Athens, Ga. – The commonly held belief that formal education for African Americans following the Civil War was solely the work of privileged, single white northern women motivated by evangelical beliefs and abolitionism has been shattered in a new book written by a University of Georgia education professor.
Ron Butchart, professor and head of the College of Education’s department of elementary and social studies education, wrote the book titled, Schooling the Freed People, A comprehensive quantitative study of the origins of black education in freedom.
The book is a result of a three-year study Butchart began in 2006 with a $318,775 grant from the Spencer Foundation.He scoured the archives of all of the freedmen’s aid organizations, as well as the archives of every Southern state, to compile a vast database of over 11,600 individuals who taught in Southern black schools between 1861-1876.
Previous research about freedmen’s education relied on virtually identical primary sources, even when the researchers’ conclusions contradicted one another. Conversely, Butchart’s research multiplied the range of sources consulted and linked them in new ways, revealing patterns previously invisible to historians.
Through this analysis, Butchart uncovered some surprising revelations: one-third of the teachers were African Americans; black teachers taught longer than white teachers; half of the teachers were Southerners; and even the Northern teachers were more diverse than had been previously believed.
Additionally, Butchart found that evangelicalism contributed very little to white teachers’ commitment to black students, abolitionism was a relatively small factor in motivating the teachers, and, in general, the teachers’ ideas and aspirations about their work often ran counter to the aspirations of the freed people for schooling. He believes that the answers he found can speak directly to the achievement gap between black and white learners.
Butchart has been a member of the elementary and social studies education department since 1999.He received his Ph.D. from the University of New York at Binghamton in 1976.