By Brittany Hutson
It’s no secret that when it comes to learning about history in our nation’s schools, students are primarily receiving a Eurocentric education. In social studies classes, the American Revolution, the voyage of Christopher Columbus and George Washington, (just to name a few) are topics repeatedly discussed from Kindergarten to 12th grade. When there is a lesson on Black history, it is near Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and in February, the designated month that packs years upon years of Black history into 28 days—just enough to do a brief overview of slavery and civil rights. But the fact of the matter is that unless students take it upon themselves to do some independent learning, they may be short changed about such a pivotal era in the history of the United States.
It appears that the state of Mississippi had similar thoughts and wanted to address it. Unlike other schools in the nation who may implement a single class on civil rights or Black history typically as an elective and not a required course, civil rights lessons will be required for students from kindergarten to 12th grade all across the state, according to the Associated Press.
State officials believe Mississippi could be the first state to require civil rights studies throughout all grades in its public school systems. A civil rights/human rights curriculum will become mandatory in the 2011-2012 school year, five years after Gov. Haley Barbour signed the requirement into law.
This curriculum adjustment is impressive given that it is being instituted in a state that was once one of the prime players for racism, violence and Jim Crow. Notably, it was in Mississippi where 14-year-old Emmett Till was taken by two white men and his body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River in 1955.
Mississippi education officials say the curriculum change took some time to implement because they waited to include it in the revision of the social studies framework that was scheduled for 2011. The state has made civil rights part of an assessment test students must pass for graduation to ensure that it is taught in the schools.
Of course, there is opposition by people who question who will write the textbooks and craft the materials students will be taught. Enthusiastic teachers say school districts can tailor their textbook orders to support what will be taught, and there can also be visits to historic sites, as well as lectures by veteran activists.
John Paola, who teaches at the predominantly black Hattiesburg High School in Mississippi, told the AP that “the change is needed because ‘every year the movement itself loses momentum. What I find [is that students] know who the people are, but they don’t understand the story…’”