YAL - Young Adult Literature Presenter Unit 2010/2011



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A Young People's History of the United States
by Howard Zinn


YAL Presenter Unit 2010/2011

Subjects: English
Grade Level: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
Posted: 2010
Unit Created by: Susan Garr

What makes this a good YAL choice...

A Young People’s History of the United States Volumes One and Two, by Howard Zinn adapted by Rebecca Stefoff shares Zinn’s original A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, with a middle school/lower reading level group of kids. This text provides students practice in reading non-fiction, as well as, shares Zinn’s thinking about history with a younger audience. He shares the sense that history is not just a series of events that occur because they were inevitable, but history as events that occur because real people make choices to get involved and impact the state of the world. A Young People’s History brings the point of view of people we don’t often get from history text books: Native Americans, slaves, immigrants, workers, women and other “invisible histories” that are consciously excluded from the text books in our schools. This book asks readers to consider what democracy is and whom democracy is for. From reading Zinn, students see that it is the dissident voices, not just the military leaders, robber barons or presidents that shape our country and the way it works, but also the young soldier who speaks out about his PTSD, or the union organizer and young workers willing to put everything on the line and strike for better working conditions and higher wages. Beginning with the arrival of Christopher Columbus through the point of view of the Arawak Indians, moving into slavery and the emancipation proclamation, into the workers and the struggle for worker’s rights, women’s rights, and civil rights during the 19th and 20th centuries, this book provides insight into important events from history students need to grapple with. One drawback to the Young People’s History is that it lacks the use of primary sources the original texts has. However, I would be sure to use both versions so that students can experience the richness and complexity the primary sources add.


This makes a great YAL choice because it provides younger students with the opportunity to delve into point of view and reflect on whose truths are being taught as history? “Behind every fact that a teacher or writer presents to the world is a judgment [that says] this fact is important, and other facts, which I am leaving out, are not important.” Zinn tells the reader that he wrote the book because he thought what was left out was important. He ends his Young Peoples’ History by inviting his reader to participate in history. He invites the young people to “join the race, or if we choose to, we could just watch the race---but to know that our choice in what we decide to do or not to do helps to determine the outcome.” Reminding us of the famous quotation, and the way Zinn lived his life: “Citizenship in a democracy is no spectator sport.” Learning strategies I have used with this book are: student led inquiry and design, double entry journals, soap boxing, journaling, point-of-view, role-playing. — Susan Garr


YAL Conference Workshop Description
What’s Worth Standing Up For? Classroom Ideas for using A Young People’s History of the United States
Susan A. Garr and Michael Villarreal, Presenters

Historical knowledge is no more and no less than carefully and critically constructed collective memory. Ignorance of history--that is, absent or defective collective memory--does deprive us of the best available guide for public action.” William H. McNeill

Through studying history, students grasp how things change. The past causes the present, and the present influences the future. Repeated historical inquiry enhances students’ capacity for informed citizenship and critical thinking about crucial topics that impact their lives today. Supplementing the curriculum with A Young People’s History offers students a chance to see that history is not just dates, facts and territorial conquests, but ordinary people standing up, using their voice and taking action. These narratives reveal history as a series of choices and turning points that regular people made based on the social conditions of their times. In this workshop, participants will engage in historical mini-inquiries and explore concepts of voice in history, those heard and unheard. Classroom-based literacy strategies will be modeled: inquiry, monologue writing, interviewing, extemporaneous speaking (soapbox corner), process drama, and hosting crucial conversations. — Workshop Description for YAL 2010

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