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Mississippi Gets “C” In Civil Rights Education

By Evelina Burnett | Published 05 Mar 2014 05:54pm | comments

A new study says Mississippi still has room for improvement in the way it teaches civil rights history. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports the state scored a "C" in a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The study, titled Teaching the Movement, says Mississippi’s 2011 inclusion of civil rights and human rights in its K through 12 social studies framework is a “promising start.” But Maureen Costello, director of the Southern Povery Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project, says more could be done.

"A lot of the required competencies and objectives deal directly with the civil rights movement, so in terms of the direction that the state is giving to teachers, there's really a lot of excellent work happening in Mississippi," she says. "What we found, however, is that the supporting resources are not as strong."

Costello says the state’s suggested content and requirements needs greater depth, including more information about important civil rights events, groups, tactics and obstacles.

Civil rights activist Julian Bond, who wrote the foreward to the study, says civil rights history is citizenship education, teaching young people how democracy works.

"The failure to teach the civil rights movement would be like limiting teaching of the American Revolution to only George Washington and the cherry tree," Bond says. "Of course that's not the whole story. Why then would we believe that only Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are the only people you need to know about in teaching the civil rights movement. 

Bond says he hopes better civil rights education, nationwide, could help create an environment that would prevent incidents like the recent one at Ole Miss involving the James Meredith statue.

"These kind of college-level student racist pranks abound across the United States - they don't just happen in the American South," he says. "And they demonstrate a real ignorance on the part of young people about how hurtful some of their activities can be. 

"You have to think that if they knew what the impact was on their fellow students and on their colleagues, they wouldn't do it, or least you hope not," he says. 

A spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Education says there are civil rights or human rights learning standards in every required social studies class in the state. But it's up to local school districts to decide what curriculum to use to meet these standards. 

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