Each month Abington Library will feature a favorite book from a faculty, staff member, or student. They will give a brief synopsis of their chosen book.
Kevin Johnson is Assistant Professor of History/Philosophy at ASU-Beebe.
Ronald E. Butchart. Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2010.
Historian Ronald Butchart’s book is a research study examining a brief, 15-year window into the American and Southern past. He attempts to answer questions about why the South established universal public education during the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and what formal schooling attempted to achieve. In other words, Americans back then just like today wonder if education is merely teaching people how to make money, or are schools training for citizenship in a multicultural democratic republic. As one former child slave commented to his teacher shortly after ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery, “we are going to school so we can know when people are lying to us.” (Butchart, 11). Butchart finds his answer in the history of the schools established by freed slaves, and the story begins as the Civil War is drawing to a close in the mid-1860s.
Schooling the Freed People is a book that should be read by anyone aspiring to become an educator as well as anyone wanting to understand the long, hard struggle for Black freedom in the United States; the two topics in the Southern context are inextricably linked. Butchart’s research demonstrates that before Black legislators in the former Confederate states established a publicly-supported system of education, individual Black initiative developed schools with few resources including the teachers themselves. Much of his research is taken from Freedmen’s Bureau records, as well as the American Missionary Association files from the teachers it sent to the South to educate newly freed slaves. In examining these voluminous sources, the author shows that Black teachers in the South were far more prevalent than white reformers sent from the North. Moreover, he demonstrates that freed slaves wanted education to teach them how to develop their communities in a democratic republic rather than how to merely make money.
Butchart’s timeline in in this study is very short, but it’s prescient. He shows the educational experiments of the era, which is very similar to the previous 20 years in American society. In that time since 2002, Americans have sought out schooling in the traditional public schools established in the 1870s, but have also tried new educational methods ranging from charter schools to online education. The study concludes in 1876 when federal Reconstruction of the South ended, and white rule reestablished and proved overtly hostile to the idea of publicly supported schools and the idea that former slaves should be educated at all. The compromise eventually reached among stakeholders in the South was a school system that merely taught practical arts, like how to farm, how to raise hogs, and how to use chemical fertilizers – the South’s school system that emerged privileged training for commercial agriculture rather than for citizenship.