"American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it."
James Baldwin

A great way to introduce a Collaborative Wall Collections, Symbolic Constructions project is with a discussion of information from Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen and from a People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

Students feel empowered by the idea that through their artmaking they can share new and sometimes surprising information with the school community. Much contemporary art deconstructs or re-envisions standard narratives about our culture and history that we have unproblemmatically absorbed from popular culture and educational institutions. Through this project, students engage ideas about the role of the artist in representing reality and shaping visions of the future.
Study History
by Ricardo Levins Morales is available from the Northland Poster Collective
  Howard Zinn

It Seems to Me, Unsung Heroes
by Howard Zinn
from the Progressive Magazine

A high school student recently confronted me: "I read in your book A People's History of the United States about the massacres of Indians, the long history of racism, the persistence of poverty in the richest country in the world, the senseless wars. How can I keep from being thoroughly alienated and depressed?"

It's a question I've heard many times before. Another question often put to me by students is: Don't we need our national idols? You are taking down all our national heroes--the Founding Fathers, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy.

Granted, it is good to have historical figures we can admire and emulate. But why hold up as models the fifty-five rich white men who drafted the Constitution as a way of establishing a government that would protect the interests of their class--slaveholders, merchants, bondholders, land speculators?

Why not recall the humanitarianism of William Penn, an early colonist who made peace with the Delaware Indians instead of warring on them, as other colonial leaders were doing?

Why not Captain Daniel Shays, veteran of the Revolutionary War, who led a revolt of poor farmers in Western Massachusetts against the oppressive taxes levied by the rich who controlled the Massachusetts legislature?

Why go along with the hero-worship, so universal in our history textbooks, of Andrew Jackson, the slave-owner, the killer of Indians? Jackson was the architect of the Trail of Tears, which resulted in the deaths of 4,000 of 16,000 Cherokees who were kicked off their land in Georgia and sent into exile in Oklahoma.

Why not replace him as national icon with John Ross, a Cherokee chief who resisted the dispossession of his people, and whose wife died on the Trail of Tears? Or the Seminole leader Osceola, imprisoned and finally killed for leading a guerrilla campaign against the removal of the Indians?

And while we're at it, should not the Lincoln Memorial be joined by a memorial to Frederick Douglass, who better represented the struggle against slavery? . . . .

Should we not replace the portraits of our Presidents, which too often take up all the space on our classroom walls, with the likenesses of grassroots heroes like Fannie Lou Hamer, the Mississippi sharecropper? Mrs. Hamer was evicted from her farm and tortured in prison after she joined the civil rights movement, but she became an eloquent voice for freedom....The same misguided values that have made slaveholders, Indian-killers, and militarists the heroes of our history books still operate today. . . .

Our country is full of heroic people who are not Presidents or military leaders or Wall Street wizards, but who are doing something to keep alive the spirit of resistance to injustice and war. . . .

We all know individuals--most of them unsung, unrecognized--who have, often in the most modest ways, spoken out or acted on their beliefs for a more egalitarian, more just, peace-loving society.

To ward off alienation and gloom, it is only necessary to remember the unremembered heroes of the past, and to look around us for the unnoticed heroes of the present.

For a complete text of the above article, visit the site of Progressive Magazine,

A People's History of the United States : 1492 to the Present
by Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn was influenced by the 1960s transformation of social values and based his People’s History on "inclusion." What some have called "the Great Man theory of history" is definitely not his style of telling America’s story. This book is not primarily the story of presidents, army generals, or industrialists. It observes history from the perspectives of women, men, labor, Native Americans, African Americans, antiwar movements, and other population groups.

For more information on the book,

Howard Zinn and Pearl Jam’s (!) Eddie Yedder talk music, politics, and history.

James W. Loewen

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W. Loewen

Startling truths about the myths and misinformation of American history.

Americans have lost touch with their history, and in this thought-provoking book, Professor James Loewen shows why. After surveying twelve leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past. In ten powerful chapters, Loewen reveals that:

The United States dropped three times as many tons of explosives in Vietnam as it dropped in all theaters of World War II, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Ponce de Leon went to Florida mainly to capture Native Americans as slaves for Hispaniola, not to find the mythical fountain of youth.

Woodrow Wilson, known as a progressive leader, was in fact a white supremacist who personally vetoed a clause on radical equality in the Covenant of the League of Nations.

The first colony to legalize slavery was not Virginia but Massachusetts.

From the truth about Columbus's historic voyages to an honest evaluation of our national leaders, Loewen revives our history, restoring to it the vitality and relevance it truly possesses.

A great Christopher Columbus site: