods and facts from the book and explains in each case how Zinn appears to have oversimplified the matters at hand, and presented them as if his picture is “the truth,” while ignoring information that suggests a less black or white conclusion, hence the article’s title, “Undue Certainty.” The last three paragraphs in the article begin with the statement, “A history of unalloyed certainties is dangerous because it invites a slide into intellectual fascism.”  The second to the last paragraph begins with, “Such a history atrophies our tolerance for complexity.  It makes us allergic to exceptions to the rule.  Worst of all, it depletes the moral courage we need to revise our beliefs in the face of new evidence.”  The final paragraph is a simple question, “Is that what we want for our students?”

My interpretation of this article is that it argues that People’s History is not a fit or suitable text for history educators to use in their classrooms.  Furthermore, it gives school administrators and principals an intellectual excuse for denying teachers the use of this book in their course materials. In short, it is a call for censorship through an educator-based boycott.

If you want to read this article yourself, it is available on the AFT website.

The editor’s email and address are available at: here

The AFT also has a Facebook page on which there is a comment strand about this article.  You will find it at: FB

What needs to be done? 

Seems like a lot of emails-to-the-editor need to be sent to Lisa Hansel, Editor, American Educator at gro.tfanull@derema , but more importantly, the AFT and the American Educator need to be taken to task in the blogosphere.  Whatever communities you are linked with, please spread the word so that the AFT will at minimum be shamed into publishing an opposing point of view in their journal.

It is ironic that the point of Wineberg’s complaint about a lack of diverse perspectives in Zinn’s history is precisely what the AFT has committed by publishing “Undue Certainty” as a stand-alone commentary.

Howard Zinn in his life and work was a defender against fascism, and advocate for civil rights and peace.  His legacy of activism and intellect deserves to be honored rather than defiled.  As for the practice of history, please refer to the quote below.

Feel free to forward this letter widely, or take other actions to work this problem,

John Breitbart
High School Teacher
NewYork, NY

P.S. Winston, the main character in the novel 1984 worked in the Ministry of Truth rewriting history.  He understood well the meaning of the Party’s slogan, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past (Orwell 32).”

Works Cited

“American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.” AFT: A Union of Professionals. n.d. 26 Jan. 2013 <>.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York, New American Library, 1949.

Wineberg, Sam. “Undue Certainty.” American Educator. 36.4 (2012): 27-34.


Deborah Menkart of the Zinn Education Project has confirmed in an email to me and John yesterday that …

Robby Cohen wrote to the AFT very soon after they published the Wineburg article asking if he could submit a response based on his extensive research of the Zinn papers with a focus on Zinn’s correspondence with teachers — since a teacher voice/perspective was totally missing from the Wineburg article. AFT never responded. Then he made the same offer to HNN when they reprinted the Wineburg article and HNN accepted. He then made the offer again to AFT.

If they had accepted, he was going to edit the piece he had submitted to HNN based on feedback he received from ZEP and others — and add more of a critique of Wineburg’s mischaracterization (to say it nicely) of WWII.

This time AFT responded, saying there would not be space for a letter to the editor. Robby clarified that he was talking about a full article in response — AFT said there would not be space for that either and the “could not afford” to add 4-pages to an upcoming issue. They suggested he weigh in on the AFT Facebook!

We at the Zinn Education Project are regularly in touch with Robby Cohen about his current research/book project on the influence of Zinn and PH on teachers across the country. However he is not a representative of the Zinn Ed Project, so his correspondence with the AFT was not from ZEP. But regardless of who asked, the AFT made it clear that they do not plan to publish a response.” I thought members of the H-Labor listserv would be interested in these developments.

from: Alex Zukas


So, here are a few paragraphs from the next-to-the-final chapter in People’s History; and then Galeano speaking about his stories, histories:


The title of this chapter is not a prediction, but a hope, which I will soon explain.

As for the subtitle of this book, it is not quite accurate; a “people’s history” promises more than any one person can fulfill, and it is the most difficult kind of history to recapture. I call it that anyway because, with all its limitations, it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people’s movements of resistance.

That makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction-so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people’s movements-that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.

All those histories of this country centered on the Founding Fathers and the Presidents weigh oppressively on the capacity of the ordinary citizen to act. They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us: in the Revolutionary crisis, the Founding Fathers; in the slavery crisis, Lincoln; in the Depression, Roosevelt; in the Vietnam-Watergate crisis, Carter. And that between occasional crises everything is all right, and it is sufficient for us to be restored to that normal state. They teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose among saviors, by going into a voting booth every four years to choose between two white and well-off Anglo-Saxon males of inoffensive personality and orthodox opinions.

The idea of saviors has been built into the entire culture, beyond politics. We have learned to look to stars, leaders, experts in every field, thus surrendering our own strength, demeaning our own ability, obliterating our own selves. But from time to time, Americans reject that idea and rebel.

These rebellions, so far, have been contained. The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased.


For more, for the entire book, go here: PH

Good luck looking at this one — Two White Brits and One Peruvian trying to parse Galeano.

Adios, and here’s to you all writing into the A … F-ing … T!


United Fruit Co.

When the trumpet sounded
everything was prepared on earth,
and Jehovah gave the world
to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, and other corporations.
The United Fruit Company
reserved for itself the most juicy
piece, the central coast of my world,
the delicate waist of America.

It rebaptized these countries
Banana Republics,
and over the sleeping dead,
over the unquiet heroes
who won greatness,
liberty, and banners,
it established an opera buffa:
it abolished free will,
gave out imperial crowns,
encouraged envy, attracted
the dictatorship of flies:
Trujillo flies, Tachos flies
Carias flies, Martinez flies,
Ubico flies, flies sticky with
submissive blood and marmalade,
drunken flies that buzz over
the tombs of the people,
circus flies, wise flies
expert at tyranny.

With the bloodthirsty flies
came the Fruit Company,
amassed coffee and fruit
in ships which put to sea like
overloaded trays with the treasures
from our sunken lands.

Meanwhile the Indians fall
into the sugared depths of the
harbors and are buried in the
morning mists;
a corpse rolls, a thing without
name, a discarded number,
a bunch of rotten fruit
thrown on the garbage heap.


La United Fruit Co.

Cuando sonó la trompeta, estuvo
todo preparado en la tierra,
y Jehova repartió el mundo
a Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, y otras entidades:
la Compañía Frutera Inc.
se reservó lo más jugoso,
la costa central de mi tierra,
la dulce cintura de América.

Bautizó de nuevo sus tierras
como “Repúblicas Bananas,”
y sobre los muertos dormidos,
sobre los héroes inquietos
que conquistaron la grandeza,
la libertad y las banderas,
estableció la ópera bufa:
enajenó los albedríos
regaló coronas de César,
desenvainó la envidia, atrajo
la dictadora de las moscas,
moscas Trujillos, moscas Tachos,
moscas Carías, moscas Martínez,
moscas Ubico, moscas húmedas
de sangre humilde y mermelada,
moscas borrachas que zumban
sobre las tumbas populares,
moscas de circo, sabias moscas
entendidas en tiranía.

Entre las moscas sanguinarias
la Frutera desembarca,
arrasando el café y las frutas,
en sus barcos que deslizaron
como bandejas el tesoro
de nuestras tierras sumergidas.

Mientras tanto, por los abismos
azucarados de los puertos,
caían indios sepultados
en el vapor de la mañana:
un cuerpo rueda, una cosa
sin nombre, un número caído,
un racimo de fruta muerta
derramada en el pudridero.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.