As I log onto my iGoogle account I find the headlines for my news sources fascinating, ranging from the Leno/O'Brien showdown and Carrie Underwood singing at the Super Bowl to dry spells easing global warming and the death of J.D. Salinger. For myself, this has been a unique couple of days in the news. Salinger's death alone was rather a shock though I must admit that I have not read his renowned The Cather in the Rye, thus his death, while shocking, does not hit me the same way the death of Madeleine L'Engle or Stud Terkel's did. Yesterday proved to be a rather odd news day. Since December, I've been waiting for Apple to announce the much-rumored tablet (basically an over-sized iPod) they've been working on and yesterday they finally did. I sat with my roommate and watched the 1.5 hours presentation on the new product and its features. I'm both intrigued and underwhelmed by it. I find it quite interesting that Mac found a place some years back in education programs, providing the computers for school use and lasting software programs, yet their latest inventions, save desk and laptops, are not really meant for educational purposes. Not yet anyways. With all the PDFs printed out in a regular CGU class, purchasing a digital reader would seem like a financially sound one considering the cost of going to Staples once or twice a week, yet no one has really created a program with annotation capabilities. Current eReaders have trouble with annotations, turning something like reading in the Kindle and Nook into a passive experience with little real ability to take notes as you read. Sadly, the iPad (a name one NPR host said was probably created without women in the room) does not change this pathetic standard. They'll get there but for now, this new Apple tech doesn't feel like a step forward for education but another way for people to half engage their digital surroundings.
Oddly, I didn't mean to write that much about the iPad. What I really want to discuss is something far more significant that occurred yesterday. When I opened iGoogle to check out the video on the iPad, I saw a headline from NPR that caught me off guard: "Leftist Historian Howard Zinn Dies At 87." My roommate, a high school history teacher in Montclair, and I spent some time reading about his recent death and reflecting on his works, not just his most popular book A People's History of the United States. I'm sad to think the most exposure some will have to Zinn's existence comes in the form of a brief reference in Good Will Hunting. I'm not a history buff, but I greatly appreciate Zinn's work for helping not "rewrite" history like some of the naive would say but provide a holistic account of this country's formation. As Ronald Takaki and others would do later, Zinn told the story of the U.S. without the tone and bias of imperialistism. He tells the story of the U.S. with unrepresented voices. We don't just understand what occurs within "popular" historical structures but in everything. He also reanalyzes major historic figures and looks at everything they did. For example, Columbus is not some wonderful visionary who found an unpopulated world but a conqueror who enslaved people in a new land and introduced the "New World" to genocide.
While many could've potentially learned about Zinn in history, sociology, or ethnic studies courses, I came across him in a very different way. While in seminary I took the course Advocating for Social Justice and, for the final paper, we were permitted to write something related to our fields of study. I decided to write on the use of narrative film in social justice formation. My roommate had the Zinn reader and I began to read his essays. I was so fascinated by what he had so say. Until then, I hadn't really thought much about socialist ideas (besides the a few pieces of Marx I enjoyed) and Zinn wrote with passion about the connection between civil rights and socialism. I didn't find anything directly addressing the use of film in the liberation struggle, but his theories and ideas guided my research. I don't care much for patriotism. I find the term's meaning too ambiguous and no established institution has earned my trust--though I do find some hope in ideas presented by those like the musicians in the former band Boysetsfire when they sing, "Who will stand up? Who will fight? If you love this country, take it back from those who would destroy it! Protest is patriotism." I find in Zinn, and others like him, a new face of this country that cares more about that often prooftexted "justice for all." Here's to his life and may his death become a time to reflect on what he stood for and where we can go. For those interested, here's click here to check out NPR's story on Howard Zinn.