Michael Charney: Labor, Education, and Community Activist

Michael Charney with SNCC veteran and Hands on the Freedom Plow editor Judy Richardson.

Education activist Michael Charney is a key strategist and supporter of the Zinn Education Project’s campaign to Teach Reconstruction. Charney argues that in these times, it is critically important to teach about the vision offered by the interracial coalition during the Reconstruction era that brought public education, the right to vote, and other progressive laws to people of all races.

Fiercely dedicated to the cause of young people learning about Reconstruction, Charney donated in 2016 for the development and promotion of lessons and workshops on Reconstruction. Once those caught on, he suggested we move from providing resources for individual teachers to ensuring that Reconstruction was embedded in the curriculum. Towards that end, he provided the core funding for a national report on teaching about Reconstruction. The Zinn Education Project released this comprehensive, two-year study of state standards in January 2022.

Michael Charney and CJ Prentiss with statue of Thaddeus Stevens, April 2, 2022 in Gettysburg. Photo by Larry Miller.

Charney’s dedication to this topic is evident in how he pursues every avenue possible to make sure people learn about Reconstruction, including this example about Reconstruction era Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens. He explains:

We named our dog Thaddeus. When I walked my dog, people would ask me what’s the name, and I’d say, “Thaddeus.”

When they looked puzzled, I would say, “named for Thaddeus Stevens.”

“Who’s that?” they would ask.

There was my opening to enlighten them about Stevens, with his unflinching commitment to both racial equality and economic equality for the newly freed people.

More recently, Charney is a major funder for the Gettysburg statue of Thaddeus Stevens, dedicated in April of 2022.  

Education Policy and Practice Advocate

Cynthia Triplett (concerned parent), C. J. Prentiss (school board), Michael Charney (teacher), and Javier Rosa (student) at a public forum on education in Cleveland in 1987. Used with permission of The Plain Dealer.

Charney has been a passionate educator, political strategist, and labor organizer his whole life, committed to ensuring his students and his community learn the truth about U.S. history and have a voice in their own education. He worked for more than three decades in the Cleveland Schools — as a public school social studies teacher, and vice president of the Cleveland Teachers’ Union. Charney also was the professional issues director of the union, working to improve student literacy. He was one of the founders of the Cleveland Teachers Academy, a professional development project.

Author

Also an author, Charney wrote curriculum guides to support student organizing, including Fulfilling the Promise of America: The Struggle for Voting Rights, The Minimum Wage and the Youth Vote, and The Present as History: A Look into the Origins of the Cleveland School Desegregation Case.

In 2021, he co-edited the Rethinking Schools book Teacher Unions and Social Justice: Organizing for the Schools and Communities Our Students Deserve. Here are additional articles by Charney.

Join Michael Charney

Charney inspired Pat Michelsen and Eric Dean to put up a matching grant for the Reconstruction campaign.

The Zinn Education Project needs additional support to distribute this report and to develop more people’s history lessons on Reconstruction. Join Michael Charney with a donation today and note Reconstruction in the dedications box.

Share a story, question, or resource from your classroom.

Your email address will not be published.