Opinion | The miseducation of Michigan: How state fails kids in black history

Black History Month is a good reminder that Michigan schools, like those throughout the nation, do a poor job educating students on African-American history.

Chastity Pratt Dawsey is a staff writer for Bridge Magazine.

Update: I am the Michigan teacher removed from teaching African-American history

My son was in school for barely 15 minutes on the first day of this trimester when he snuck his cell phone out of his pocket and sent me a text.

He was stunned by the syllabus of his African-American history class at Groves High School in Birmingham. 

“This a part of the curriculum…,” his text message read, and he attached a photo of a page from the syllabus. 

It read, “Unit 4- From Civil Rights to Today”: 

  • “Boyz ‘N the Hood”
  • “Inside the Bloods and Crips,” a documentary
  • Readings, including “The New Jim Crow”

These were the planned classroom topics the teacher listed to cover the past 50 years of African-American history: an R-rated fictional movie about gang banging, a documentary about gang banging and a reading on mass incarceration. 

Update: Birmingham superintendent apologizes for African American history class

Other topics such as school segregation, affirmative action and the rise of African-American political leadership were listed as readings for students to research on their own, seemingly minimizing their importance. 

The syllabus also listed several documentaries and other R-rated movies including, “Do the Right Thing,” a fictional movie by Spike Lee about a race-based neighborhood clash that ends in a melee after police choke a black man to death.

Radio Raheem and Doughboy  aren’t historical figures. Yet they were to be taught in history?

The characters in those films - Radio Raheem and Doughboy -  aren’t historical figures. Yet they were to be taught in history? 

I have never seen my kid’s U.S. history class devote an entire unit to gangs and prison or movies about them. There are no showings of “The Godfather” or “The Untouchables” in American history class, to my knowledge. 

I had to wonder: Was this class being taken seriously? Or was this an example of why less than a third of students in Michigan pass the state social studies test?  

Nowhere were there planned classroom lessons on other seminal events of the past 50 years, from the fight over school busing and affirmative action to the rise of African-Americans as a political force ‒ those were merely optional research topics for students. 

While reading my son’s text, I could feel my face get warm as my blood pressure rose. All I could think was, “What kind of miseducational nonsense is this?” 

In fact, there’s a lot of miseducation when it comes to teaching social studies, including African-American history, in Michigan.

Black History Syllabus from Groves High School in Birmingham. ​

As shown by last year’s controversy over proposed changes to statewide social studies standards, few academic issues as are volatile as what’s taught – and what’s not – in those classes. A furor erupted after Bridge Magazine reported that conservatives led by then-state Sen. Patrick Colbeck proposed removing references to gay rights, Roe v. Wade and climate change from state standards that set expectations for what students are to learn in each grade.

The proposed social studies changes also downplayed the role of the NAACP in history and claimed the Ku Klux Klan was “founded as an anti-Republican organization and not an anti-black organization.”

After a series of public meetings and pushback from state school board member, the state went back to the drawing board to revise the revisions.

When it comes to African-American history, the 72-page Michigan high school social studies standards guide uses the term “African-American” three times, listing that students should know about the Trans-African and Trans-Atlantic slave trade, post-Civil War struggles and civil rights movement.

The standards list nothing about what students need to know about African-American history post-civil rights movement.

Which may help to explain how my son, a senior at Groves, and daughter, a sophomore, ended up in a class where the teacher presented a thin list of lesson plans to cover the past 50 years of African-American history and used fictional movies as a teaching tool.

Over the course of two weeks following my kids’ first day, students, staff and parents - including me - voiced concerns about the class and the teacher’s comments. Students say the teacher, who is white, used the N- word in recounting dialogue from a racial incident he had witnessed. I had vigorous debate with a few teachers and parents over when, whether and how the word can be used in historical or educational context.

Ultimately, the overriding complaint about the movies on the syllabus led the district to replace the African-American history class syllabus, and another teacher took over the course.

“Administration took steps to ensure that the course revisions submitted in August were implemented as approved and consistent with our culturally responsive teaching practices,” Anne Cron, spokeswoman for Birmingham Public Schools, wrote in an email.

I’m sure Birmingham Public Schools would like for that to be the end of it.

But as Black History Month unfolds this month and schools ramp up teaching about the subject, there’s still plenty of disagreement across the state and nation about how best to teach the subject.

Should African-American history lessons focus on the struggles such as slavery and the civil rights movement but not also give greater attention to the accomplishments of African Americans?

Some teachers suggest that focusing heavily on the oppression of African Americans is a limited approach that boosts the myth of white superiority.

Carter G. Woodson is the founder of Black History Month and author of “The Miseducation of the Negro.”

“If you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race,” Carter G. Woodson wrote in “The Miseducation of the Negro.” He founded Negro History Week, a precursor to Black History Month.

“Such an effort would upset the program of the oppressor.”

Then there’s the question of whether African-American history is mistaught in general history classes. Only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors in a survey last year listed slavery as the root cause of the Civil War. Another U.S. survey showed 40 percent of Republicans said schools teach too much black history.

How we teach in Michigan

We can do better. We have to.

In Michigan, test scores for fifth-graders in social studies –  which includes history –  were the worst among all subjects, with less than a third of students showing proficiency in social studies.

The Michigan Department of Education sets general standards but allows local school districts to determine how to meet them, said Linda Forward, senior executive policy adviser to the agency.

Michigan’s social studies standards broadly list topics teachers should cover. But individual districts decide what resources and lessons to use. The Michigan Department of Education doesn’t even track what classes, such as African-American history, schools choose to teach, making it difficult to gauge how the subject is taught around the state.

State standards recommend teachers use primary and secondary sources to teach about African-American history, such as letters, diaries, maps, documents, narratives, pictures, graphic data. The standards even recommend the use of historical stories and videos to describe ways people can learn about the past.

Nowhere does the state recommend using fictional movies - like “Boyz n the Hood” -  to teach history.

Teachers typically are given academic freedom to craft lessons based on students’ needs, Forward said. But, she added, “I can’t tell you what any one district is doing versus another one. We leave that in the hands of the local school district.”

The Michigan Department of Education is now working on updating standards for what the state expects children to know in social studies, including the history of race, religion, politics and gender identity. It could take as many as five years to update the state’s social studies standards and develop and implement a new test, Forward said.

Michigan is not alone in its struggle to teach social studies, or African-American history.

Most states do a “woefully” inadequate job of teaching about African-American history, specifically civil rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in a 2014 report. The report gave 20 states, including Michigan, an “F” for failing to integrate essential information into the social studies curriculum.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., historian and Harvard University professor, wrote in the report that the history of race and African-Americans must be elevated in schools nationwide.

“Want to have a meaningful ‘conversation about race?’” he wrote. “That conversation, to be effective and to last, to become part of the fabric of the national American narrative, must start in elementary school, and continue all the way through graduation from high school. It must do this in the same way that the story of the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the ‘City Upon a Hill’ and the key, shaping stories and myths about ourselves were formulated for us through the school curriculum.”

Jamon Jordan, president of the Detroit branch of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, said the way Birmingham handled an African-American history class shows how the subject is often “ghettoized.”

Jamon Jordan, who taught school for 20 years and is president of the Detroit branch of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History founded by Carter G. Woodson, says more schools will have to deal with racial topics as the suburbs become more diverse.

I shared with him my children’s syllabus and he questioned several topics on it –  as well as how social issues are taught generally in Michigan schools.

“Sadly, these districts don’t know what to do with these black people coming to their districts,” Jordan said. “And even in an African-American history class, (African-American history) gets marginalized and pushed to fringes and ghettoized.”

My kid was called the n-word  

In the 10 years my kids have attended Birmingham Public Schools, a district that is 78 percent white, they have experienced racism.

White kids have called each of them the N-word more than once; “Khalil is a (N word)” was written on the elementary school bathroom wall in pencil when my son was in fifth grade. Last year, a girl in my daughter’s class told this joke:

“Why don’t more African-Americans have PhDs? They’re too busy working for their masters.”

It’s not just Birmingham.

In December, a student left a noose in the boys’ locker room in Troy. Last fall, a white assistant principal was suspended after she said the Farmington Harrison High cheerleaders, who were mostly African-American, looked like strippers.  A few years ago, a Bloomfield Hills teen videotaped other students calling him racial slurs on a school bus.

The list goes on.

But to me, the syllabus in my kids’ African-American history class and the statewide social studies debate are in some ways worse than the racist attacks of children. This class and, by extension, the statewide social studies debate and abysmal test scores are part of the reason our kids not only fail social studies tests, but engage in socially unacceptable behavior.

We are miseducating children.

I would expect social studies courses that respectfully teach history will go a long way in teaching sensitivity and reducing racist incidents.

Arthur Jack, leader of the Birmingham African-American Family Network, a group that advocates to reduce the achievement gap between white and black students, said the district should have explained plans to prevent objectionable content from reaching the classroom moving forward. 

“Problems will reoccur without an accountable systematic approach that leads to closure,” said Jack, whose daughter is in the African-American history class. “I expect similar problems to recur at some point in the future.”

What’s a parent to do when sensitive issues like this arise?

Send a copy of “Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line,” by Michael Eric Dyson, renowned academic who is a native of Detroit, to every social studies teacher?

Lobby for all teachers to get cultural competency training?

Start a hugging campaign?

The moral of the story is, in order to properly educate our children we need to be unafraid of tough conversations.

We need to take racial, cultural, gender and religious competency in our classroom lessons and among our teachers seriously.

We all live in a community where we do not have open dialog about the historical context of race ‒ or gender or religion or politics.

Until we can take these issues seriously starting with honestly tackling the shortcomings within our education system, our social studies scores will continue to tank, our children will continue to display bigoted behavior and our students will continue to be miseducated.

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Comments

Don
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 8:38am

First the Democrates need to take to court the fact that the republicans under Snyder the Snake took money from OUR public schools and illegally gave it to privet schools... Second they need to stop all that BS testing third state teaching again handwriting, Math, government world history, they will have the time AGAIN by stop teaching the kids to take them BS tests!!!

Emily
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 9:00am

Thank you for bringing this up! I wholly concur that we are dis-servicing our children about the engagement of all races and religions in most public schools. I find there is much I try to teach at home and we have done both parochial and public schools.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 9:09am

I'm actually surprised that there is no mention of figures like Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglas or even Dr. Ben Carson in the syllabus above.

Politics?

Joanne Jacobs
Thu, 02/28/2019 - 2:44pm

Frederick Douglass is mentioned in the syllabus, though misspelled.

When I was in (Jewish) Sunday School, years ago, I complained that Jewish history was taught as consecutive oppression, massacre and exile, over and over. It was depressing. Jewish history wasn't taught at all in K12, except for a brief mention of the Holocaust. (We tended to run out of time and whip through World War II in a day, another day for the Cold War, and then review for the final. This was the '60s; there was less history then.)

Sharron
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 10:29am

This is why I have a problem with Black History month focusing on "The first African-American to...," because, without background information, it could perpetuate the stereotype of inferiority.

Cindy
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 11:07am

Maybe for women's history, they could show "Thelma and Louise"! A book a high school class might consider is the recently published "The Color of Law," which is a history of how government decisions enabled and perpetuated segregation. "The Warmth of Other Suns" is perfect for a high school history class - an amazing and extremely readable book about the Great Migration. There's also "Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires." Ambitious students might try "The American Slave Coast" or "The Half Has Never Been Told." "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom" could be an extra credit assignment (it's really long). And this, of course, just scratches the surface.

zooman
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 11:25am

There also needs to be a lot more teaching about the history of racism and the numerous laws and policies that effectively isolated and marginalized African-Americans, starting with Reconstruction and the ultimately successful resistance to it, with particular emphasis on the reaction of northern and western states and cities to the Great Migration, including the redlining that effectively made it all but impossible for blacks to live or own a home anywhere other than a segregated neighborhood. I am old enough to remember Little Rock, and while I grew up with a strong awareness of the violent response in the south to integration, I had no idea of the impact that de jure and de facto segregation had in the rest of the country, including my home state. I don't dispute for a minute that it is essential to make all students aware of the positive achievements of African-Americans, but for students to fully understand black history, the whole ugly picture of our country's racial history must be presented , including the actions of public and private entities, whose impacts are still being felt.

George
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 3:02pm

I am retired from teaching for 34 years in a variety of schools throughout the state that were either predominantly white, predominantly black, or diverse. Each year a few instructors took it upon themselves to set the course for black history month at the schools. Some years were better than others (my opinion), but each year they seemed to miss the mark in getting the student body to embrace the intent of honoring black history. Not the students' fault, I feel , but rather there is a lack of will among lawmakers, administration, staff to make the month as meaningful as possible. The article was right on the mark. Let us do better.

Tracey
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 5:22pm

I am not surprised!!! A couple of years ago, I took a job teaching 5th/6th grade in Novi and for the entire 28 days of February there were no mentions of Black History over the PA announcements. None!!! No school tribute or school program-Nothing! I then decided to question if something was in the works in an email to the female principal, my direct supervisor, and the Human Resource Supervisor (although she hired me, I think she was an assistant supervisor actually). Although, I was far from surprised that the email went totally unresponded. I quit the following month. Consequently, I attended a job fair perhaps a month later at WSU. During an interview for a position in Birmingham with a female Elementary principal on-site, I was more strategic in the questions I asked about race relations and if her school hired minorities because I didn't want to be the only black face I saw daily ever again without being certain there were no race issues to contend with as that was nothing short of horrific. I kid you not, she said something along the lines of, "I typically hire people that represent the student population in front of them." Chasity, I must admit, I thought about snatching my application back out of her hand right then and there. I promise you on Jesus that I couldn't get back to teaching in Detroit fast enough. We have a real problem out here and it doesn't look like it's going away any time soon. That is why, this year my students are focusing on past and present Civil Rights Activist as our Black History theme. Well done sister! "Fight the Power!"

Anon
Fri, 02/22/2019 - 3:44pm

I work in the Birmingham district and hired in part because I had worked on diversity in my previous job. I think you mistook what the interviewer said. Just at Groves high school, 3 out of 4 of our top administrators, including the principal, are African american and, as the poulation of students are over 1/3rd African American, so too are our staff. More diverse than many other schools nearby.

Anonymous
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 5:49pm

I thank the author, and Bridge Magazine, for this story. It's so very sad and entirely needless for any school to treat such an anti-intellectual and bogus "syllabus" as a genuine class in African American history.

Xio
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 8:33am

Don’t get me wrong, Birmingham School District has much to offer. However, as a parent, unfortunately I know Groves High School (along with the entire District) has a long way to go when it comes to truly welcoming, appreciating, respecting & valuing DIVERSITY. This is a prime example. SMH Thank you for this great article!

Frank Koob
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 9:16am

So much is taught in between the lines of syllabus guidelines by excellent teachers who know their students and bring out the best in them. So much has learned outside of the 45-minute class and that is where real attitudes can be discovered. Don't disregard the optional and required outside or homework reading. Or is the word homework also a bad word that can't be mentioned in this day and age. You don't know how good a teacher is by looking at the required syllabus. I know this because I was in education for 50 plus years. My wife Nan was a specialist in working with black students in all black private high school. Her history of America from an African-American perspective was to die for. Students during their free periods would come sit in on her class. If my wife were alive today she would write an essay in response to this opinion article. You know how good our teacher is by looking at her students 10 and 20 years later. If parents should have difficult conversations, why shouldn't they be had in the classroom among students as well. Teachers aren't just there to give input. Sometimes a piece of fiction brings out the honest conversation among students better than anything else. I know this as an English major. Sorry for the random comments. You can put it all together somehow yourself. I'm just too upset to do that myself.

Mary Brown
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 12:10pm

You need to get your facts straight before you put the Harrison High Assistant Principal in the same category as the person who hung a noose in the boys' bathroom or those who called racial slurs on the bus. This administrator has a history of working selflessly for ALL the students in this diverse high school. She is guilty of making an inappropriate remark, yes, but many share the opinion that the cheerleaders' dance was highly inappropriate. (And who says strippers must be black? Why is that a racial slur?) In addition, after this incident, the accusation was made that this administrator discriminated against African American students in enforcing the dress code. An extensive investigation found this to be untrue, and the administrator was cleared completely. Again, be careful, not careless, before you make statements like this. You're a journalist, and should know better.

Saddened
Sat, 02/23/2019 - 9:53am

Thank you for your comment regarding the incident at Harrison High School. Without further explanation of the situation, the reference should not have been used as a comparison to racial injustice. When girls pull dollar bills out of their tops during a school pep rally , what else would one perceive?

Ambra Redrick
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 4:21pm

I applaud the "New Jim Crow" as required reading. All kids should understand the impact of mass incarceration. Its the only way to keep pushing for criminal justice reform.

Mary Brown
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 9:44am

This article makes some important points and could result in better teaching. I am disturbed, however, by the casual reference to the Harrison High School administrator who was placed on temporary administrative leave for her remark about the cheerleaders. As a journalist, you should get your facts straight before impugning someone's character. In no way should this incident be linked in the same paragraph with a noose left hanging in a locker room or racial slurs delivered on a bus. This administrator has worked selflessly for the good of ALL Harrison students, and many at the school were devastated by the way she was punished for one remark. (And why is calling someone a stripper considered racist? Aren't there white strippers, too?) Many were also of the opinion that the cheerleaders' dance was highly inappropriate. The administrator was thoroughly investigated by the district and aside from this remark, she was completely cleared of any other evidence of discrimination. Please, please be careful in your reporting.

A Black Educato...
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 3:39pm

This is a well-written and much-needed article. I think this conversation is way overdue, not just for Birmingham Schools, but Oakland County schools as a whole. Oakland County is becoming much more diverse, and while I am happy to see some schools are making attempts to embrace the diversity, we must be intentional with the material we select to instruct our students, especially our marginalized students. Again, this is not just a Birmingham issue, this is occurring in all of Oakland County. Let's continue to embrace diversity and give African American students and courses the same fidelity we give to non-minority subjects and students.

Birm. Resident
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 9:59pm

It has been 55 years since the Civil Rights Act, and over 155 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. It is no longer a matter of political oppression. It is rather a problem of people groups grudgingly refusing to assimilate.
America is clearly a diverse nation, but bitterness and violence ensue when cultures refuse to assimilate into the proverbial "melting pot." And let's be clear, the "pot" is no longer lily white, and hasn't been for scores. The more that people inter-marry, the more glaringly irrelevant that forced ethnic divisions become--as if there really were such a thing as a homogeneous "White" or "Black" or "Hindu" or "Muslim" culture. When White-Americans, Black-Americans, Latino-Americans, Arab-Americans, etc willingly relinquish the American "qualifiers," the nation will begin to heal and make progress by focusing on those things that we have in common, instead of focusing on the diverse histories that perpetuate divisions among us. What marriage ever survived an incessant litany of past divisions? What parent-child relationship ever survived a non-stop barrage of how adults and kids are different? My guess is that the class syllabus was more so a product of a cultural trend that propagates diversity through division instead of diversity through common goals. There's a big difference.

Jeff
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 10:50pm

Send your kids to private school if you don’t like the education.

Racism will not end because people like this author continues to talk about it

Parent at Birm
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 5:26pm

Birmingham schools is considered as good or better than many private schools, and parents like myself have had to move heaven and earth to get their child enrolled. Just a tidbit on BPS.

Crawdad
Mon, 03/04/2019 - 8:41am

Oh, please. You can rent an apartment in BPS for $800 a month, or buy a bungalow for 200k. You can go even cheaper in Southfield (a portion of which goes to BPS). You don't need to "move heaven and earth". Contrary to stereotype, most kids in BPS come from "normal" families.

And I'm a BPS parent, but no way is my kids' education comparable to that offered by Cranbrook or DCD.

Martin
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 11:26pm

Unfortunately, in Michigan there is little diversity. We were a State Department family for years and returned to the area 18 months ago. Rather than an influx of people, there are different groups, but overwhelmingly still Michiganders.
It's sad that Americans, not just grade school students, get most of their history input from Hollywood. Perhaps Mel Gibson could provide for Februaries in the future. Spectacularly inaccurate, still, but it should garner popular appeal.
There are documentaries such as MLK, no narrative, and a fabulous impact. And one of the things Detroit can boast is its rich music past and present, with Jazz, Motown, and Rap. Jazz and Blues chart a joyous progression from the Delta to the Canadian border, moving to opportunities, creating better lives.
Put the facts out there. If students are better marshaled at school generally, they'll be more than capable of joining the dots and making better sense than the generation that preceded them.

Nefertari Nkenge
Fri, 02/22/2019 - 9:11am

I am so sorry, although not at all surprised by the inept curriculum, culturally insensitive teaching and abject racist micro aggressions that your children have faced in school in an affluent district of Birmingham, MI. We must indeed train ALL teachers in cultural competency and significantly alter the content and design of the national curriculum (I am a fierce proponent of such efforts here in MI). Thank you for your honest albeit troubling personal testimony and please reference my educational blog, featuring my most recent post on the failure of BHM instructional design and instruction here in MI. https://educatetoliberate.blog/

mcodom
Fri, 02/22/2019 - 12:28pm

Would it have been a monumental task to consult with the many Black History and African American History scholars at universities throughout Michigan ( if not the country) to develop a meaningful, balanced and accurate syllabus teaching students about the African American experience from slavery to chief executivie of the USA?

Birm. Resident
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 9:17pm

@mcodom. Excellent observation and suggestion for the Teaching and Learning Department to heed as a best practice for syllabi development.

Oakland
Tue, 03/12/2019 - 11:36am

Funny, now that the whole truth has come out, that's EXACTLY what this HIGHLY-QUALIFIED instructor did when he DEVELOPED this course because he SAW A NEED.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 10:04am

I don't get it. If you look at all of the readings, not just the last 3, it seems to me like a balanced syllabus. It includes Before the Mayflower, Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King, W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and The New Jim Crow is very appropriate. Even the white writers Stamp and Zinn have important writings on the subject. With all of the readings and not knowing how the instructor emphasizes or skims over what material, just the syllabus doesn't really tell us much. I would certainly add Frederick Douglas, and Octavia Butler's Kindred. You just can't read or watch all the great African American authors in one course. I'm guessing there is more to this journalist's issues that she is telling us.

James Gilbert
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 11:49am

Agreed

S Craig
Tue, 02/26/2019 - 9:54am

You are write. This writer is not being honest and I’ve written a response to set the record straight. Hopefully the editor has the guts to publish the response.

Denise
Tue, 02/26/2019 - 11:46am

I was shocked when I read this article. I personally know the teacher who was removed from teaching this class. He created this class so students could learn about the history of oppression and the deep roots of racism. He has spent his life fighting against racism and for equality for the black community. He grow up with 2 parents that were very involved in the Civil Rights movement and inherited their passion for social injustice. The way he is protrayed in this article, is if he is a racist , which is totally opposite of the truth. He had a conversion with the writer explaining his background, that he has a masters in African-American history and has fought most of his life for equality for blacks. Yet she chose to ignore these facts. Just because he’s white, does not make him unqualified to teach a African-American class?
What’s the author’s real agenda here? I don’t think she is being honest and fair.

at the board meeting
Wed, 02/27/2019 - 4:36pm

After being at the school board meeting last night, and hearing a few different perspectives including the teacher's, I tend to agree that either there is more to this situation that is being left out, or the teacher really is being thrown under the bus for some reason. He might have made some mistakes with the syllabus--I don't want my kid watching R-rated movies--but this guy seems to have dedicated most of his life to social justice causes. I think he even got an advanced degree in African-American studies. Also, the Union has been pretty quiet on this one too. I for one am going to reserve judgement, until more facts--and less opinion--come out.

George
Sun, 03/17/2019 - 2:42pm

I have known Scott Craig since the 1970s at WSU and worked with him on activist projects then in Detroit and through the 1980s and early 1990s. And though we are not personally close these days, I know that he was always an active and sophisticated race justice ally, and also a great teacher on these subjects and who inspired and changed a lot of hearts and minds. Given all the great stuff on the syllabus, including Michelle Alexander's NEW JIM CROW (which does not tell us HOW the class will be taught, which is critical) and the teacher's training and history (which does give an idea of how it will be taught), it really is a shame that the parents didn't have the kind of tough and honest conversation the writer claims to desire, and then give the kids a chance to work it out by having their own.

S Craig
Thu, 02/28/2019 - 10:38am

As for the question of showing R rated movies; the Birmingham district policy is that instructors can propose to show R rated movies in high school, but parents have to sign a written consent. In the case of the African American History class 2 other R rated films were approved to be shown, Glory (about the first all African American regiment that saw direct cation in the Civil War), and 12 Years a Slave. All parents turned signed consent for their children to see these films.

at the board meeting
Fri, 03/01/2019 - 4:17pm

Thanks for the clarification on the R-rated movies. Understood. I think for this whole situation to make more sense to the public, though, we would need to know the proverbial "rest of the story," which most of us probably will never hear. The whole thing just does not add up, based only on what the author wrote, compared to what you stated in your defense at the board meeting. Hopefully, we can all work through this with integrity, humility, and honesty for the betterment of all :)

Susan Corgiat M...
Sat, 03/02/2019 - 11:44am

I always am suspect when parents go straight to the top instead of acknowledging that this is a pilot course where parental input to improve the class could have been valuable. This should have been a collaborative moment instead of an antagonist one. The teacher has a degree in African American history, and is certainly not ignorant of how this subject could draw criticism. I am a graduate of Groves High School and spent my career teaching at the high school level and retired three years ago. I am puzzled as to how this well meaning and experienced educator was ending his career being demonized instead of heralded for identifying a hole in the curriculum and trying to remedy it. I agree that a course of this historical importance is decades overdue. Stop arguing about the content of the course and take action. Parents, students and educators can work together when given the opportunity. As a curriculum writer of many years, I know that no course will satisfy all; any effort should be viewed as a work in progress. I read comments on this debate in another publication earlier today and was sickened by so many of the ignorant and racist tropes that are still spewed 50 years after my graduation from Groves. I really thought we had evolved by now.

Jackie
Tue, 03/12/2019 - 10:17pm

Absolutely right about the problem you described - except that you misrepresented and undermined a teacher trying to SOLVE that very problem. I took this teacher's "critical issues" class as an elective at Seaholm years ago and it was the best history class I took before college, covering many controversial topics no other teacher was brave enough to touch, and did so in a thoughtful, respectful, and fair manner. I learned more about my own city the "Rise and Fall of Detroit" than I had in the previous 17 years of my life, and our field trip downtown opened my eyes beyond the "Birmingham bubble". I read this syllabus and it looks equally thoughtful. In particular, the third section appears representive of the issues that have affected a majority of African Americans in the last few decades: white flight and the decline of the city center, police brutality, mass incarceration, etc. This class was filling a gap in the the typical history curriculum that does not get much past WWII (and definitely not past the civil Rights movement in the 60s) with what is presumably an elective (and not a core history class required of all students). Not to mention, it's entirely inappropriate that your high school age child texted you during class during a non-emergency. If you don't want your under 18 child watching an R-rated movie, that's one thing. But it's shameful that this teacher has been removed from teaching a class he recognized was missing, and built himself. If your kid didn't want to take it, find another class - don't ruin it for everyone.

J. P.
Wed, 03/13/2019 - 9:58am

Thanks so much for your perspective! As a resident in West Michigan and mother of grade-school aged children, I'm reminded that I have to be all-the-more diligent in teaching at home what is not taught elsewhere! I'd encourage you to check out the following article and connect: Patrice Johnson is from West Michigan, but living in Detroit and leading a local youth-based non-profit there. Her work is inspiring and relevant to your topic! https://www.cornerstone.edu/news/rebuilding-the-classroom-edd-student-ad...

Kwagmyr
Wed, 03/13/2019 - 1:53pm

Please, PLEASE learn the difference between "use" and "reference". The "N-word" is not a magic word, those syllables have no power outside of the social context in which they are uttered. It is ludicrous for adults to have to tiptoe around even referring to a word, total madness.

Paul C
Wed, 03/13/2019 - 9:34pm

Did the Author talk to the teacher first before she put the Educator on blast? Some of her students experiences have nothing to do with the class, so its hard to see what the oppression and I'm saying that as a person of color. He is hitting the history that isn't really taught in this country. A parent is entitled to her opinion I guess, however misguided.

JML
Wed, 03/13/2019 - 10:47pm

I applaud Chastity Pratt Dawsey’s BRIDGE Opinion Piece “The Miseducation of Michigan: how state fails kids in black history" (February 19,2019). Indeed, the class Syllabus she discusses in the article is remarkable for its lack of intellectual depth, its shuttered single-mindedness and trivializing facts in favor of “creative" fiction(movies). And I agree with her statement: "We need to take racial, cultural, gender and religious competency in our classroom lessons and among our teachers seriously."
I just read the BRIDGE Guest Commentary response (March 12, 2019) by the Syllabus’ organizer Michigan teacher Scott Craig and was struck by yet another disturbing aspect of Mr. Craig’s viewpoint.
Scott Craig (who self-identifies as a “white guy” in the Guest Commentary) rails against teaching “...a sanitized version of history; one that excludes events they find controversial or uncomfortable. “ He states that he has chosen to “ ….combat prejudices in our society” and has “… selected the best, most challenging readings ‒ such as works by Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois as having something to say to his students about African American History …” along with films such as “Boyz in the Hood” which was written and directed by John Singleton and starring Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut and Laurence Fishburne. There is a a passing reference that Rosa Parks along with Martin Luther King, Jr. are mentioned in the curriculum. He also notes in passing that some teachers are even becoming anxious about teaching “classic literature” like “Huck Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” Mr. Craig concludes with a quote from "Jelani Cobb, an African-American writer for The New Yorker” : “The problem with sanitizing black history is that we really neuter it of its usefulness in the present.”
I note that Mr. Craig chose Mr. Cobbs’ statement about “neuterizing” history in railing against prejudice in society but has failed to notice that his list of “the best” and “challenging” writers and creative persons are male - not a single African American woman. The one female author ( novelist Harper Lee) is mentioned only as of interest to teachers who choose to teach “classics". Not a single African-American female writer or historian or activist or creative person is identified a being worthy of teaching . He must not be aware of, or worse, find "controversial or uncomfortable”, the he can just dismiss the work of women like Pauli Murray, Septima Clark, Lorraine Hansberry, Ida Wells-Barnett, Mary Mcleod Bethune, Dorothy Haight, Zora Neale Hurston, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Ella Baker, ETC ETC ETC
And since Mr. Craig stresses that he is a historian, he might even ponder the irony that he has chosen to publish such a defense of “..a sanitized version of history” during “Women’s History Month”.

WR
Thu, 03/14/2019 - 10:29pm

The author’s son sneaks out a fearful text to mom 15 minutes into the first day of class about the syllabus?? This speaks volumes about our inability to dialogue about vital issues, about encouraging our children to develop independent thinking and to trust the process of meaningful face-to-face interactions.

Her shotgun journalism then tries to condemn a teacher NOT dedicated to whitewashing history? Did she wear a MAGA cap when writing this hit job on a teacher who disagrees with her sanitized views on teaching? Novels, poetry, film and art have been a part of historical studies for decades, but Ms. Dawsey seems dedicated only to dumbing down and numbing down the curriculum. Good grief.

George
Sun, 03/17/2019 - 2:54pm

"These were the planned classroom topics the teacher listed to cover the past 50 years of African-American history: an R-rated fictional movie about gang banging, a documentary about gang banging and a reading on mass incarceration." As a teacher myself for over 30 years, I can see how a smart teacher would use the feature film to show how pop culture has distorted and glamorized the crime/gang phenomenon, the documentary to give a more historical view of the real damage, and Michelle Alexander's book on mass incarceration to show how the government and society have imposed a "New Jim Crow" for their own purposes. When you listen to much of the vile criminal ideation in hip hop these days that starts out vaguely political only to glorify and glamorize gang-banging, drugs, misogyny, and a decadent wealthy life (which all the kids are listening to but which harms African-American and Latinx kids the most), you might consider the usefulness of countering the glitz and dealing with the politics. I have a feeling the teacher was going to end up talking about the voting rights struggle, William Barber, and Black Lives Matter, even if he couldn't (and isn't supposed to) resolve them for the kids.

William R Boyer
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 9:57am

Ms. Pratt's silence over the recent passing of John Singleton quite deafening, despite numerous tributes from all over the nation about the landmark director. Wondering if she will now file additional article on his "gangbanging" films in another appeal for MAGA-like sanitized narratives, or maybe finally admit she made at least one serious error in condemning such an artist included in a high school African American history syllabus (taught by a highly qualified teacher).