- Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876
Schooling the Freed People adds to the historiography of black education in Reconstruction. This carefully crafted book examines the varying motivations of men and women, black and white who taught freed people. It also dispels the commonly held views of who those teachers were. In the past some historians have focused on northern white women, religiously motivated with an abolitionist bent as the symbol of teaching force of freed people in the South. Ronald Butchart argues that a large number of southern whites also taught. Furthermore, he states, "The portrait of the teachers must reveal the remarkable minority of teachers who strove to add their mite to reconstruction, yet it must at the same time portray accurately the majority, who had no interest in social reconstruction." For many teachers, particularly white teachers, black freedom was not among their concerns. Teachers also tended to be older than previously noted. The average age of teachers was around thirty. For the most part, men and women were almost equal in numbers. Social class backgrounds are also [End Page 247] varied, as many teachers were middle class. There were also many who came from declining class status as a result of the war and others who were poor.
Butchart begins the book with an examination of freed people's desire for schooling and its equation with freedom. This history has long been documented, but scholars cannot address a discussion of the education of freed people without an acknowledgement of their thirst for knowledge. The book then divides the teachers examining black teachers from the North and South, southern white teachers, and northern white teachers. More than a third of all teachers of freed people were black teachers. Black teachers were usually younger and less well educated than their white counterparts. They were, however, committed to racial uplift and elevation, and their commitment was expressed in part by the fact that they remained teachers longer than the other two groups. For the most part, southern white teachers certainly did not have the same commitment as black teachers and often taught out of necessity. More than half of these teachers only taught one term. They also tended to be the oldest group among the three. Few southern white teachers embraced black equality. Most expected them to remain in their inferior positions. Northern white teachers left more records about their motivations than the other two groups. Northern white men were less likely to teach than northern white women. The other two groups were about even. These teachers were usually well educated. For some northern white teachers, teaching in black schools was seen as convenient. Those teachers usually taught for just one year. For many other teachers, they saw their teaching as "being useful" and "doing good." This was often tied to religious motivation. Many of these teachers did not mention freed people or the needs of blacks in their writings, for which Butchart surmised that the teachers were more concerned with meeting their own needs. Those who did mention freed people saw their work like black teachers. They wanted to uplift the people for whom they worked. Yet, few had abolitionist's roots.
The book also discusses the curriculum the schools used. It is often a difficult endeavor for historians of education to piece together what actually occurred in schools. However, the author does a fair job of teasing out the curriculum and pedagogy employed in southern black schools. He ends the book with a discussion of southern resistance to black schooling.
Methodologically, this book is groundbreaking as Butchart assembled a database called the Freedman's Teacher Project. The project attempts to identify "every" teacher who taught freed people in the Reconstruction era to minimally attain their names, years they taught and states in which they taught. The project also seeks to get more detailed data on the teachers including race, gender, date of birth, marital and social class...