NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County Schools is fine-tuning some areas of curricula ahead of the traditional school year starting this month.
It’s based on North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s standard, which is assessed by volunteers from across the state. The team reevaluates all its course standards every five to seven years; it last updated curricula ahead of the 2021-2022 school year.
According to DPI Communications Director Blair Rhoades, the standard was changed after receiving feedback from focus groups, surveys and rounds of public input.
“The history of the Wilmington Race Riots was frequently mentioned at state board meetings as a topic that individuals were not familiar with until much later in their education or personal lives,” Rhoades said.
Rhoades is speaking about the only coup d’état in American history — the Wilmington Massacre of 1898. On Nov. 10, white supremacists organized a mob of around 2,000 people to overthrow the legitimate biracial government in the city and terrorize Black residents, killing anywhere from 60 to 300 Black individuals in the Cape Fear. More than 100,000 registered Black voters fled the city.
Particularly, the fourth grade standard once required teachings to “[e]xplain how people, events and developments brought about changes to communities in various regions of N.C.”
It was updated last year to read: “Explain the ways in which revolution, reform, and resistance have shaped North Carolina.”
The new standard labels the 1898 massacre as the “Wilmington Race Riot.” Only recently has the characterization changed from the word “riot,” which suggests the Black residents were instigators, in favor of “massacre,” “insurrection” or “coup.”
NHCS has taught 1898 to eighth graders for a decade; third graders are briefly introduced to it on a Tar Heels Go Walking Tour downtown. NHCS district is including it for fourth graders for the first time in 2022-2023. The public can view course details on the newly launched curriculum and instruction page which launched Tuesday on the NHCS website; it can be accessed here.
“Districts are continually growing, developing, and learning the curriculum,” NHCS Chief Communications Officer Josh Smith said. “It is not unusual for the curriculum to be updated each year in various content areas.”
1898 curriculum will fall in line with fourth grade social studies, which focuses on North Carolina history. The 9- and 10-year-olds will “investigate the causes, the events, and the legacy of Wilmington 1898,” according to NHCS staff.
According to Smith, NHCS’s Instruction and Academic Accountability Division, in collaboration with the Curriculum and Instruction Team, added 1898 content to the NHCS fourth-grade curriculum “map” for a few reasons, but mainly because it localizes history.
The coup is one of the most significant events in Wilmington’s history, but it also affected the entire state. After the insurrection, the North Carolina legislature heavily restricted Black people’s voting rights through constitutional amendments in 1900 and started ushering in the worst of Jim Crow laws.
Upper elementary social studies covers the removal of Native Americans, world wars, the civil rights movement, and other “tragic events,” so the addition of the Wilmington coup of 1898 would fall in line with other topics.
Fourth grade teachers use a Brittanica kids resource to guide lessons.
“We chose classroom resources that were developmentally appropriate and put the event in elementary student-friendly language,” Smith said.
He added that the 1898 coup will most likely be covered in one or two days.
The state added other examples to fall under the revised fourth grade standard to include “protests, rights, boycotts, abolition, resistance, marches.” It also cites the civil rights movement, Greensboro sit-in and the Wilmington 10.
The Wilmington 10 were a group of nine men and one woman wrongfully accused of arson and conspiracy in 1971. All served almost a decade in prison before an appeal granted their release.
The Greensboro sit-in was a 1960 civil rights protest in North Carolina’s Triad city consisting of four Black men that sat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in defiance of a ban against people of color receiving service. It inspired sit-ins, considered peaceful protests, nationwide thereafter. The department store, located at 134 S. Elm St., serves as a civil rights museum today.
Broader topics teachers can broach under the standard include revolutions in technology, communication and transportation. The curriculum also cites the Wright Brothers, aviators credited with the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane and first sustained flight in 1903.
The state’s suggestions are not an exhaustive list, nor does every topic have to be covered in the classroom. This gives school districts and teachers the flexibility to determine when and how much time is spent on each historical event.
“We trust our professional educators to teach the curriculum in a way that is effective for their particular classes,” Smith told Port City Daily.
School board member Pete Wildeboer raised concerns a few weeks ago when changes in the curricula were discussed at a board meeting. He wanted to make sure information about 1898 was being taught “factually.”
“I’ve heard from a lot of people it is being changed and repackaged,” he said during the meeting.
NHCS Chief Academic Officer Patrice Faison assured Wildeboer district staff work with teachers to focus on factual information, not opinions.
“You have to be careful with history — or anything, really — to not bring your interpretation. That is not our role as educators,” Faison said at the meeting. “When someone is teaching, whether it’s history or anything else, you should never know their view, because it’s not about their view. It’s about the facts.”
By the time students reach eighth grade, they learn about 1898 by comparing how local and state government leaders’ decisions “conform and conflict” with the nation’s democratic principles.
The state’s guidance says students will study the nation’s founding documents and incidents, such as the “state upholding 1898 Wilmington Coup.” Other example topics include several Constitutional amendments — the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th — along with eugenics, redlining, sundown towns, Brown v. Board of Education, the Indian Removal Act and Jim Crow laws.
NHCS does not stipulate coverage of 1898 in high school curricula, but the state standard for American history includes a specific mention under the following standard:
“Explain how various individuals and groups strategized, organized, advocated and protested to expand or restrict freedom and equality.”
Other example topics include abolitionism, the suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, extremist organizations, mental health reform, prison reform, the Equal Rights Amendment, the National Rifle Association, the LGBTQ movement and immigration reform. It also lists “approaches to affect change,” which include marches, voting, boycotts, armed resistance, hunger strikes, social media, and others.
Smith said additional updates to this year’s district content include an “economics and personal finance” curriculum for high school students.
The public can view state standards online, including the changes in course language through DPI’s “crosswalk” document.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org