Detroit boosts civics course by including people of color and community history

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DDuring a social studies class at the all-girls Detroit International Academy, 10th graders learned last week that a historic student protest occurred in April 1966 at Detroit Northern High School.

The students took turns reading passages via laptop and discussing the incident with their teacher on Wednesday. They learned that northern students, who were black, were protesting what they described as inadequate educational resources at their school which had a white principal.

“Students refused to go through this type of treatment, said teacher Tal Levy. “Who wants to read the next paragraph titled “Student Requests”? »

“Some of the requests were to remove the principal,” replied one student. “Remove the policeman from campus, provide information on the school’s academic standards, and create a student-teacher council for the school.”

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The lesson is part of a new approach to teaching history at the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), the largest public school district in the state. For DPSCD, he uses a traditional approach of incorporating local history and municipal government into his high school civics course – but with more cultural inclusion and promotion of community engagement.

“The district’s mission focuses not only on education, but also on student empowerment and civic engagement,” said DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

Citizen Detroit partnered with the school district to revise its “Detroit: A Manual for Citizens,” a manual that hadn’t been updated in decades. The manual is available in print and electronic versions and can be taught via laptops and tablets.

Citizen Detroit is a nonprofit civic education organization that “focuses on educating Detroit residents about issues critical to our well-being; seek to increase civic literacy; and work to establish a standard of public accountability on the part of local and state elected leaders,” according to its website.

The Skillman Foundation, also a partner, helped fund the effort, which lasted just over two years.

The textbook and workbook were released in time for the 2021-2022 school year and used in all high school civics classes. Students spend approximately six weeks learning about local government.

“The idea is to give people a historical understanding of the function of city government and an understanding of each city department and how citizens can be engaged and their voices heard,” Sheila Cockrel said. , CEO of Citizen Detroit and former member of the Detroit City Council.

Civics is a one-semester stand-alone 10th grade course that is a Michigan Department of Education graduation requirement. In Detroit, materials related to civics are integrated into every grade, from kindergarten through high school, as required by Michigan grade and high school content expectations.

According to Elizabeth Triden of the DPSCD’s Office of Curriculum and Instruction, students learn about public policy issues and work to form their own opinions on those issues before they get to their civics class in grade 10. .

critical race theory

The DPSCD’s strengthened civic effort preceded Republicans in Michigan and across the country who attempted to ban critical race theory (CRT) in schools. CRT is a college-level theory that examines the systemic effects of white supremacy in America, but lawmakers have interjected the issue in K-12 policy debate.

House Bill 5097introduced by Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron), does not explicitly reference the CRT, but prohibits schools from teaching any curriculum that includes the “promotion of any form of racial or gender stereotyping or anything that might be understood as implicit race or gender stereotypes”.

Senate Bill 460,, introduced by State Senator Lana Theis (R-Brighton), explicitly prohibits “critical race theory” from being taught in schools and threatens to cut school funding by 5% if the state determines that he is breaking the law. The Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee, chaired by Theis, approved the bill last October.

Critical Race Theory threatens Michigan K-12 students with a dangerous false narrative about our country and its place in the world,” Theis said at the time. “This is an extreme political agenda that is manipulating academia and now targeting private businesses, public institutions and, sadly, our K-12 grades. Our schools should be teaching students the true history of our country, including its flaws. and its flaws, but most importantly the founding principles of this nation of individual liberty, freedom and equality that so many have given their lives to defend.Critical Race Theory is an affront to everything our country stands for. Our children should learn to respect each other equally because of their humanity, not to discriminate based on identity group or race.

Senator Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) called him a “short-sighted, inappropriate and corrupt bill”.

“This bill will have a profoundly crippling effect on education, our ability to foster talent development and career readiness for today’s young people in Michigan, which would ultimately – and negatively – impact the economic future of the state,” said Geiss, who is Afro-Latina, a parent of school-aged children and a former public school educator.

The Michigan State Board of Education past a resolution in January to postpone the CRT bills.

Address cultural diversity

For years, the DPSCD’s Department of Social Studies has published a book guiding students through the structure of Detroit’s government and “community citizenship.”

The book and corresponding civics course were taught in Detroit schools as early as 1938, and the last course was held in the late 1970s. The school district’s enrollment has been predominantly African American since 1963.

The 1968 manual, for example, spoke of Lewis Cass‘ as Governor of Michigan, but does not specify that he owned slaves.

The document points out that “every public school in Detroit has been open to children of all races since 1869,” but does not mention that Fannie Richards, a black woman, operated a private school for black children before 1869 and fought the school district all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court to racially integrate the school district. Willam Ferguson was among the first black students to attend the school district. In 1892 he became the first African American elected to the Michigan House of Representatives.

It also does not specify that the school board was all-white until Remus Robinson, a black doctor, was elected to the body in 1955. He does not mention that the school district did not have a black principal until Beulah Cain Brewer in 1947.

The new publication, “Citizen Manual Detroit,” is designed to help its users develop a deeper understanding of Detroit’s history, its government, the roles and responsibilities of government, and how the city’s citizens can work within government systems to provide currency.

It offers contributions from organizations such as the African-American-led Trade Union Leadership Council, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Westside Mothers, as well as Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (also known as LASED), Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (also known as ACCESS) and others.

“These organizations, and many others, were created by individuals and groups who identified needs within their respective communities and used civic engagement and civic action to address them,” says the new manual.

The new manual also includes passages that highlight African-American broadcast legends Martha Jean “The Queen” Steinberg; William V. Banks, the leader in launching WGPR-FM 107.5 radio and WGPR-TV 62, the first black-owned television station, as well as Haley Bell and Wendell Cox, who launched WCHB-AM radio 1440, the nation’s first black television station. -station founded in 1956 after applying for a federal license.

“The Citizen Handbook is a concrete example of [student empowerment and civic engagement]”, Vitti said. “By recognizing students’ expertise on the needs of their neighborhood, inspiring them with Detroit’s rich history of activism, and equipping them with concrete tools to get involved, students see themselves as leaders capable of building a stronger Detroit.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news outlets and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Susan Demas with questions: [email protected] Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.


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