Here’s an overdue update on Arkansas Representative Kim Hendren’s unconstitutional bill to ban Howard Zinn’s books from public and charter schools in his state:
Initially, Hendren’s bill prohibited public and charter schools from including any of Zinn’s books (or any materials about Zinn’s books) in the curricula under any circumstances. See Why is Arkansas Rep. Kim Hendren So Afraid of Howard Zinn’s Books?
A few weeks later, on March 21, 2017, Hendren sponsored an amendment that would permit schools to include Zinn’s books only if those materials are presented in “a balanced manner that considers other opinions and points of view.”
It may seem like a good idea to require the presentation of other “points of view,” but there’s always a question about what that means. Would a teacher have to counter Zinn’s People’s History of the United States with racist garbage? Or would a traditional history book that whitewashes and softens the horrors of our past be sufficient?
Thankfully, it doesn’t look like we’ll have to find out. Earlier this month, Common Dreams and the Arkansas Times blog reported that Hendren’s bill died in committee. Based on Hendren’s amendment to his own bill and its short lifespan, I can only assume he heard an earful from his constituents.
In my opinion, this is an example of how we, the people, really do have the power to impact the legislative process. Making a phone call or writing a letter to a lawmaker seems so insignificant, but it’s not. As Zinn said in The Optimism of Uncertainty (and elsewhere), “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
While I doubt Hendren heard from millions of people, he certainly heard from many, making the demise of his bill an example of Howard Zinn’s point. The death of his proposed law doesn’t quite “transform” the world, but I hope the experience has taught Arkansas’s lawmakers an important lesson about promoting censorship. We’ll see.
Unsurprisingly, Hendren’s censorship effort had the opposite effect on access to Zinn’s ideas. As Bill Bigelow reports in Common Dreams (linked above):
In response [to Hendren’s bill], the Zinn Education Project—a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, which I co-direct—offered to send free copies of a Howard Zinn book and A People’s History for the Classroom lessons to any Arkansas middle or high school teacher or school librarian requesting them.
In just a few days, we were flooded with requests. Many of them came accompanied by poignant notes about why people were eager to get the materials. One middle school librarian in Western Grove, Arkansas, near the Missouri border (population 373), wrote, ‘The proposed bill to ban Mr. Zinn’s book has fired up the Arkansas librarian world. To combat ignorance, I must have knowledge. I respectfully request a copy so I can educate my tiny corner of the world.’
By the beginning of April, nearly 700 Arkansas teachers and school librarians received copies of Zinn’s books. That’s wonderful, isn’t it?
Bigelow also detailed his conversation with the man responsible for spreading those books across the state, Kim Hendren, who reportedly explained the motivation for his bill like this:
I think my constituents had seen some stuff on the internet or media. And Rick Santorum had mentioned it. I’d never heard of Howard Zinn. I’d never heard of the man.
Wow. I’ll give Hendren credit for engaging in the conversation, even if his responses are laughable. In addition to learning a thing or two about the stupidity of censorship, Hendren also needs to learn a lesson about emulating Rick “Man-on-Dog” Santorum, whose name is synonymous with an occasional byproduct of anal sex.
If Hendren isn’t careful, he might be appalled to learn how the American people will define his last name someday.
Here is HB 1834 in its different stages: