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Michigan Educators Begin Learning More About Historical Themes, Movements, and Groups

LANSING – The need and effort to broaden teacher and student knowledge of U.S. and world history were the subject of a pair of events held Wednesday, according to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE).

“It is important for us to teach the full breadth of U.S. and world history—about major historical themes, movements, and groups,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “We have a responsibility to teach history comprehensively. Some of history’s chapters are challenging, uncomfortable, or even searing—particularly those that deal with race, racism, xenophobia, and sexism—but our young people need to learn about all of history and to wrestle with the complexity.”

A series of webinars hosted by MDE on a more comprehensive teaching of the history of the United States and the world kicked off Wednesday afternoon with the first of a three-part presentation on the Holocaust. Over 340 people have signed up for the webinar series so far.

“What a privilege to speak with educators from around the state about the importance of Holocaust education,” said presenter Dr. Anne Piontkowski, assistant professor at Madonna University’s School of Education and formerly the education specialist at The Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills. “Educator attendance further develops expertise and commitment to learning about the Shoah and its chapter in the scope of history. Coming together virtually from both the upper and lower peninsulas provided a very special space for us to learn more together, and to honor the voices of the millions who endured such profound atrocities.

“These webinars are essential to connecting the history of the Holocaust with the immense human stories that still speak to us,” Dr. Piontkowski added. “It is an important responsibility to share these stories with others, with our children, with generations to come. We wish to never forget the ramifications of the Holocaust in order to never repeat such atrocities. To truly move forward we must first thoughtfully look back. These webinars allow us the essential space and time to do so.”

A separate online town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon sponsored by the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission (MAPAAC) began exploring the need to broaden the understanding and teaching of Asian American history in Michigan’s K-12 schools.

Dr. Rice joined state Senator Stephanie Chang on the panel, along with K-12 and university educators, students, and parents.

Sen. Chang has introduced Senate Bill 797 to require the teaching of the contributions made by individual Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in government, the arts, humanities, and sciences and the contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to the economic, cultural, social, and political development of the United States. Other bills have been introduced to require the same for the histories of African Americans; Latin American, Hispanic American, and Caribbean Americans; Indigenous Peoples and Native Americans; and Middle Easterners and Chaldeans.

“I want to thank Senator Chang and her legislative colleagues for their efforts to expand the teaching of comprehensive history for Michigan’s students,” Dr. Rice said. “Teachers with greater knowledge of historical movements, themes, and the contributions and challenges of our diverse communities are better able to teach, engage, and inspire our children in school.”

Plymouth-Canton Community School social studies teacher Richard Mui was another panelist at the MAPAAC online town hall meeting. Mui said that the risk of not broadening the teaching to include the history of Asian Americans and other groups would be to continue to perpetuate certain myths about Asian Americans.

“We will continue to be disconnected from our history and that being the case, we just continue to repeat the problems that we have in terms of discrimination, in terms of xenophobia, and they just repeat themselves,” Mui said. “Everyone needs to know this. We don’t just need to know Asian American history – we need to know African American history and the history of Latinx in this country, and all the groups that have contributed to the building of America but have not gotten their full credit.”

Future MDE webinars will cover the history of indigenous peoples and other events, movements, and groups of peoples to help educators learn more about movements in and aspects of history about which educators may have had little if any background.

Registration is still open to all educators for the free virtual webinar series, with the understanding that the content may be more useful for teachers of particular grade levels than others.

Each webinar session will feature a unique presentation on a given subject. Educators interested in a given topic are encouraged to attend all sessions associated with the topic. Presenters will help educators learn more about movements in and aspects of history about which educators may have had little if any background.

“Through the Comprehensive History Webinar Series, Michigan educators hear from history experts on a variety of topics to grow their own knowledge,” said Dr. Rane Garcia, director of MDE’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “Building teacher knowledge helps to ensure that Michigan’s students receive instruction that includes the contributions and struggles of diverse groups. When children see themselves accurately represented in their curriculum, they engage more deeply in learning and see greater opportunities for their own future.

“Additionally, by learning about the contributions and struggles of other cultures, students develop greater understanding, empathy, and appreciation for each other. Comprehensive history instruction engages and unites,” Garcia said. “When all our children are engaged, we will all have a stronger and brighter future.”

Supporter education organizations of the comprehensive history instruction series include the following:

  • Michigan Council for the Social Studies
  • Michigan Council for History Education
  • Michigan Education Association
  • AFT Michigan
  • Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association
  • Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals
  • Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators
  • Middle Cities Education Association
  • Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators
  • Michigan Association for Media in Education
  • Library of Michigan
  • Michigan Library Association
  • Michigan Academic Library Association