35 states get an F on teaching civil rights


When it comes to teaching civil rights, schools in the South have a more rigorous approach than nearly every other region of the country according to a new study by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Southern schools earn a grade of C or better says the survey, "Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education in 2011."

Eight southern states received an A, B or C - relatively weighty grades when compared to the rest of the country.

Sixteen states have no requirements at all when it comes to teaching civil rights history, the study found.

The authors of "Teaching the Movement" compared the requirements in state standards to a body of knowledge that reflects what civil rights historians and educators consider core information about the civil rights movement, and assigned A to F grades accordingly.

Some 35 states received an F when curriculums were graded according to these standards. Two states, Arizona and Arkansas, and Washington D.C. scored a grade D.

According to the New York Times, "Alabama, Florida and New York were given A grades. Those states require relatively detailed teaching about the decade and a half of historic events, roughly bookended by the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation ruling and the April 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the enactment of the federal Civil Rights Act a week later."

Civil rights leader Julian Bond, who wrote the preface to the study, cautions that even those states that did better have a ways to go. "The civil rights movement is given short shrift in the educational standards that guide what students learn," Bond says. "Although Southern states generally do a better job teaching the movement than the rest of the country, they have little to brag about."

Part of the problem may be generally low standards for teaching history. "Over the past decade, students have performed worse on federal history tests administered by the Department of Education than on tests in any other subject. On the history test last year, only 12 percent of high school seniors showed proficiency, writes the Times.

Countrywide only 2 percent of students could accurately answer questions about Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case.

Civil rights history that preceded Brown v. Board is likely to be given even shorter shift, including the founding of the NAACP and its predecessor the Niagara Movement, the Garvey phenomena and the historic movements of the 1930s and 1940s against segregation and discrimination in the North, East and Midwest.

The study's authors point out that civil rights history is indispensable to a well rounded education: "Students must learn about the civil rights movement. More than an essential chapter in our nation's history, it educates us about the possibilities of civic engagement while warning us about the kinds of resistance that stand in the way of change."

While important for minority students, they argue it is equally important for white students as well: "It helps students in the now-tenuous demographic majority to understand current cultural conflicts, political controversies and economic inequalities. When students learn about the civil rights movement, they learn about the democratic responsibility of individuals to oppose oppression."

Photo: tedeytan // CC 2.0

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  • correct SPLC

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 10/03/2011 11:00am (4 years ago)

  • For our youth, it is literally life giving to grasp the meaning of our great country as a, if not the model of a nation-state born out of resistance to oppression-and this not in isolation-W. E. B. Du Bois was one of the first to point out that the U. S. opposed this oppression in a system of revolutions, which included Africans all over the Americas and especially in Haiti.
    This youth includes all youth, not only African derived youth. The knowledge and usefulness of civil rights education is a serious matter that our Du Bois taught, spans some 5,000 years of human history and is closely related to the usefulness of knowing the damage of anti-communism and racism.
    Many would dare say that the lack of this education in all of our U. S. school is directly connected with our dismal failures in high school graduation and university preparation, especially for our Latino and African American students, male and female, gay and straight.
    It is unfortunate that our commenters would focus on denigrating the SLPC, rather than attacking the damage that the lack of civil rights education, and promoting civil rights education, in line with the best traditions of human civilization.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 10/03/2011 10:54am (4 years ago)

  • Ironic, isn't it? SPLC founder Morris Dees made a lot of money in the 1960s keeping Klan thugs like Claude Henley out of federal prison for their civil rights hate crimes.

    Henley was part of a Klan attack on a bus carrying about a dozen terrified black and white Freedom Riders into Montgomery. LIFE magazine even published photos of Henley in mid-rampage:


    Fortunately, Henley had a good lawyer in Morris Dees. Henley walked out of federal court scot-free, Dees collected thousands of dollars from the local Klan and White Citizens Council, and Henley's victims got nothing, least of all justice.

    This is the same SPLC where all of the top executives are white. In fact, the SPLC has NEVER hired a person of color to a highly paid position of authority in its entire 40 year history.


    Ms. Costello fails to mention that the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance program has been headed by "whites only" for 19 of its 20 year history.

    Some things never change in Montgomery.

    Posted by Richard Keefe, 09/30/2011 8:13am (4 years ago)

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