Fortunately, there are many excellent resources available for states interested in improving their content standards and for teachers looking to improve the rigor of their own instruction. There is some hope, too, in the work towards common social studies standards, although past political uproars sparked by attempts to create such standards should warn us of the landmines ahead in such efforts. 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 does not come close to 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.
We recognize, of course, that state standards are not necessarily determinative or descriptive of 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. 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 than the institutions that govern them. 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 spark a 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. And we call on 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.