A People’s History for the Classroom
By: Steve Bergman
Our group has spent the semester reading “A People’s History for the Classroom by Bill Bigelow. The book incorporates excerpts from Howard Zinn’s seminal work, “A People’s History of the United States” intermingled with classroom activities intended to teach students about major historical events from perspectives other than the dominant narrative. The book provided an interesting insight into some of the many ways teachers have tried to teach alternate narratives to major U.S. and global events. Our group, however felt the book was lacking in one key area that has to be addressed, especially for new teachers.
The one negative aspect of Bigelow’s book that we kept citing was the lack of explanation of how to fit these alternative lessons into the school year or into the traditional lesson plans with their tight timelines. We agreed over and over again that we’d love to lead/see classrooms where multi-day activities such as a role-playing trial of Columbus, the King/Queen of Spain, and the Pope can take place, but none of us could think of a world in which an instructor has the luxury of teaching such engaging lessons. Instead, extra days that teachers get are spent in wrap-up sessions, preparing students for examinations or testing. This concern was repeated over and over again, throughout the semester as great ideas sounded good in theory but impractical or even unfeasible in reality.
Our critique is not all negative, however. Each of our group members felt the lessons provided were useful in ways Bigelow probably didn’t intend. We all saw possibilities for truncated lessons on Vietnam, the labor movement, and U.S.-Mexico relations both past and present that could be created using some of the ideas raised in the book. Another positive of the book was the content itself. Zinn’s original work was a damning indictment of America’s “holier than thou” approach to things such as rights and freedoms that it takes on the world stage. To have the author put a spotlight on those items provides teachers an interesting method of culturally relevant teaching.