Celebrating Black History Month

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In the month of February, the nation honors the achievements of African Americans; their stories and historical accomplishments are worthy of recognition year round. That’s why Pioneer Institute has sponsored events, produced videos, and published opinion pieces informing the public about important leaders and key milestones in the African-American experience, as well as the need for more educational choice options for all children. Pioneer supports school choice and improvements to academic instruction, especially in U.S. history, so all schoolchildren learn about African-Americans’ long struggle for freedom and equal opportunity. Below, we share some highlights from our coverage of seminal figures, topics, and periods such as slavery during the Founding era, the Civil War, and Civil Rights icons such as Fannie Lou Hamer, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Robert Moses, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

As a nation, we have a long way to go to address continued injustices. Persistent academic achievement gaps between African-American students and their white peers threaten to undermine prospects for upward social mobility. To address this disparity, Pioneer has actively promoted education reforms that have proven successful at helping minority students reach their full potential: private and parochial schools, charter public schools, the METCO inter-district school choice program, vocational-technical education, and a menu of school options.

Through events and op-eds placed in regional and national publications, Pioneer has advocated for expanded school choice to give inner-city students a lifeline out of failing public schools. Last month, we produced a feature-length documentary film, “Big Sacrifices, Big Dreams: Ending America’s Bigoted Education Laws,” that seeks to raise public awareness about constitutional barriers in 38 states that block underprivileged children from attending private or parochial schools. Here in Massachusetts, the so-called Know-Nothing amendments prevent more than 100,000 urban families with children in chronically underperforming districts from receiving scholarship vouchers that would provide additional educational alternatives. Repealing these laws would immediately help low-income and minority students. As film narrator and Pioneer school reform advisor Gerard Robinson concludes, “Past bigotries are an unforgivable limitation on our children’s future.” Watch the film below, as well as clips from our events and op-eds.

Pioneer, through its podcast, is also providing a platform for more diverse voices, to discuss the importance of teaching our children about the history of African-Americans, and their contributions to our shared national heritage. Most recently, The Learning Curve education podcast featured U. Georgia Professor Valerie Boyd, discussing her biography of Zora Neale Hurston, the “Queen of the Harlem Renaissance,” and her 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, a book that all schoolchildren should read.

Video (Click image to watch):

“Big Sacrifices, Big Dreams: Ending America’s Bigoted Education Laws”


Related event videos and commentary: 

Video Highlights from “America in the Age of MLK: Teaching the Civil Rights Movement in Schools” (held on January 15, 2014):

Video Highlights from “A Fire You Can’t Put Out: Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Civil Rights, and School Choices” (held on March 20, 2017): 

Video Highlights from “Civil Rights: Charter Schools & Teacher Unions,” (held on February 26, 2015):

Video Highlights from “The Founders and Slavery: Dr. Howard Dodson” (held on January 28, 2013):

Video: The Time To Act

Related op-eds:

Op-ed: Fannie Lou Hamer: ‘I Am Sick And Tired Of Being Sick And Tired’

By Jamie Gass

October 6 would be the 100th birthday of Fannie Lou Hamer, the black civil rights activist and vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). She made history during Freedom Summer 1964, storming the Magnolia State’s all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Atlantic City.

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Hamer would later famously say.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s grit in the face of relentless rural poverty and violence in the Jim Crow South make her a heroine whom American schoolchildren should know. But decades of national data show just how little they actually do know about U.S. history, civics, and geography.

History tells us that economic striving, great art, and moral leadership often spring from adversity.

Read this entire op-ed in The Hechinger Report,  WGBH News and The Berkshire Eagle.

 

The Boston Globe op-ed: State should expand METCO 

By Cheryl Brown Henderson and Jim Stergios

THE 50TH anniversary of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), which allows about 3,300 Boston and Springfield students to attend school in surrounding districts, provides a good opportunity to take stock of the program and, in doing so, compare it with the intent of the landmark 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

In its opinion, the court wrote that education is the “most important function of state and local governments. . . . It is doubtful that any child can be reasonably expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity . . . is a right that must be made available to all on equal terms.” METCO exemplifies the court’s pronouncement. Read more…

 

Op-ed: Teach students history of horrific slave trade

By Jamie Gass

“In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky and star-crowned mountains,” wrote African-American statesman and former slave Frederick Douglass. “But my rapture is soon checked When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal actions of slaveholding.”

February is Black History Month, but black history is American history and shouldn’t be relegated to one month annually.

Given K-12 education’s general disdain for background knowledge and memorizing dates, most American high school students know little European, African, and U.S. history or geography, including the terrifying truths about the transatlantic slave trade.

The slave trade uniquely embodies Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s view that we all share, “a single garment of destiny.” Spanning 1444 to 1870, the African slave trade defined our civilization, leaving a haunting global legacy.

Read this entire op-ed in The New Bedford Standard TimesThe Lowell SunThe Fitchburg Sentinel & EnterpriseThe Springfield RepublicanThe Berkshire EagleThe MetroWest Daily Newsand The Federalist.

 

Op-ed: We must teach hard historical truths of Emmett Till’s murder 

By Jamie Gas

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year old black boy from Chicago who was killed by two white Mississippians for whistling in the presence of a white woman. “The news of Emmett’s death caused many people to participate in the cry for justice and equal rights, including myself,” wrote Rosa Parks, the first lady of civil rights. Read more…

Get Updates On Our US History Initiative

Related research and commentary:

Law Prof. Melvin Urofsky on Justice Louis Brandeis, the SCOTUS, & Dissenting Opinions

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Melvin Urofsky, Professor of Law & Public Policy and Professor Emeritus of History at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the author of several books, including Louis D. Brandeis: A Life and Dissent and the Supreme Court. Professor Urofsky shares insights on Justice Brandeis’s jurisprudence, and why he consistently ranks among the three most influential Supreme Court justices in American history.

Rigorous civics education needed now more than ever

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After decades of being overlooked, the importance of teaching US history and civics in public schools is at last gaining momentum. At the same time, the American Rescue Plan will bring an influx of tens of millions of dollars into Massachusetts schools. The confluence of these two events could transform civics education, but turning potential into reality will require combining a high-quality, fact-based curriculum with strong accountability measures.

Stanford’s National Humanities Medal Winner Prof. Arnold Rampersad on Langston Hughes & Ralph Ellison

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Professor Arnold Rampersad, the Sara Hart Kimball Professor Emeritus in Humanities at Stanford University and recipient of the National Humanities Medal for his books including The Life of Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison: A Biography.

Study: Systemic Failure in IDEA Implementation for Private School Students with Disabilities in Additional States

On the heels of a $3.8 million settlement for private school students with disabilities in Massachusetts for the state’s failure to comply with provisions of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that require provision of equitable, publicly funded special education services to students in private schools, a Pioneer Institute study finds that two states and three school districts around the country for which data are available also appear to be out of compliance.

Dartmouth’s Prof. Susannah Heschel Discusses Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel & the Civil Rights Movement

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Susannah Heschel, the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, and the daughter of noted 20th-century Jewish theologian and Civil Rights-era leader, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. They discuss what teachers and students today should know about Rabbi Heschel’s life and legacy.

Charter schools leading the way with in-person instruction

Massachusetts charter public schools have lived up to their decades-long record of excellence during the pandemic, developing innovative ways to continue providing high-quality education by maximizing the number of students who can safely learn in person.

Best-Selling, Netflix Author Loung Ung On Surviving Pol Pot’s Killing Fields

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Loung Ung, a human-rights activist; the author of the bestselling books First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Lucky Child, and Lulu in the Sky; and a co-screenwriter of the 2017 Netflix Original Movie, First They Killed My Father. Ms. Ung shares her experiences living through genocide under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, which resulted in the deaths of nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population. 

Key Madison Park Program Lags Other State Voc-Techs, but Shows Signs of Improvement

The co-operative education program at Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, which places students in paid positions with local employers, lags far behind other Massachusetts vocational-technical schools in terms of both placements and number of employer contacts.  But with the school as a whole beginning to improve after years of turmoil, the co-op is also showing promising signs, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

WSJ Drama Editor Terry Teachout on Jazz Greats Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and guest co-host Kerry McDonald continue our celebration of Black achievements with Terry Teachout, drama critic at The Wall Street Journal, and author of such books as Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington.

Tax credit scholarship program would give Catholic schools fighting chance

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I am among the countless individuals whose lives have been shaped by Catholic education; in my case, it was attending high school at Austin Prep. Despite a stellar record, Catholic schools are facing a grim financial picture. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision gives new hope to the schools and to the many Massachusetts families with children who would benefit from attending them.

Never Forgetting – Holocaust Remembrance Day – 25 Resources for K-12 Students

In Pioneer’s ongoing series of blogs here, on curricular resources for parents, families, and teachers during COVID-19, this one focuses on: Memorializing International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th and learning about the tragedy of the Holocaust during WWII.

New Book Offers Roadmap to Sustainability for Massachusetts Catholic Schools

Catholic schools in Massachusetts must focus on the characteristics that make them academically successful and distinguish them from traditional public schools, but must also seek new models and governance structures that will help them achieve financial sustainability, according to a new book published by Pioneer Institute. The book, "A Vision of Hope: Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts," will be the topic of a webinar co-sponsored by Pioneer and the Catholic Schools Foundation to be held on Wednesday, January 27 at 2:00 pm. 

Pulitzer Winner Taylor Branch on MLK, Civil Rights History, & Race in America

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard are joined by Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a landmark trilogy on the Civil Rights era, America in the King Years. They discuss the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday the nation observed on Monday. They review Dr. King’s powerful, moving oratory, drawing on spiritual and civic ideals to promote nonviolent protest against racial injustice, and how, as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he shared leadership of the movement with organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Ignat Solzhenitsyn on His Father’s Nobel Prize-Winning Fight with Communism

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard talk with Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a pianist, conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and son of the Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. They discuss his father’s legacy, his courageous work to debunk the Soviet Union’s utopian myths, and key lessons American educators and students should draw from his life, writings, and battle with Soviet communism.

Voc-tech schools thriving despite pandemic strictures

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HANDS-ON EDUCATION plays a critical role at Massachusetts regional vocational-technical high schools, where students alternate weekly between academics and shop classes. Given that reality, you’d think the schools would be particularly hard hit by the switch to hybrid models under which students are in a physical school building only half the time. But thanks to innovative approaches to coping with pandemic-related restrictions, voc-techs are successfully bucking statewide public-school enrollment trends.

New Study Provides Toolkit for Crafting Education Tax-Credit Scholarship Programs

In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key impediment to private school choice, Pioneer Institute has published a toolkit for designing tax-credit scholarship programs. Now available in 18 states, nearly 300,000 students nationwide use tax-credit scholarships to attend the school of their family’s choice. TCS policies create an incentive for taxpayers to contribute to nonprofit scholarship organizations that aid families with tuition and, in some states, other K–12 educational expenses. This paper explores the central design features of TCS policies—such as eligibility, the tax credit value, credit caps, and academic accountability provisions—and outlines the different approaches taken by the TCS policies in each state.

Oxford & UCLA Pulitzer Winner Prof. Daniel Walker Howe on Horace Mann, Common Schools, & Educating for Democracy

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University in England and Professor of History Emeritus at UCLA. Drawing from his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, he provides background information on Horace Mann, the first secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, founder of the common school movement in public education, and a prominent abolitionist in Congress.

Education tax credits don’t cost taxpayers a cent

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This op-ed has appeared in WGBH News, The Providence Journal,…