Monday, July 22, 2013

Zinn in Indiana

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at
July 22, 2013

                My late home state, Indiana, has made headlines.  That is, a 2010 telegram asking heads of all state education departments to ensure that Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States be removed from Indiana schools’ use at all levels, now that Zinn was finally dead, by then governor, now Purdue U president Mitch Daniels, has just come to light.
                Jill and I were privileged in 1983 to have Bill Breeden introduce us to Zinn when Zinn keynoted a little symposium our friend Jim Hart, in religious studies at Indiana U-Bloomington, had organized to explore setting up a peace studies program at IUB.  (Many of us taught versions of peace studies; I was on “peace studies” “individualized major” students’ committees; there was never a campus curriculum.)  Bill Breeden was at the time a newly retired young Disciples of Christ minister.  He and his young family lived off the land; he drove a truck part-time to get some cash.  I got him to apply to our  MA program in criminal justice.  In 1984 he became my defacto co-professor teaching my “alternative social control systems” class, required for criminal justice majors.  There we added Zinn’s People’s History” to Bill Moyer’s book and pbs series on The Secret Government to our required reading.  Bill, now a UU minister in Bloomington, got written up in Zinn’s last edition as the only person to do time for Iran-Contra (where I had the privilege of being co-counsel at a jury trial for the only time in my life).
                Over time I also used Zinn’s Declarations of Independence and my last hard copy text, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, compiled by co-editor and Bloomington native Anthony Arnove.  Whether in Norway, Poland or Tanzania, my gift of choice was A People’s History.  I had the further privilege of spending some personal time with Howard.  His work came along when I was looking for ways to bridge criminal justice locally and internationally.  That was critical to me at a point in my career when I had peaked in scholarly reputation, and increasingly marginalized in “the” criminal justice literature.  The growing popularity of a book Zinn had first published in 1981 fortified me to continue to listen and air less heard voices first, as ample human justification for tenured professorship.  In sum, Zinn remains my academic role model.
                The eighties and nineties were rather tumultuous politically times for me locally in South Central Indiana.  I hadn’t yet learned to refrain from winning arguments with my students.  I know my teaching angered many students, including criminal justice majors for whom I was at once politically outrageous and an easy A.  I had two or three hundred students a semester in what was generally the only offering of the class.  I wonder how many of them came home to Our Man Mitch Daniels showing him the stuff I was requiring my students to write about for a grade.  His email indicates that he found outrageous untruths about US history “on every page.”
                I have long noticed and noted that if you take the path Howard and I have chosen, there is no telling what effect may spring from one’s own social control efforts, especially as an “educator.” I am pretty sure that I was among the first to adopt the book, in a required class for criminal justice majors at Indiana’s “flagship” liberal arts institution of all places no less.  I know some of my former associate instructors used the book when they taught summer sessions or when I was away.  Who knows?
                I used to tell myself that making people angry over things I cared about was better than being ignored.  I also had students who had left my class angry come back to teach with me, or in other ways changed even life course.  Now we learn that Howard Zinn’s death in 2010 uncovered years of rage that the governor of Indiana had accumulated over my being allowed to teach what I did with such joy and enthusiasm.  Thanks, Mitch, you flatter me beyond my wildest expectations.  Love and peace--hal


  1. Perhaps I should read some Zinn before i choose to comment.

  2. want to borrow my copy? l&p