Zinn Education Project, a group which claims that over 30,000 junior high and high school teachers use its education materials.
Zinn is the author of A People’s History of the United States, which takes a condensed (and liberal) view of our nation’s history. A People’s History is used by a number of high school and college teachers, while students and parents are mostly unaware of the book’s lack of objectivity. This bias is obvious in Zinn’s push to make May Day an integral part of American history.
May Day (May 1st) is a worker’s holiday in Communist countries like China, Cuba, and North Korea, and was also a state holiday in the former Soviet Union, It was first recognized in 1889 by the congress of The Second International, a labor-based group of socialists and communists, to mark the Haymarket affair of May 4, 1886, in which striking workers in Chicago were gunned down by police. Because of the communist affiliations of May Day, the more capitalism-friendly “International Workers’ Day” is now often used to promote the importance of worker’s unions and socialized labor.
The Zinn Education Project is now administered by two liberal education groups, Retinking Schools and Teaching for Change, whose purpose is “providing social justice resources and professional development for pre-K-through-12 classroom teachers and teacher educators.”
The Zinn Education Project website provides a number of International Workers’ Day educational lessons and resources for teachers to use in the classroom, which criticize capitalism and promote socialism and worker’s unions. One of the lessons, pulled from the Rethinking Schools’ publication “The Power in Our Hands,” is entitled “Organic Goodie Simulation” and instructs the teacher to instruct students that a business owner “seeks to profit through playing on and creating divisions between workers and the unemployed.” The lesson then asks “Can students overcome those divisions and unite for needed changes? This lesson lets students experience some of the pressures that lead workers to organize.”
On the Zinn Education Project Facebook page, which boasts over 87,000 “likes,” educational resources were promoted to teachers in the days leading up to May 1. “How will you teach about labor on May 1: International Workers' Day? Here are free role plays and writing activities from the book Power In Our Hands,” a Facebook post offered, with links to download educational materials and a “worker’s rights” poster (shown above).
Another post on the Zinn Education Project Facebook page offers educational material about Lucy Parsons, an admitted radical socialist and anarchist communist, praising her as a hero. “On May 1, 1886, Lucy Parsons helped launch the world’s first May Day and the demand for the eight-hour work day,” the post states. “Along with her husband, anarchist and activist Albert Parsons...they led 80,000 working people down the Chicago streets, while more than 100,000 marched in other U.S. cities. A new international holiday was born. Parsons went on to help found the Industrial Workers of the World.”
Zinn’s liberal legacy continues because of the educators who support the Zinn Education Project, but his reputation has not held up among many historians. Even those who agree with his liberal philosophy disagree on his interpretation of American history that focuses on socialistic movements and criticizes the triumph of capitalism and conservative politics. In his attempt to create a definitive history, he strips out the complexities of the motivations that inspired our most notable figures.
In an essay for the American Federation of Teachers publication American Educator, Sam Wineburg criticized many of Zinn’s historical conclusions, that used specific anecdotes to form a certain historical narrative that fit his philosophical assertions. “A history of unalloyed certainties is dangerous because it invites a slide into intellectual fascism,” he said. “It (Zinn’s take on history) seeks to stamp out the democratic insight that people of good will can see the same thing and come to different conclusions.”