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How history is taught matters: Results of our survey with Zinn Education Project

How history is taught matters, especially Black history. 

That’s why, as our country continues to wrestle with issues of racial justice and civil rights, we recently reached out to CREDO members to answer a short survey in collaboration with our partners at Zinn Education Project about their experiences learning Black history in school and how that informs their views about systemic racism, voter suppression and white supremacy.

More than 5,000 CREDO members shared their experiences with us, and here are the results.

Do you remember learning about the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era in school?

We first asked our members if they remember learning about these two closely-related periods in 19th Century U.S. History. Not surprisingly, most respondents remember learning about the Civil War, but many fewer remember learning about Reconstruction, the era that immediately followed the Civil War and emancipation. 

According to Zinn, “too often the story of this grand experiment in interracial democracy is skipped or rushed through in classrooms across the country,” and “the possibilities and achievements of this era are too often overshadowed by the violent white supremacist backlash.”

During the Reconstruction Era, mass political participation by Black people secured many new rights and freedoms.

Which of the following, if any, do you remember learning about?

Likewise, a large plurality of respondents were not aware of the new rights and freedoms afforded to Black people during the post-slavery Reconstruction Era.

There is a growing movement of educators committed to teaching people’s history in their classrooms.

What do you think are the top two benefits of young people learning people’s history?

Howard Zinn wrote the landmark 1980 publication A People’s History of the United States which tells U.S. history from “the point of view of — and in the words of — America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers.” Zinn Education Project and many educators are now starting to teach the “People’s History,” and we asked our members how students will benefit from this approach.

Are you aware that Republican politicians in many states are attacking teachers’ ability to teach about racism in the classroom?

As some schools across the country are starting to adopt new approaches to teaching systemic racism, bias and privilege, conservative Republican lawmakers are using the opportunity to hatemonger, spread fear and inflame even more racism, moving to ban these curricula and propping up so-called “critical race theory” as a strawman.

We asked if our members are aware of these attacks, and a strong majority are.

A main strategy for maintaining structures of white supremacy is voter suppression.

Are you aware of any of these types of voter suppression in the state where you currently live?

Lastly, we asked our members if they are aware of any types of voter suppression occurring in their states. Roughly 60% of respondents are aware of voter suppression efforts. 

According to our internal analysis, CREDO members residing in Republican-led or Republican-leaning states — including Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia — have seen the most efforts to restrict voting rights.