[This essay was given as a talk at SUNY Buffalo, 28 January 2010, the day after Howard Zinn’s death. I have left the text unaltered, to better reflect the spirit of the talk.]
“I’m worried that students will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel - let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they’re doing.”
— Howard Zinn
The great social historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, died yesterday of a heart attack. Zinn devoted his life to educating Americans in their country’s history, that they might better understand their place in its present. Such understanding is today at a premium. Ours is a time of confusion, of unprecedented changes that outpace our perceptions. As Zinn might have said, the wheel keeps spinning faster, and the faster it spins the harder it is to see.
At such times, and at such speeds, the task of educating ourselves becomes all the more urgent. We are citizens of a democracy, and democratic citizenship has always been a difficult skill to master. This is why Aristotle tells us that, in an ideal state, citizens would possess ample leisure time: the education of a citizen depends upon contemplation, deliberation, and training. Citizenship requires cultivation and, as any farmer would tell us, cultivation takes time. ... read more »