Every week we hear from people who say, “I am not a teacher, how can I promote people’s history in schools?”
In response, we compiled this list of various ways to support and advocate for the teaching of people’s history in K-12. We update the list periodically with specific campaigns, such as the one referenced further below in Arkansas.
Sign a Petition to School Boards on Reconstruction
The Reconstruction era is full of powerful examples of how interracial grassroots alliances came together in the aftermath of the Civil War to redefine citizenship, expand voting rights, and change laws that institutionalized discrimination. The centuries-long struggle for the vote is similarly powerful and inspiring, and necessary, as voter suppression once again corrupts our electoral process.
Yet many in the United States don’t understand this history — or how they, too, can work toward a more perfect union — because it is often left out or rushed through in textbooks, curricula, and classrooms. Students exposed to this history at all are often given an imbalanced view that emphasizes the violent white supremacist backlash over the important victories of Black activists and their allies during Reconstruction.
This emphasis deprives students of the opportunity to appreciate and learn from the successes and examples of Reconstruction while simultaneously obscuring the causes of the Jim Crow regime that followed.
Sign this petition and join the more than 170 noted scholars of U.S. history who have signed an open letter with this same call, including Eric Foner, Ibram X. Kendi, Isabel Wilkerson, Bryan Stevenson, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Charles Payne, Kate Masur, James Loewen, Greg Carr, Keisha Blain, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, and Jeanne Theoharis.
Pledge to Participate in the Black Lives Matter at School Year of Purpose
The Black Lives Matter at School movement first started in Seattle during the fall of 2016. It spread to Philadelphia and by the 2017-2018 school year during the first week of February, thousands of educators around the United States wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school and taught lessons about structural racism, intersectional black identities, black history, and anti-racist movements for a nationally organized week of action: Black Lives Matter at School. This commitment to affirm the lives of Black students, teachers, and families has become an annual tradition in Seattle, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and beyond.
Attend School District Curriculum Review Sessions
Many school districts are in the midst of revising their standards and/or curriculum frameworks for social studies and other subjects. Those revisions usually require public comment. Contact your school board or school district to find out which standards are being revised and the process for public review and comment.
Be the voice in that process to insist that Black history is taught honestly and all year. Find your school district.
Defend Teaching Black History and the 1619 Project in Arkansas
In 2017, an Arkansas state legislator proposed a ban on the teaching of any books by Howard Zinn. Thanks to a powerful response by teachers across the state, the bill died in committee.
In January of 2021, two new bills were put forward in Arkansas to restrict teaching about race, class, solidarity, and the New York Times 1619 Project. Please call your representatives to counter these bills. Here is who to call.
Here are more ways to support the Zinn Education Project and people’s history teachers.