George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Remembering Salinger and Zinn

January 28, 2010

Some folks say deaths come in threes.

That makes me nervous. What with the passing yesterday and today of two great men of letters -- historian Howard Zinn and novelist J.D. Salinger -- I don't want to look at tomorrow's obits.

Salinger catapulted millions of us who came of novel-reading age in the '50s and '60s into the wide, wondrous world of fiction. After turning the last page of Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, I was a changed young man. Reading became an adventure like no other. Holden Caulfield (and his stormy journey into adolescence) became my Columbus, my ticket to a whole new world of emotional knowledge and inspiration.

Zinn changed us with his writing of history. His ground-breaking volume The Politics of History, and then, ten years later, his classic A People's History of the United States literally upended any semblance of status quo in conventional interpretations of American history.

Suddenly, the searchlight of truth shone on workers and slaves, women and immigrants, highlighting the black, white, red, yellow, and brown hues of our people. And even if some the facts and deeds Zinn recounted were shocking and shameful, his telling of the story somehow made you authentically proud to be a citizen in a place where people strive, however imperfectly, for greater justice.

Here are some links to information about the lives of and the work of these two remarkable men:

"J.D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91" (New York Times)

"Of Teen Angst and an Author's Alienation" (New York Times)

Howard Zinn's Web site

"Howard Zinn, Historian, Is Dead at 87" (New York Times)

How did these great minds change you? Please share your thoughts.

-- David Markus, Edutopia editorial director

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  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies/History

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