A White Teacher is Removed from Teaching a Michigan High School Course in African-American History

Groves
Recently an African-American staff writer at the Bridge Magazine in Michigan wrote an opinion piece criticizing an African-American history course at Groves High School in Birmingham, Michigan.  Chastity Pratt Dawsey was not happy that her children, who were enrolled in the course, were required to watch movies such, Boyz in the Hood and Do the Right Thing, view the documentary “Inside Bloods and Crips,” and read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Dawsey was especially upset that the course, taught by a white teacher, did not give enough attention to the accomplishments of African Americans.

Dawsey posted the syllabus from Scott Craig‘s African-American history course.  I think she thought that by posting the syllabus it would strengthen her argument.  In my view, the syllabus actually reveals that Craig is a very good history teacher.  The syllabus includes readings from Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Howard Zinn, Martin Luther King Jr., Winthrop Jordan, Ulrich Philips, Kenneth Stamp, and Marcus Garvey.  Craig’s list of movies include Amistad12 Years a Slave, and Glory.

The syllabus also notes:

Students will be exposed to readings and films that have distinct points of view.  One skill we will work on is recognizing and evaluating point of view.  Some of the readings will contradict each other, and students will have to wrestle with differentiating and deciding which POV is most value…

The course covers the following topics: police brutality and African Americans, the success and failure of Affirmative Action, white flight, poverty and racism, the 1967 Detroit riot, the successes of the black middle class, African American political leadership, De Jure v. De Facto racism, segregation and resegregation, gangs and gang culture, and cultural appropriation.

Sounds like a great class.  Can I take it?

But the story does not end here.  The superintendent of Birmingham Public Schools apologized to parents for permitting this course to be taught.  He apologized because the “resources listed in the course pilot syllabus failed to meet the depth and breadth of African American history.”  That is actually the only thing the letter says about the content of the course.  Apparently many in Birmingham’s African-American community believe that an African-American should be teaching the course.

And now Scott Craig, the teacher of this course, has weighed in. Craig has been teaching social studies in Michigan for thirty-two years and appears to be very popular among students.  In 2013, he ran for a spot in the Michigan state house as a Democrat. In August 2017, he was Birmingham’s delegate to a National Association of Education Conference on the subject of equity and integrity in education. In 2018 he marched, on behalf of his students, in a “March for Our Lives” rally against gun violence.  He has an M.A. in African American and Labor History from Wayne State University.   We should also add that he designed the African-American history course in question because he thought African-American history was not getting a fair shake in his school district.

Here is a taste of his piece: “I am the Michigan teacher removed from teaching African-American History.”

While the original article may leave readers with the impression that some random white guy was assigned to teach the African-American course, I created the course out of a deep commitment to civil rights and ending prejudice. I come from a family where both parents were involved in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. I have a master’s degree in African American and Labor History from Wayne State University. And I’ve been a participant in nearly every district initiative around issues of race and diversity. I’m the sponsor of the Diversity Club (25 years) at neighboring Seaholm High that organizes school exchanges and provides a forum for open discussion. I’ve also organized 12 of our past 15 MLK Day assemblies at Seaholm.

I created the course because I saw a need. American history texts hardly mention African Americans from Reconstruction until Rosa Parks. Then, they drop most discussion about African Americans after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. They also gloss over the rich debate and controversies within the African-American community as they faced over 100 years of second-class citizenship after Reconstruction. Most white students in Birmingham have little understanding about the real history and conditions faced by African Americans. Many of our black students are truly interested in learning more about their history.

Both the Bridge column and the superintendent’s letter to the staff and community portrayed the course as shallow, inappropriate and as somehow avoiding proper review. This was not the case.  

In 2015, I researched existing African-American history syllabi, mostly taught in colleges. I examined and selected the best, most challenging readings ‒ such as works by Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois ‒ and chose films that reflected a variety of points of view.  

The course was reviewed and approved in 2015 by my principal, department head, and our district Education Council that included three or four African-American parents. Approval was unanimous and widely praised, especially by the African-American parents on the Council. The course was reviewed again and I created a longer curriculum guide in the summer of 2018. The administrators who reviewed it also offered praise.

While my name was not used in Bridge or in the letter, within days hundreds of staff and community members figured out I was the teacher. I decided to speak openly in defense at a district board meeting Feb. 26, especially when I learned members of BAAFN, the parent group protesting my class, would be speaking.

At the meeting, I listened as the head of the parent group argued for a revamped curriculum approved by the parents, and a black teacher to teach this course. By the time I spoke, 35 to 40 district teachers had contacted me. All of them offered support, and most of them expressed the fear that they could be next.

As I was leaving, I was stopped individually by five African Americans. One was a district teacher who expressed strong support and said he wanted to speak, but his wife told him he could not risk his job. Others were parents. One said she did not know who I was or my background at the time that I was dismissed from teaching the class. The district had not offered much explanation. Another parent said her son was in my class, liked it, and that about a dozen students talked about staging a sit-in at the principal’s office demanding to know why their teacher had been removed.

Read the entire article here.  What is going on here?

7 thoughts on “A White Teacher is Removed from Teaching a Michigan High School Course in African-American History

  1. I read the groveling response letter by the Birmingham superintendent, which profusely apologizes for … well, it’s not exactly clear what it’s apologizing for.

    It begins by stating: “I regret that our actions and systems led to the desire for [the critical letter] to be written.” What does that mean? The mere fact that someone wrote, or yea verily, “desired” to write, a letter critical of the curriculum demonstrates, ipso facto, that “actions and systems” were unacceptable and that a teacher should be fired? Gee, that seems to be setting a bad precedent.

    It goes on in this vein. “I offer my apology for this situation ever occurring.” What, exactly, is the situation (someone complained?) for which apology is necessary? Further: “[I]t is clear … that the District failed to provide an African American History course that was … appropriate for our students.” It is clear because someone wrote a letter objecting to the course? Note that the superintendent fails to identify even a single aspect of the curriculum which he believes was inappropriate, let alone “clearly” so. Apparently, this is a given, because: heckler’s veto. Or something.

    “The resources listed in the course pilot syllabus failed to meet the depth and breadth of African American History.” Which resources? All? Every part of the syllabus was unacceptably shallow and narrow? (I’d love to see the proposed syllabus, anywhere, from a single history course, which all unanimously agree fully covers the depth and breadth of African American History. Good luck.)

    Sadly, the other commenters here are correct. Skin pigment, rather than course content, appears to be the real problem. This is the poisonous fruit of identity politics. It’s unfortunate that the administration did not have the intestinal fortitude to stand up for this teacher and this course, and perhaps engage in a constructive dialogue with Ms. Dawsey and others about ways in which the existing curriculum could be improved. Maybe, for example, some of those R-rated movies weren’t age-appropriate, and could have been replaced with other content addressing the same issues. And maybe some of those optional, independent reading topics on school segregation and affirmative action — which Ms. Dawsey believed were being given short-shrift — could have been been inserted into the formal curriculum.

    No — easier to capitulate, issue a Soviet-style apology, and scapegoat the teacher. I wish this was a surprising outcome, but in our present cultural climate, it’s de rigueur.

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  2. I spent some time reading the related articles as well. They removed a white teacher for teaching black history when a social justice committee threw a tantrum, and a new administrator threw the teacher under the bus.

    It should’ve been a red flag when the “journalist” was also a mom defending her teenage son’s complaint that the course made him watch a movie he didn’t like.

    Rarely do I hope a story gets picked up by Fox News, but I hope this one does.

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    • Things like this just stoke the fires of what I call “Self-Defense White Supremacy” — white supremacy not because of classic racism, but simple “Self-Defense — If we don’t stomp on them they’re going to stomp on us”. Like Serb and Croat in old Yugoslavia, or Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda. Reciprocal grievance cultures taking turns on each other tit-for-tat.

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  3. Unfortunately John, this is an OLD debate among African Americans. The fundamental issue here is kin to the larger issue of intra-African American discourse that speaks of people being “black enough.”

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