Darin Stockdill previews new middle school curriculum about history of Underground Railroad in Detroit area

January 08, 2021

Darin Stockdill, instructional and program design coordinator at the Center for Education Design, Evaluation, and Research (CEDER), is supporting history scholars and educators connected to the Detroit River Project and the Essex County Black Historical Research Society to develop curricular materials for middle school teachers in both Michigan and Ontario. Teachers will be able to use the standards-aligned materials developed as part of the Detroit River Story Lab project to engage their students with the transnational histories of the Underground Railroad and the key geographic role of the Detroit River. These lessons will tie this important legacy of Black resistance and anti-racist organizing to contemporary issues of racial justice and will introduce students to events and historical figures that have often been ignored in conventional curricula.


Greta Guest (Michigan News) featured a Q&A with Stockdill on the university’s website dedicated to Detroit projects. In the feature, Stockdill discussed how he began his collaboration with Kim Simmons and David Porter, how the new curriculum can empower teachers to implement place-based education, and how his own experiences working in Detroit inform his work on the project. 

Stockdill, who has been learning about the rich history of the area from Ontario teacher Shantelle Browning-Morgan, is excited to offer an engaging curriculum to local educators. “In many schools in our state, students learn about the Underground Railroad as something that happened someplace else, or they might read one thing about what took place in Detroit, but don’t get the full picture that Detroit was this really pivotal place in the history of resistance to slavery. Similarly, when we teach about slavery, it often gets framed a southern experience, but slavery existed in Detroit and Michigan for many years in different forms,” he said. 

The team hopes to present compelling materials with personal and community stories from this region, including the role that Canada, and Black Canadians, played in this story. Stockdill said, “What’s missing from the current, conventional 8th grade curriculum are place-based and social justice components, especially for African-American children in a city like Detroit. Education research into curricula has shown that youth of color, particularly Black youth, often don’t feel represented in or connected to traditional textbook driven curricula. There’s a lack of representation, and there’s certainly a lack of discussion of resistance and community organizing.”

The team looks forward to a time when students will be able to visit key sites from their studies, bringing their city’s history to life. “This idea of place-based education,” explains Stockdill, “is to connect what students learn about history to their communities and lived experiences so that they better understand the way that their community has both impacted history and been impacted by history. There’s a reciprocal relationship with larger spaces… their community is part of a national narrative, and they can join that process. Detroit was really important in resistance to slavery and we feel like it’s powerful for young people to be able to see their city and their community as having a place in history, to see themselves represented, and to understand that they can be part of a long legacy of struggling for justice.”

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Instructional and Program Design Coordinator, CEDER