Skip to content

New Report demonstrates that Schools across the country and in Michigan, fail when teaching about the Black Freedom Struggle

January 20, 2022

A new report released by the Zinn Education Project, says that State standards are failing to teach the truth about the Reconstruction era in US history.

The report, entitled, Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle, has several key findings:

  • Emphasize a top-down history of Reconstruction focused on government, politics, and policy with little emphasis on ordinary Black people and their organizing strategies.
  • Still promote an inaccurate history of Reconstruction influenced by the Dunning School. 
  • Rarely name or contend with white supremacy or white terror. 
  • Do not provide clear and consistent definitions of Reconstruction. 
  • Limit the significance of Reconstruction to Southern states. 
  • Do not address the enduring legacies of Reconstruction or make connections to the present day.  

In addition, the report provides a grade for each state as it relates to how well or how poorly they teach the Reconstruction era.  Here are the findings for Michigan:

The coverage of Reconstruction in Michigan’s standards is partial, and their content is subpar. The Michigan Department of Education adopted the current social studies standards in 2019. Reconstruction is covered in grade 8. Although the high school history course begins in the late 19th century, Reconstruction is not included in the standards as a topic to cover.

Grade 8

Reconstruction is part of the final unit of the grade 8 U.S. history course. Broadly, the standards ask students to “develop an argument regarding the character and consequences of Reconstruction” and emphasizes “how various Reconstruction plans succeeded or failed.” 

The standards include Black people as one of the groups/individuals whose “different positions” on reconstructing Southern society students should learn. They also contain specific references to the Freedmen’s Bureau, Black participation in government, the Reconstruction Amendments, and racial segregation, the Black Codes, and the KKK. 

However, the standards do not mention white supremacy, framing the actions of the KKK and other groups opposing Reconstruction as part of an undefined “national and regional resistance” to the “change” of Black people’s political rights. The narrative of Reconstruction concludes with the Compromise of 1877, with students tasked with explaining “the decision to remove Union troops from the South in 1877 and investigate its impact on Americans.”

The section on Michigan also includes the following:

In May 2021, Republican legislators in the state Senate introduced SB0460, a bill that would prohibit the inclusion of “anti-American and racist theories” in curricula. They identify the 1619 Project and critical race theory among these prohibited subjects. In Nov. 2021, the Michigan House of Representatives passed HB5097, a law designed to ban “any form of race or gender stereotyping or anything that could be understood as implicit race or gender stereotyping” in classrooms. Several respondents to our survey expressed concern about the possible chilling effects on classroom education that such bills may have around the country, particularly on discussions of the history and legacies of Reconstruction.

While the information in this report is not surprising, it is clear that public schools in Michigan are failing to teach about a critical part of the Black Freedom Struggle. There is value in working to push the public school system in this state to do better on these topics, but we should not miss any opportunities to create other forms of popular education around the Black Freedom Struggle, in order to provide vitally important information on one of the most important social justice movements in US history. 

The Zinn Education Project already provides solid popular education materials, but we can solicit local educators and organizers to create material that is specific to our communities as well. 

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: