BRATTLEBORO — Teachers are getting a chance to participate in a workshop aimed at uncovering what the Zinn Education Project calls “the hidden, bottom-up history” of the Reconstruction era.
“Reconstruction, the era immediately following the Civil War and emancipation, is full of stories that help us see the possibility of a future defined by racial equity,” the Zinn Education Project says. “Yet the promise of this era is too often overshadowed by the violent white supremacist backlash. Too often the story of this grand experiment in interracial democracy is skipped or rushed through or taught inaccurately.”
The workshop at Epsilon Spires from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday is geared toward middle and high school educators but all are welcome. Participants will engage in a series of classroom-friendly activities exploring the neglected history of the Reconstruction period and asking how the unfulfilled promises of Reconstruction might shape politics and American history education moving forward.
“Reconstruction represents a critical moment in US History,” said Daisha Brabham, workshop facilitator. “It sets the stage for the next century, not only for African Americans but the entire country. Whether that be the 14th amendment, the transition to new exploitive labor systems or how African Americans work together to build community in the aftermath of enslavement. As a teacher, it also provides a plethora of opportunities to get into rich discussions with students about a variety of different topics ranging from freedom and resistance to closure and accountability.”
Nataliya Braginsky, workshop facilitator, noted the importance of learning about the history as “the echoes of Reconstruction are ringing loudly across the country today.”
In the face of political backlash related to education, Braginsky said, “It has only become more important and more urgent to teach about Reconstruction. After all, it is this very history that helps us make sense of the political backlash we are currently experiencing.”
Jamie Mohr, executive director of Epsilon Spires, said her group is honored to bring the workshop to the region and have many educators from New England participate.
“Now is an incredibly important time to host this workshop as we see an increase of politicians exploiting the cultural divisions of our country by directly attacking educators and censoring libraries for giving students the access to learn about the full history of the United States and the diversity of human experiences,” she said. “If the far-right is at all successful in their attempts to willfully and actively promote ignorance over critical thinking, it will have grave implications for the future of American democracy, and for our right as parents to raise children who are empowered by information to be better equipped to think for themselves as individuals and participate in their communities as citizens. “
Tickets include lunch and a copy of “Teaching A People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War,” cost $35 per person and can be purchased at epsilonspires.org.
Zinnedproject.org offers free, downloadable lessons and articles organized by theme, time period, and grade level. Based on the approach to history highlighted in Howard Zinn’s best-selling book “A People’s History of the United States,” the materials emphasize the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history.
The Zinn Education Project has multiple campaigns including Teach Climate Justice, Teaching for Black Lives, Teaching Rosa Parks, Abolish Columbus Day and Teach Reconstruction.
Recently, the organization produced a national report, “Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle: How State Standards Fail to Teach the Truth About Reconstruction.” The report examines state standards, course requirements, frameworks and support for teachers in each state. It also includes stories about creative efforts by districts and/or individual teachers in each state to teach Reconstruction from “outside the textbook.”
“Historical connections to Reconstruction surround us today: the Movement for Black Lives, rising white supremacist violence, virulent voter suppression, multiracial movements to address policing and labor, political efforts to ban accurate history from classrooms, and racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality rates,” the report states. “The attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, symbolized by a Confederate flag waving in the Capitol, attempted to overturn the 2020 election results; in the 1870s, white supremacist terrorists throughout the South successfully defeated democracy and equality for more than a generation.”
Bethany Hobbs, who teaches at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester, said she can’t wait to attend Saturday’s workshop and learn more about Reconstruction.
“Our history department does not have an official learning standard or unit designed for this important time period, so the more I can learn about the historical context, the easier it will be to connect this time period to the standards and units we have in the program,” Hobbs said. “The professional development that Zinn Education Project has offered to me is important and high quality.”
Hobbs said Vermont hasn’t passed restrictive legislation on education that other states have, however, “without state expectations to include Reconstruction Era information as a requirement of curriculum, teachers are more likely to choose the content for which they’re most comfortable and knowledgeable.”
“While ideally this would be Black history and specifically Reconstruction, given the rich connection to the world we live in today, that’s not always the case,” she said. “Furthermore, the lack of guidance from Vermont about Reconstruction and Black history in general makes individual teachers vulnerable to complaints from outside the schools.”
Facilitators from the Zinn Education Project previously presented a sold-out workshop on teaching climate justice at Epsilon Spires in 2019.
The latest workshop is made possible through funding from The Sparkplug Foundation. For more information, contact Mohr at firstname.lastname@example.org.