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State Superintendent Michael Rice says new seminars will help teachers address difficult topics

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Michigan.gov
State Superintendent Michael Rice.

The Michigan Department of Education is making a new effort to ensure educators have the training to teach students about social movements and the history of marginalized groups.

The department has been running new seminars for teachers on how to conduct lessons about difficult topics like racism, xenophobia and sexism.

WKAR's Megan Schellong spoke with Michigan's State Superintendent Michael Rice about the significance of these trainings.

Interview Highlights

On why these comprehensive history seminars are coming now

One, we have a complex history, we need to teach that complex history to our young people. No Child Left Behind passed 20 years ago, really narrowed our curriculum, not simply in the state, but in the nation. And we need to get back to really reflecting more substantially on the broadest range of subjects, including in-depth, reflection of our social studies. So I think that's a second reflection, rationale. The third is that there have been a number of groups in our country that have been marginalized, that haven't been appropriately or accurately reflected in our history, and they really need to be a part of the full teaching of our history.

On identifying existing gaps in Michigan’s education system

Local school districts determine their curriculum. We have 835 local education agencies, local school districts, if you will. And they're each responsible for the curriculum within the broad range of our state standards. We cast the standards, they draw the curriculum from that, but we feel as if so much of history is taught chronologically and not thematically. If we're able to help teachers learn more about thematic history, they then will be able to share more about that thematic history with their students. So for example, we've begun a series on Holocaust education. We’ll begin Indigenous nation, tribal education history in late June.

On whether he’s noticed any skepticism about the seminars in Michigan

There has been tremendous positive feedback around teaching the entirety of our history, teach it all, comprehensive history instruction, a lot of positive feedback, not simply from historians, history, teachers, social studies, teachers, librarians, principals, superintendents, parents, but also in addition to a number of groups that have felt marginalized and have felt that their history has been really under explored and under shared.

Interview Transcript

Megan Schellong: The Michigan Department of Education is making a new effort to ensure educators have the training to teach students about social movements and the history of marginalized groups.

The department has been running new seminars for teachers on how to conduct lessons about difficult topics like racism, xenophobia and sexism.

Michael Rice is the state superintendent and joins me now to discuss the significance of these trainings.

Michael thanks for being here.

Michael Rice: Thank you, thank you for having me.

Schellong: Why are these sessions coming now? What was the impetus for them?

Rice: You know, there are multiple rationales. One, we have a complex history, we need to teach that complex history to our young people. No Child Left Behind passed 20 years ago, really narrowed our curriculum, not simply in the state, but in the in the nation.

And we need to get back to really reflecting more substantially on the broadest range of subjects, including in-depth reflection of our social studies. So, I think that's a second reflection, rationale. The third is that there have been a number of groups in our country that have been marginalized, that haven't been appropriately or accurately reflected in our history, and they really need to be a part of the full teaching of our history.

Schellong: What are some of the existing gaps that you have identified in the history curriculum within the state’s education system?

Rice: It’s local school districts that determine their curriculum. We have 835 local education agencies, local school districts, if you will. And they're each responsible for the curriculum within the broad range of our state standards. We cast the standards, they draw the curriculum from that, but we feel as if so much of history is taught chronologically and not thematically, and that if we're able to help teachers learn more about thematic history, they then will be able to share more about that thematic history with their students.

So for example, we've begun a series on Holocaust education. We’ll begin Indigenous nation, tribal education history in late June. These are examples of history that perhaps has been underrepresented or under explored.

Schellong: You brought up that one of the first seminars hosted by your department focused on education about the Holocaust. What kinds of training did educators receive for addressing this part of history?

Rice: I think some of the training —and the training is ongoing— but you know, some of the training is associated with the myths around the Holocaust. Some of it is associated with oral tradition, getting those stories from people who were in the Holocaust.

Additionally, our teachers were aided by understanding and learning about the different resources, the different written resources that are available and some of the ways in which the mythology around the Holocaust rolled out. I think it's very, very important that our teachers have more than a cursory knowledge of each of these major themes in our history.

Schellong: I want to shift now to the reception of the seminars. In states like Florida, we're seeing increasing pushback in the past couple of years on teaching history through what some perceive as, so called, a critical race theory lens, we should say before this critical race theory was developed as an academic and legal approach to understanding how race and racism impacts American institutions. Have you noticed any skepticism here in Michigan, about taking this new approach with these seminars?

Rice: I mean, you're absolutely right. Critical race theory is higher education theory. It's not a preK-12 theory, we don't teach critical race theory explicitly in the state in preK-12 education.

There has been tremendous positive feedback around teaching the entirety of our history, teach it all, comprehensive history instruction, a lot of positive feedback, not simply from historians, history, teachers, social studies, teachers, librarians, principals, superintendents, parents, but also in addition to a number of groups that have felt marginalized and have felt that their history has been really under explored and under shared.

Schellong: Can you talk a little bit about what you've learned through this process of creating these trainings and seminars?

Rice: So this is very much a work in progress. And we're learning as we go, we are ourselves learning in the department, but what we're finding is that our history is even more complex than we had understood it to be.

So we're learning history as we're working on expanding the breadth of knowledge of educators about history, it really, it's really in the best spirit of teaching and learning everywhere, that teachers are lifelong learners, that they were very much students every single day they were about learning.

So we appreciate the opportunity to learn more about our rich, complex, challenging history.

Schellong: Michael Rice is the state superintendent. Michael, thank you for your time today.

Rice: Thank you, appreciate the opportunity.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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