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Reconstruction Reshaping Race Relations in the United States After the Civil War. A new report finds 45 countries are ‘failing’ to teach students about it

In the aftermath of the uprising a year ago on the U.S. Capitol, many leading historians drew parallels between the violence and the Age of Reconstruction, the period of political revolution directly after American Civil War.

“The events we saw remind me a lot of the Era of Reconstruction and its subversion, often accompanied or completed, I should say, with violent attacks on elected officials. ,” Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, speak in an interview with New Yorkers published a week later.
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Scholars say studying the aftermath of the Civil War can help put in the context of many of the most important events in the United States in recent years, from atrocities police kill George Floyd in 2020 arrive voter suppression law enacted after Black voters played a large role in getting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris elected President and Vice President in 2020. But despite the timeliness of the times in today’s climate, many students in American schools will not receive a full Reconstruction education until they enter college.

Read more: ‘The important race theory is simply the latest Bogeyman.’ Inside the Fight Over What Kids Learn About American History

In social studies standards for 45 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, discussion of Reconstruction is “partial” or “nonexistent,” according to historians who have examined how the period is discussed. discussion in the K-12 social studies standards for public schools. nationwide. In a report Conducted by the non-profit Zinn Education Project, the study’s authors say they are concerned that American children will grow up not knowing an important historical period that helps explain why Today, racial equality has not been realized.

(The Zinn Education Project, a website with free, downloadable lessons and articles on historical topics, is a huge development since 1980 by Howard Zinn. The People’s History of the United States, helped popularize the bottom-up approach to historical research and incorporate the often overlooked history of people of color.)


The Age of Reconstruction – roughly 1865-1877 – saw tremendous social, political, and economic growth as the United States struggled to rebuild society in the aftermath of the Civil War. During this period, three constitutional amendments were ratified: the 13th Amendment (1865), abolishing slavery; The 14th Amendment (1868), designed to ensure equality before the law; and the 15th Amendment (1870), prohibiting discrimination in voting “on the grounds of race.” These advances helped facilitate the proliferation of Black office workers and Black voters.

Freedmen's Office School in Richmond
Universal History Archive / Universal Image Group / GettyA Liberal Bureau school in Richmond, Virginia, 1866. Enemies of the Reconstruction of the South burned many of these schools.

But in the late 1870s, the federal government withdrew from its role in helping to enforce Reconstruction policies, following an agreement struck by MPs to settle the disputed election year. 1876, in which Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes won the presidency in exchange for eliminating federal troops in the South. Implementation of Reconstruction policies was left to state and local governments, paving the way for Jim Crow-era state segregation laws to not be declared unconstitutional for about a century.

Read more: How Reconstruction Still Shapes Racism in America

For Zinn’s Education Project report, historians Ana Rosado, Gideon Cohn-Postar, and Mimi Eisen assessed the state’s social studies standards by looking for inclusion of notable moments of the Reconstruction Period. Their criteria ranged from guidance about local governments denying Blacks the ability to own land to violence perpetrated by white extremist terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.

(Among the most relevant expressions the researchers found were in the Georgia 8th grade social studies standards, which expect students to “Compare and contrast the goals and outcomes of the Freedmen Office and the Ku Klux Klan,” hints at moral equivalence between the two.)

They were looking for mention of the Office of the Freed, which was established to provide aid to the 4 million people formerly enslaved after the Civil War; for stories about blacks campaigning for political participation and founding clubs like the Union Leagues; to discuss the power of Northern industrialists in the South and the struggle of blacks for land and labor rights. And they want to see the legacies of Reconstruction dealt with, such as Reconstruction-era schools as the basis for public education today, more seriously, like the legacy of Jim’s racism. Crow in controlling policing and prisons and disparities in health, wealth, and housing.

In general, the researchers establish K-12 social standards do not cover most of these topics. In interviews, teachers said they had hardly learned about this period on their own and would need more professional development to feel comfortable teaching in-depth about this period. Educators are also concerned that recent changes to state laws Prohibition of teaching “divisive concepts” would limit the guide to the full history of apartheid in America.

Read more: From teacher to supervisor, meet the educators who saved a pandemic school year

“The message is that the education system in this country is not teaching enough about Reconstruction and everyone can do better,” said Eisen. “We hope to encourage readers to advocate for more attention to Reconstruction and K-12 curriculum in the classroom.”

While many states expect students to know why Reconstruction failed, the report doesn’t focus on the era’s successes — or efforts to help ensure black Americans can become full citizens. Scholars say that viewing Reconstruction solely by its failure is a dilemma. The researchers also found that standards tend to focus on events at the federal level, presidential and congressional actions, which can deflect teaching about white people’s actions at a cost are stories of resiliency among black Americans, whether at the community level — with building mutual aid organizations and church communities — or involving individuals like Octavius ​​Catto in Philadelphia, who fought against discrimination in baseball and shoot dead in 1871 after helping organize voter registration drives.

Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle high school teacher and Zinn Education Project employee who helped develop the report, says Black progress in Reconstruction is key to envisioning a future more equitable future. As he explains the significance of the report, “If children don’t grow up learning the incredible strides that have been made in that time period, it is hard to imagine freedom today. And that’s what I think we lose if we don’t teach it properly.”

https://time.com/6128421/teaching-reconstruction-study/ Reconstruction Reshaping Race Relations in the United States After the Civil War. A new report finds 45 countries are ‘failing’ to teach students about it

Aila Slisco

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