Why Is Arkansas Rep. Kim Hendren So Afraid of Howard Zinn’s Books? #BookBanning

Zinn coverArkansas State Representative Kim Hendren thinks Howard Zinn’s books are so dangerous that he’s introduced state legislation to prohibit public and charter school children from reading them.* Zinn’s most famous book, A People’s History of the United States, presents a view of history that focuses on the experiences of marginalized groups that mainstream history has forgotten or mischaracterized.

I don’t know the basis of Hendren’s problem with Zinn’s books, though I have my suspicion that it’s rooted in racism and sexism. Why else would a legislator target only Zinn’s books, which try to focus the spotlight on the experiences of people of color, the working class, and women? Some people have criticized Zinn’s book as “biased,” but really, what history book isn’t skewed in some way? As Zinn writes in the Afterword of A People’s History:

I know that a historian (or a journalist, or anyone telling a story) was forced to choose, out of an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit. And that decision inevitably would reflect, whether consciously or not, the interests of the historian.

Zinn’s method is no different from what any historian does. He’s just more honest about it than most.

Hendren is free to disagree with Zinn’s perspective of history, but he wants to do more than that. He wants to ban it. He wants to make sure that children in his state are only exposed to a limited, politically-approved version of history because, I presume, he believes new or “different” ideas will infect the impressionable minds of Arkansas’s youth.

Well, as I said in Please Stop Parenting My Children:

All I can say to folks like that is this: exposure to many different ideas doesn’t brainwash people. It’s the exposure to only one idea or belief system that does. If the mere exposure to new ideas is enough for those old beliefs to crumble, then its proponents should stop to consider why their beliefs aren’t more persuasive. In my opinion, an idea that can’t withstand a fair debate isn’t an idea worth passing onto the next generation.

If Hendren’s colleagues actually pass this short-sighted piece of legislation, they will probably find the law challenged in court under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (and other laws) — assuming Paul Ryan’s and Mitch McConnell’s Congress and Donald Trump don’t make civil rights lawsuits impossible by then (I’m serious about that; see Lawmakers Want to Take Away Your Right to a Fair Trial).

*Here’s a link to Hendren’s legislation, HB 1834 (2017): http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2017/2017R/Bills/HB1834.pdf


  1. Excellent post. I have Zinn on my shelf and I just started diving into the other ‘People’s History’ books. I most recently finished An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States which was very powerful and informative.

  2. Excellent article Well Done Zinn’s book is a very good History of the United states from the view point of the working class and the Masses. With the Election of Trump the Ruling elite in the United states wants to purvey Class History from their point of View at least Howard Zinn puts forward an alternate viewpoint.


  3. Blech, this is such garbage. I read Howard Zinn in my AP American history class, and it taught me a ton about topics I’d never considered before as well as deepening my knowledge of elements of American history that I knew but not well (like the way colonizers to the country treated native populations).

    Have you seen that, like, conservative answer to Howard Zinn? A Patriot’s History of the United States? I opened it up once at the bookstore out of curiosity and it was like “Columbus didn’t hate the Indians! He said they were nice in this 1495 letter so how could he possibly have killed them?” So. Yeah.

    1. This bill is definitely garbage. I haven’t seen the conservative answer to Howard Zinn. I’m surprised Kim Hendren’s legislation doesn’t make it required reading for everyone in Arkansas.

  4. Wow. It’s been many years since I read one of Howard Zinn’s books (thanks for reminding me to reread and review them), but I can’t recall anything worthy of banning! I can’t believe this is even being considered.

  5. I’m glad you’ve highlighted this recent action in Arkansas. I was dumbfounded. I read that book ages ago and found it well worth the read. What is happening to America?! 😦

    1. It’s an appalling piece of legislation. Book banning isn’t a new concept in the US, but this attempt seems to be a particularly egregious example of it.

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