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New report grades Ohio D on teaching civil rights movement

In Ohio, the state the slave Eliza and her son escape to in Harriet Beecher Stowe's historic 1852 anti-slavery novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and where the underground railroad thrived before and during the American Civil War, teaching the civil rights movement should be key to modern curriculum, but according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC], the one-time promised land to African-Americans escaping the bondage of slavery received a D grade based on how the issue of civil rights is taught in schools.

Ohio"At best, these course syllabi barely mention the civil rights movement. One content statement in the American History course syllabus reads: 'Following World War II, the United States experienced a struggle for racial and gender equality and the ex

"In the three years since the Southern Poverty Law Center first reported on the state of civil rights education, the nation dedicated a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., and commemorated the 50th anniversaries of James Meredith’s admission to Old Miss, the killing of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham Children’s March," wrote Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors from 1998–2010 and is now Chairman Emeritus. "Despite this attention, the bad news is that ignorance remains the operative word when it comes to the civil rights movement and much of African-American history," he added.

Prompted by reports showing that American students knew little about the modern civil rights movement, the SPLC initiated an investigation into what—in the form of standards—states expected teachers to teach and students to learn. What it found is that most states demanded little instruction in this area.

That effort produced "Teaching the Movement 2014: The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States," an effort to highlight how one of the defining events in American history, during which Americans fought to make real the ideals of justice and equality embedded in our founding documents, is taught in schools across the nation.

"When students learn about the movement, they learn what it means to be active American citizens," according to the report's principal researcher and writer, Kate Shuster, Ph.D. "They learn how to recognize injustice. They learn about the transformative role played by thousands of ordinary individuals, as well as the importance of organization for collective change. They see that people can come together to stand against oppression."

The 138-page report notes considerable variation in the guidance that states offer for teaching the civil rights movement. The average score across all states and the District of Columbia was 33 percent for an average grade of D. Using a different and much more restrictive methodology in 2011, the average score was 19 percent. A majority of states earned a grade of D or below, with 20 earning a grade of F.

A grade of D means the state scored at least 20 percent on SPLC's weighted scale. "These states should significantly revise their standards and resources so that students have a satisfactory and comprehensive picture of the civil rights movement," it said, adding that in general, these states are missing several key areas, covering the movement incidentally or haphazardly.

Commenting on Ohio's effort to teach about the individuals, groups and institutions associated with the civil rights movement to it's approximately 400,991 students in grades 10,11 and 12, SPLC says of Ohio, "At best, these course syllabi barely mention the civil rights movement. One content statement in the American History course syllabus reads: 'Following World War II, the United States experienced a struggle for racial and gender equality and the extension of civil rights.'"

Only three states—Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia—received an A. Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Oklahoma, California, New York and Florida received a B. Six states received a C for a low pass, even when a score of just 40 percent was required to earn a C and a score of 60 percent was required for a B. Fourteen states, including Ohio which previously scored an F, received a D.

"In order for America to be 100 percent strong – economically, defensively, and morally," the first African-American baseball major leaguer, Jackie Robinson, said. "We cannot afford the waste of having second- and third- class citizens." The son of Georgia sharecroppers who after lettering in four sports at U.C.L.A. and a court-martial trial prompted by his refusal to sit in the back of an army bus, Robinson stepped onto the field as a Brooklyn Dodger in April 1947 as a symbol of African Americans’ centuries-old quest to be regarded as citizens of equal rank with an equal opportunity to test their talents, wrote Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in the reports introduction.

Gates, Jr. bemoans the fact that fewer than half of U.S. states today include in their major curriculum documents any information on Jim Crow laws, which for a century divided citizens by color according to the paradoxical formula "separate but equal." If students don’t understand these laws or how they impacted the course of history, Gates, Jr. wonders "how will they ever be able to grasp the century of delay following emancipation that Dr. King pivoted from in the spontaneous “Dream” section of his iconic speech at the March on Washington in 1963? Or what the lawyers in Brown were up against? Or why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were and remain necessary manifestations of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of "“equal protection of the laws"?

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

According to noted civil rights historian Taylor Branch, the civil rights movement is a national, not a regional, issue that has lessons for students beyond those in the South. "If you’re trying to teach people to be citizens, teach them about the civil rights movement," Taylor said.

A strong message from the report is that students deserve to learn that individuals, acting collectively, can move powerful institutions to change.

SLPC hopes to continue the national conversation about the importance of teaching America’s students about the modern civil rights movement. It calls on states to integrate a comprehensive approach to civil rights education into their K-12 history and social studies curricula. Moreover, it also calls 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.

The SPLC claims it's "dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society." It uses litigation, education and other forms of advocacy and "works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality."

The news article New report grades Ohio D on teaching civil rights movement appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.

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