COLUMN: The Civil Rights era should be a national curriculum requirement

America has gone far too long without a national requirement to teach the pivotal era of the Civil Rights movements.

Faith Brown is a Freshman psychology major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about introspective takes on modern society for The Maneater.

How many years have books like To Kill A Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn been taught in schools without properly educating students on the rhetoric used in their texts? How many people can speak about Booker T. Washington or the tragic death of Emmett Till? America has a history of choosing to sweep disturbing history under the rug rather than call attention to it, and the Civil Rights movement is no exception.

The Civil Rights movement was an important turning point in American history, and so much of its context is overlooked. Slavery and Martin Luther King Jr. are touched on in American classrooms, but the quality of the information is insufficient. The Southern Poverty Law Center gives states an A through F letter grade based on the quality of their Civil Rights curricula. 16 states in the US do not require Civil Rights to be taught at all, with 27 other states requiring the bare minimum or nothing as well. That’s a grand total of 46 states which do not rank higher than a C- in terms of the history of The Civil Rights movement.

A study done by the National Assessment of Educational Progress has shown that only approximately 2% of high school seniors were able to describe the significance of Brown v. Board of Education.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress surveyed a group of students’ understanding of the case by providing details about Brown v. Board of Education without directly naming it. The students tested weren’t required to name the Supreme Court case, only briefly explain what it was aiming to fix at the time. 73% of students tested failed to provide a correct answer.

Brown v. Board of Education was a pivotal case on the education system and racism in academic settings, such as segregation. It is a direct reason for how we are able to all be together as a (slightly) diverse group of students on MU’s campus, yet very few people are aware of its existence.

These are just a few of the many significant events in history that have contributed to how society is able to function today. Yet it is very rare that any history class will touch on these events in ample depth unless the class is specifically designed to talk about Black history. Studies have shown that some teachers only dedicate 8-9% of their history classes to teaching about Black history throughout the year while some simply omit Black history from their lesson plans altogether.

However, the Civil Rights movement is not just Black history. It is a vital part of American history and should not be separated from what we are required to learn. It is just as important — if not more so — than learning about George Washington’s feats as a general or international trade wars.

The American education system has no problem shoving the names of bigots, slave owners and dictators down our throats but would rather avoid the topic of Civil Rights. MU even prides itself on historical slave owners like Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Boone. It is absolutely inexcusable.

Educating the population on the history of the Civil Rights era is a first step in bringing an end to institutionalized racism. The American education system can start this healing process by prioritizing Civil Rights in school curricula. If we all have to know about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights then we ought to know about the lives they failed to protect for generations.

If people knew more about the time between slavery and now, future generations would be saved from ignorant and racist conversation.

Most people think slaves were freed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and then suddenly had the right to vote in the 1960s. This could not be further from the truth, as Lincoln’s order did not actually free slaves, and voting rights were not granted to African American and Black people until much later. Even today, voting rights are being taken from the Black and African American population, and few are aware.

It’s become common practice in the American education system to marginalize and ignore momentous events in history when the topic involves the Civil Rights movement. John Lewis fought for Black voting rights and died with his work stripped from him, yet his legacy isn’t taught in schools.

Misinformation is fed into the minds of American students and acts as a catalyst for prejudice, bigotry, racism and general ignorance toward Black people.

Teachers’ primary excuse for not teaching Civil Rights is that it’s a “sensitive topic.”⁠ Yet they have no problem teaching about Europeans slaughtering and conquering during every war we are required to learn about in school. No one thinks to censor or deter from teaching about gory war, so why are the hardships of African American and Black people censored?

I am tired of only learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and hearing people refer to him as Martin Luther King or even Martin Luther, a white man. I am tired of hearing my classmates say every n-word in literature without the slightest idea of why it’s a harmful word.

I am tired of having to be the one Black girl who always has to raise her hand to explain who the most well-known Civil Rights figures in history are. I should no longer have to explain to someone who Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, etc. are. The nation should do a better job of informing the population about the powerful figures who helped keep America alive. I am tired of people not knowing their history.

Civil Rights is a part of history and should be taught as such. It’s as ongoing as it is historical, and all people can benefit from learning about it. It is time to stop pretending what was done in the dark cannot come to light. It’s time we recognize that Black people and other “minorities” (though I hate that diminutive with a passion) did not just appear out of nowhere.

We all know the saying: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And with the recent rise in racial tensions, it rings true more than ever. Let’s end that cycle, and change how the education system treats the Civil Rights movement’s history.

_As part of the fight against racial injustice, The Maneater is encouraging readers to donate to Color of Change, a national civil rights group that works to strengthen the political voices of African Americans. Donate at: https://secure.actblue.com/contribute/page/support-us?refcode=coc_website_popup._

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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