People’s History Books
Await Finley Students
Esmeralda Tello can’t wait to utilize a new set of history books in her social studies classroom at J. Taylor Finley Middle School. The books were presented to the teacher by the Zinn Education Project during a ceremony at the school late last spring.
Copies of historian-author Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” made their way to Finley following Ms. Tello’s successful participation in a contest that required an essay that described how she found the key to engaging her students is to emphasize the stories that are often left out of typical textbooks.
The Zinn Education Project encourages the teaching of a “people’s history,” including the perspectives and experiences of regular working class people, women, people of color and organized social movements, according to the group’s website.
The contest attracted 90 entries from middle school and high school teachers across the country. Ms. Tello was among 20 winners selected to receive a class set of 25 copies of the book that has sold two million copies and made an appearance on the New York Times bestseller list. The Huntington teacher was also given a copy of the film, “The People Speak” and two additional books: “A Young People’s History of the United States” and “Voices of a People’s History of the United States.”
“Howard Zinn’s text offers varied primary sources that give voice to all sides of an argument,” Ms. Tello said. The teacher started utilizing the book last January after Finley English teacher Charles T. Williams gave her a copy as a gift.
Joe Leavy, Huntington’s director of humanities, “asked the Finley social studies and English teachers to pair up and brainstorm ideas for an interdisciplinary project,” Ms. Tello explained. “I had mentioned to my English colleague Chuck Williams that I was very much interested in teaching social studies from ‘the other perspective’ and I asked what sort of stories and texts he used in his English class. I was itching to find a book that told the stories of the silent figures found in our history textbook: the Native Americans, the Africans, the immigrants; those people so vital to the formation of the American nation but whose stories have been lost in the publishing of contemporary textbooks.”
It didn’t take long for Mr. Williams to respond. “It was this master teacher next door who took an interest in my longing to teach beyond the textbook and presented me with a copy of ‘A People’s History of the United States,’ Ms. Tello said. “It was also Mr. Williams who agreed to work with me on an interdisciplinary project that would prepare our students for research to become 17th century Puritans in the mock Salem Witch Trials.”
The new books will be added to other teaching materials and enrich the education of Ms. Tello’s students. “The beauty of Zinn’s work, and the reason why I am so thrilled to have it added to our list of teaching resources, is that this text offers varied primary sources that give voice to all sides of an argument,” she said.
The book presentation ceremony was attended by Finley Principal John Amato, Assistant Principal Kenneth Parham, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kenneth A. Card, Jr. and several of Ms. Tello’s teaching colleagues.
During his formal remarks, Dr. Card commended Ms. Tello and her students for taking an innovative approach to learning.