Teaching the Movement | 2011

The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011

The National Assessment of Educational Progress—commonly called “The Nation’s Report Card”—tells a dismal story: Only 2% of high school seniors in 2010 could answer a simple question about the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And it’s no surprise. Across the country, state educational standards virtually ignore our civil rights history.

Generally speaking, the farther away from the South—and the smaller the African-American population—the less attention paid to the civil rights movement. Sixteen states do not require any instruction whatsoever about the movement. In another 19, coverage is minimal. In almost all states, there is tremendous room for improvement.1

As the nation prepared this year to dedicate a monument to its greatest civil rights champion, the Southern Poverty Law Center undertook a comprehensive review—the first of its kind—of the coverage accorded the civil rights movement in state educational standards and curriculum frameworks. This report sets out the results of that review. It provides a national report card on the state of civil rights education in our country. Most states, unfortunately, get a failing grade.

Dedicating a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall is of great symbolic importance. But if we, as a nation, are to move beyond symbolism, teaching our children about the great movement that Dr. King led is a national imperative.

1 The report examines the educational standards of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We use “states” in reference to all 51 entities.

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