Sunday, March 5, 2017

Henry A. Giroux: Remembering Howard Zinn, Once Again

I so love and miss Howard Zinn. And I was deeply outraged to hear of the recent news of those forces wanting to censor his work. The harm to us all by such censorship is so great, so unacceptable, so disturbing. If Americans were educated, if they were exposed to the work of those such as Howard Zinn and Henry Giroux, our nation and the world would not be facing the horrific violence, threats, destruction, oppression, greed, ignorance, polarizing propaganda, etc., etc. that it is today. Blessed are those who relentlessly bring us the truth, the larger pictures, the issues and integrity and commitment to truth-telling that is too often lacking today. - Molly


Henry Giroux: "In light of the recent attempts by the extremists governing Arkansas to censor Howard Zinn's work, I am reproducing a piece I wrote on him soon after he died...."

Howard Zinn being arrested during a Vietnam War protest. (Photo: First Run Features)
Editor's Note: Today, on the one-year anniversary of the death of the late Dr. Howard Zinn, his voice is deeply missed. In his essay titled LaGuardia in the Jazz Age, Zinn profiles Fiorello LaGuardia, a politician who took his work as mayor of New York and as a member of the House of Representatives seriously, putting his life and his reputation on the line for those he was elected to represent.
Who is willing to stand up for unseen and unheard people? Who is willing to move beyond playing safe politics and trying to stay out of the cross-hairs of the plutocrats?
This personal remembrance of Professor Zinn from Truthout board member Henry A. Giroux was published in the wake of Zinn’s death last year. On a day like today, as the spirit of democratic protest spreads across the Middle East, Giroux’s depiction of Zinn’s continual call to action - “resist, organize and collectively struggle” - is especially deeply felt. 
- Matt Renner/TO

Author's Note: We live in an age in which the self has become the center of politics and everyday life. The formative culture, public spheres and institutions capable of challenging this privative notion of survivalism and market-driven notion of barbarism are both under siege and rapidly vanishing. The public intellectual has been replaced by the anti-public intellectual, just as the university as a democratic public sphere is now colonized by corporate and national security interests. Social movements barely speak beyond a narrow identity politics, and the questions that connect agency to pedagogy and social change have been replaced by the search for consumers and clients.
In his work, Howard Zinn criticized all of these positions, while embodying a notion of agency that exhibited a fierce moral courage and a deep propensity for engaged social action. He never faltered in his attempts to connect scholarship with politics, and he never retreated into the dystopian world of indifference or cynicism. Howard has left us a legacy of work, activism and hope that even in the darkest times offers a new language for reclaiming the link between politics and democracy, agency and critical thinking, ethics and a space of social responsibility and hope. We at Truthout are committed to his legacy, vision and mode of engaged struggle, and we are thankful for the work he left us and the humble and courageous spirit he offered as a model for all of us.
- Henry Giroux  

Howard Zinn, A Public Intellectual Who Mattered
In 1977 I took my first job in higher education at Boston University. One reason I went there was because Howard Zinn was teaching there at the time. As a high school teacher, Howard's book, "Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal," published in 1968, had a profound effect on me. Not only was it infused with a passion and sense of commitment that I admired as a high school teacher and tried to internalize as part of my own pedagogy , but it captured something about the passion, sense of commitment and respect for solidarity that came out of Howard's working-class background. It offered me a language, history and politics that allowed me to engage critically and articulate my opposition to the war that was raging at the time.
I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and rarely met or read any working-class intellectuals. After reading James Baldwin, hearing William Kunstler and Stanley Aronowitz give talks, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to occupy such a fragile, contradictory and often scorned location. But reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics.
Later, as I got to know Howard personally, I was able to fill in the details about his working-class background and his intellectual development. We had grown up in similar neighborhoods, shared a similar cultural capital and we both probably learned more from the streets than we had ever learned in formal schooling. There was something about Howard's fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special - untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.
Before I arrived in Boston to begin teaching at Boston University, Howard was a mythic figure for me and I was anxious to meet him in real life. How I first encountered him was perfectly suited to the myth. While walking to my first class, as I was nearing the university, filled with the trepidation of teaching a classroom of students, I caught my first glimpse of Howard. He was standing on a box with a bullhorn in front of the Martin Luther King memorial giving a talk calling for opposition to Silber's attempt to undermine any democratic or progressive function of the university. The image so perfectly matched my own understanding of Howard that I remember thinking to myself, this has to be the perfect introduction to such a heroic figure.
Soon afterwards, I wrote him a note and rather sheepishly asked if we could meet. He got back to me in a day; we went out to lunch soon afterwards, and a friendship developed that lasted over 30 years. While teaching at Boston University, I often accompanied Howard when he went to high schools to talk about his published work or his plays. I sat in on many of his lectures and even taught one of his graduate courses. He loved talking to students and they were equally attracted to him. His pedagogy was dynamic, directive, focused, laced with humor and always open to dialog and interpretation. He was a magnificent teacher, who shredded all notions of the classroom as a place that was as uninteresting as it was often irrelevant to larger social concerns. He urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities.
Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard's pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.
He offered students a range of options. He wasn't interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still. He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train." He wrote:
"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."
In fact, Howard was under constant attack by John Silber, then president of Boston University, because of his scholarship and teaching. One expression of that attack took the form of freezing Howard's salary for years.

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