Institute Overview

Dates: July 15-26, 2024
Location: Detroit, MI
Primary Site: Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs
Application Deadline: March 5, 2024
Stipend: $2,200
Detroit students on the first day of court-ordered desegregation. Photo courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library.

Twenty years after Thurgood Marshall argued Brown. v Board of Education before the Supreme Court, he found himself a judge on the Court lamenting the 5-4 majority decision in different desegregation case Milliken v. Bradley. Many scholars have argued that Milliken represented a bookend to the possibilities for inclusive democracy opened by Brown v. Board of Education, and that it is a decision which has fundamentally where and how students learn. “Our nation,” Marshall lamented in his Milliken dissent, “will be ill served by the court’s refusal to remedy separate and unequal education,” adding, “for unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together and understand each other.”

This institute will engage participants in historical, legal, philosophical, sociological, and pedagogical questions about democratic governance and participation through careful study of Detroit’s educational history. Not only was Detroit the site of the Milliken decision, but it has been home to a diverse array of social movements which have employed a wide range of political frameworks in the struggle for access and equity in schooling. By examining the interweaving threads of law and social movements in Detroit during the twentieth century, participants will consider the full-breadth of what civic engagement can mean in conversation with local artists, movement veterans, and visiting scholars.

Democracy and Education: A View from Detroit recognizes the formative power of schools and their central role as incubators for democracy. Even if that role has not always been fully realized, the transformative power of education has been central to social movements to build inclusive democracies. Detroit’s organic intellectuals, Kenneth Cockrel Jr., James and Grace Lee Boggs, and General Gordon Baker, to name but a few, created informal and challenging learning spaces that prepared city residents to engage in democratic action. Study of the legal contests for equal educational opportunities in conjunction with the cultivation of public learning spaces to build civic capacity provides a powerful way for teachers to consider, alongside their students, how democracy works. This rigorous engagement with legal cases, archival material, visiting scholars, and movement veterans presents unique and innovative pedagogical opportunities by centering schools, the institutions that students know best, in curriculum. 

Detroit parents protesting unequal conditions within Detroit Public Schools. Photo courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library.

Detroit provides a uniquely powerful site to explore these questions. For many, the Motor City has become a place to study industrial and educational decline. However, Detroit has been and remains a city full of people organizing together to dream of new possibilities and bring them to fruition. Studying the varied theories of social change produced by and the efforts undertaken by ordinary people in Detroit to build better schools in the hopes of constructing a more inclusive democracy upends these conventional narratives. This institute eschews this traditional declension narrative to focus on how Black Detroiters envisioned social and educational change. It contextualizes these visions within major public policy changes and landmark legal decisions to consider Detroit’s successes and struggles within the framework of American democracy. These diverse movements compel inquiry into the space between what public policy proclaims and how its implementation structures our daily lives. Moreover, the panoply of possibilities posed by different organizations and collectives in Detroit open new pedagogical directions for teachers interested in cultivating democratic dispositions in their students.

Outcomes and Resources for Educators

Participants in this program will be able to receive Continuing Education credits through Eastern Michigan University.

Over the course of the institute, participants will create and/or revise curricular materials that explores questions of democracy, civic participation, and/or education through the humanities while exploring potential opportunities for new school-community partnerships.

Participants will have access to the following while engaging in this work:

  • Archival materials from Wayne State’s Walter P. Reuther Library
  • Selected books and readings that explores these questions through Detroit’s educational history.
  • Shared resources developed throughout the institute.

All participants will be asked to complete a final evaluation survey to help the institute director’s assess the program’s learning goals and outcomes.