A People's Historian

by Kenneth Carroll

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Honest

Step 1

Start by reading the poem by Billy Collins. When you’re done, have your students discuss the “effects” of the history teacher from the poem. How did his teaching (or lack thereof) affect his students?

Step 2

Read “A People’s Historian” by Kenneth Carroll. The poem pays tribute to renowned historian and educator, Howard Zinn, who dedicated his life to ensure a more accurate, objective, and honest retelling of American history. When you’re done, briefly discuss how the poem not only pays tribute to Zinn, but also how it conveys the importance and duty of representing history in a more accurate light.

Step 3

Say, “Try to come up some historical events, people, stories, anecdotes, etc. that have been historically misrepresented or distorted, either in a more negative light or a more positive light. Then try to think of the effects of that misrepresentation, how the distortion of the truth has affected people’s understanding of a more complex history and how it has been harmful overall.” Then give them time to brainstorm.

Step 4

Have your students write a poem similar in sentiment to “A People’s Historian” in which they discuss a historical event, person, etc. that has been misrepresented over the years and how this misrepresentation of the truth has impacted people.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Various

Step 1

This lesson allows students to analyze various concepts and skills, so it is recommended that you have covered several of the “standalone” lessons before assigning this one. The prominent literary devices & techniques that this particular poem includes are diction, imagery, figurative language, structure (syntax), tone, and selection of detail.

Step 2

Start by showing your students the following video. When it’s done, ask them why – in their opinion – so many historical facts have been obscured or misrepresented over the years. Then ask if these distortions of history are still taking place today. Have your students discuss.

Step 3

Show your students the following video, a brief overview of the debate surrounding the way history should be taught in schools, also known as the debate over “critical race theory.” The short video also provides some historical context behind the historian and educator who advocated for a more honest, objective recounting of history, Howard Zinn, the subject of the poem they will be analyzing today.

Step 4

Read “A People’s Historian” by Kenneth Carroll. When you’re done reading, ask your students how the poet’s tribute to Howard Zinn emphasizes the importance and necessity of an accurate, more complex representation of American history.

Step 5

Have your students open the following document and go over the instructions with them. In this assignment, your students will be analyzing “A People’s History” and finding examples of how some of our history has been obscured, misrepresented, or sanitized over the years.

Step 6

When your students are done, have them share their responses with the rest of the class.

Step 7

If time permits, share the exemplar essay.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Various


  • Appreciation
  • Class
  • Community / Culture
  • Education Formal / Informal
  • History
  • Love
  • Race / Ethnicity / Racism
  • Social Movements / Protest
  • Violence

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Selection of Detail
  • Structure (Syntax)
  • Tone