Teaching the Movement 2014

Fortunately, many excellent resources are available for states interested in improving their content standards and for teachers looking to improve the rigor of their own instruction. Table 6 identifies the top state sites; many additional sites are devoted to teaching the movement, including those we single out in Table 7. There is some hope, too, in the development of a common social studies framework, although we should not expect to see common history content standards ahead. Like much education reform in the United States, the struggle to improve the expectations we set will inevitably occur at the state and local levels.

It is our hope that this report, and subsequent work in this vein by the Southern Poverty Law Center, will provide states with productive models and possibilities for teaching one of our nation’s most important eras. The rubric included here improves on our prior evaluation but still falls short of a comprehensive blueprint for teaching the civil rights movement. Nevertheless, it should serve as a model for states working to improve their standards and frameworks.11

We recognize, of course, that state standards and resources neither fully determine nor adequately describe actual teaching and learning. The research to evaluate the knowledge base, practices and needs of teachers has not been conducted. Such research is needed to allow better materials to be created in support of instruction at the classroom level while giving us more information about practices in individual states.

Finally, we should work to create, identify and promote models for best practices. We should learn from states like Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia. Too many states do not support required civil rights movement instruction. This does not mean that the battle is lost. Teachers can and regularly do set higher expectations for their students. Bringing together and sharing model practices can spread outstanding teaching while convincing institutional authorities that a better world is possible.

By issuing this report, the Southern Poverty Law Center hopes to continue the national conversation about the importance of teaching America’s students about the modern civil rights movement. We call for states to integrate a comprehensive approach to civil rights education into their K-12 history and social studies curricula. We also call for a concerted effort among schools and other organizations that train teachers to work to ensure that teachers are well-prepared to teach about the civil rights movement. 

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