Leaders C (38%)
Groups F (0%)
Events A (67%)
History F (14%)
Opposition B (50%)
Tactics D (29%)
Content C (33%)
Grade levels A (100%)
Current events A (100%)
Civics F (0%)
Other movements A (100%)
Context A (75%)
Items the state requires
Leaders: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael. Events: 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1968 Civil Rights Act, Birmingham, Brown, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Rides, Little Rock, March on Washington. History: Integration of armed forces. Opposition: Bull Connor, George Wallace. Tactics: Sit-ins, tactics.
GRADE C means Tennessee includes at least 30% of the recommended content and has considerable work to do to ensure its students have a satisfactory understanding of the movement.
Tennessee’s Social Studies Curriculum Standards include Process Standards, Content Standards, Learning Expectations and Accomplishments. Coverage of the civil rights movement begins in elementary school and continues in high school.
Elementary and Middle School
Kindergarten and Grade 1: Standards related to national holidays include reference to Martin Luther King Jr.
Grade 5: Students should “understand domestic policies in the post-World War II period.” Of the six specified related outcomes, four are civil rights-related:
• Describe the struggle for racial and gender equality.
• Explain Brown v. Board of Education and its importance of to the civil rights movement.
• Explain the contributions of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez.
• Describe Tennessee’s involvement during the civil rights movement.
The relevant part of the performance indicators for this standard states that students should be able to: “recognize examples of how the how the United States confronted civil rights issues, (i.e., Brown v. Board of Education, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Birmingham civil rights march, American Indian Movement (AIM), Civil Rights Act of 1964).”
U.S. History: The civil rights movement is covered as part of the post-World War II era. Students are required to “investigate the impact of the GI Bill of Rights on American society. Investigate the effects of desegregation, the civil rights movement, and the turbulent 1960s upon American society.”
Another standard deals with the movement from a civics perspective, requiring that students “[u]nderstand the causes, course and impact of the civil rights movement and that they “[i]nvestigate Supreme Court decisions that affected the United States from 1945 to the early 1970s.”
The relevant state performance indicators are to be assessed by state instruments:
• Determine the effects of the Supreme Court’s decisions on civil rights (i.e., Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Gideon v. Wainwright and Escobedo v. Illinois).
• Identify significant events in the struggle for civil rights (i.e. integration of Clinton High School in Clinton; the Clinton 12 and Gov. Clement’s actions; Little Rock Central High; Montgomery Bus Boycott; Freedom Riders’ route; Birmingham bombings; Nashville lunch counters; Martin Luther King’s March on Washington speech; Civil Rights Act of 1964; Civil Rights Act of 1968; Great Society).
• Recognize the altered American approach to foreign policy (i.e., Bay of Pigs, brinkmanship, Cuban Missile Crisis, peaceful coexistence).
• Match leading figures of the Civil Rights era with their respective groups and goals (i.e., Strom Thurmond, Eugene “ Bull” Connor, George Wallace, Diane Nash, Betty Friedan, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Albert Gore, Sr.).
Teachers are asked to assess the following additional learning indicators:
• List milestones in American civil rights in terms of ethnicity and gender.
• Compare the ideologies and effectiveness of different groups involved in the civil rights and women’s movement.
• Analyze Tennessean Estes Kefauver’s role as chairman of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime, and participation in the civil rights movement.
United States Government: This elective includes a sample task for students to “study the major events, ideas, and individuals of the suffragist and civil rights movement to create, in small groups, a 2-to-4 minute public service announcement that targets 18-to-24 year olds (the lowest voting age group in the U.S.) and emphasizes the importance of voting and political participation in our society.”
African American History: This elective requires discussion of the civil rights movement. The following learning expectations related to the civil rights movement are part of this course:
• Examines the effect of United States economic policies during the civil rights movement.
• Examines the economic tactics engaged by the civil rights movement (e.g., boycotts and sit-ins).
• Analyzes the successes and failures of the civil rights movement in the United States: Executive Order #8802; legal victories before 1954; Brown v. Board of Education; legislation passed during the civil rights era; Civil Rights Acts; Voting Rights Act 1965; Fair Housing Act 1968; court-order busing.
• Analyzes the “freedom movement” and its impact American history from 1954 to 1965: lynching of Emmett Till; Little Rock Nine; Nashville Lunch Counter sit-in (Diane Nash); Freedom Summer.
• Contrasts the views of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
• Analyzes the impact of the KKK on black America.
• Recognizes the contributions of African-American leaders (e.g., Frederick Douglas, A. Philip Randolph, Medgar Evers, Stokely Carmichael and Jesse Jackson).
Tennessee’s civil rights standards could be substantially improved with a few modifications. The standards do not shy away from setting out core knowledge when it comes to critical events in the civil rights movement (with some important events missed) and do a good job of identifying opposition to the movement. The groups section is the weakest, with none of the key groups (CORE, SCLC, SNCC) mentioned in the standards. In addition, the standards are weak on history, omitting essential vocabulary terms like de jure and de facto discrimination. Finally, the tactics section could be improved by asking students to learn about a variety of tactics and compare them to each other. This might also help the state make an explicit connection to its civics curriculum and strategies for improving student engagement.
Overall, the state is moving in the right direction. With a few changes, Tennessee could have solid standards for teaching the civil rights movement.