The March Continues

Not too long ago, Teaching Tolerance issued a report evaluating the various sets of state standards on how well they supported teaching about the modern civil rights movement. Our report showed that few states put needed emphasis on the movement. They provided little guidance to teachers about what should be taught and scant support for actual classroom practice.

That report was intended for policymakers. This guide is intended for teachers and school leaders who want to cultivate a deeper understanding of this important era in our history and who want to use its lessons to nurture a new generation of citizens. In it, we identify five essential practices for teaching the civil rights movement that make its lessons fresh and meaningful to students today.  

Ongoing and emerging research into the history and teaching of the civil rights movement has revealed what many people have known all along: Our conventional narrative is oversimplified and often inaccurate. Textbooks and resources too often reflect a King-and-Parks-centered narrative that omits the breadth and depth of the people’s movement. These narratives sanitize or neglect the intensity of resistance that activists faced. The good news is that the history of the movement is still being written, that stories and artifacts are being preserved, and that new teaching resources are being produced.

The struggle for justice and equality continues, and today’s students will take up previous generations’ unfinished business. When they learn about the civil rights movement, they learn more than a sequence of events and personalities. They learn about effective citizenship, democratic action and the nature of struggle. They also gain essential frames for understanding the current realities of American society. We expect our children to aspire to a better future and exhort them to be the leaders of tomorrow. By teaching about this great movement for freedom, opportunity and democracy, we give them the tools to create that future and to continue the march.

Maureen Costello
Director, Teaching Tolerance

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