Remembering Zinn: ‘You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train’

howardzinnI’m celebrating the life of Howard Zinn today. The New York Times obit is worth a read to recall his days with with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and, later, traveling to Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan.

Zinn was a wonderful example of the old adage that “teaching is just learning in public.” He put his considerable intellect and passion at the service of popular movements and generated a magical space for new life to come forth. The title of his memoir reflects his personal philosophy: You can’t be neutral on a moving train.

There’s a nice reflection on Zinn by Rabbi Art Waskow over at Sojourners. Waskow writes to Howard:

“If ever the memories, the teachings, of a tzaddik — a practitioner of tzedek, justice — could bring blessing to those who are still scrabbling for justice on this stricken earth, it’s the memories and teachings you left us.”

Below is an excerpt a lovely essay remembering Zinn by Henry A. Giroux, It’s titled Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered:

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard’s pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

Read Giroux’s whole essay here.