The Major Documents
Alabama’s Course of Study (2004) for social studies contains extensive required and suggested civil rights movement content. Study of the movement begins in elementary school, continues in middle school and is extensive in the high school U.S. history course.
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 3: Identify significant historical sites in Alabama, including locations of civil rights activities. Examples include: Montgomery, birthplace of the modern civil rights movement; Birmingham, home of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; and Selma, site of voting rights activities.
Grade 4: Describe the social, political and economic impact of the civil rights movement on Alabama. Identify important people and events (examples: Martin Luther King Jr., George C. Wallace, Rosa Parks; Montgomery Bus Boycott, Birmingham church bombing and the Selma-to-Montgomery March). Identify benefits of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Grade 6: Describe the role of major civil rights leaders and significant events occurring. Examples: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Brown v. Board of Education, Montgomery Bus Boycott, student sit-ins, March on Washington, Freedom Rides, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Malcolm X, voter registration efforts and the Selma-to-Montgomery March.
Grade 7: Students studying civics should “Describe examples of conflict, cooperation, and interdependence of groups, societies, and nations, using past and current events.” The suggested activity is “tracing the political and social impact of the modern civil rights movement from 1954 to the present, including Alabama’s role.”
Grade 11: “Trace events of the modern civil rights movement from post-World War II to 1970 that resulted in social and economic changes, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, the March on Washington and the Freedom Rides.” The following activities are expected for all students:
- Tracing the federal government’s involvement, including the abolition of the poll tax, the desegregation of the armed forces, the nationalization of state militias, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Explaining contributions of individuals and groups, including Martin Luther King Jr., James Meredith, Medgar Evers, SCLC, SNCC and CORE.
- Identifying people and events in Alabama that influenced the movement, including Rosa Parks, Autherine Lucy, John Patterson, George C. Wallace, Vivian Malone, Fred Shuttlesworth, the children’s march, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing and the Selma-to-Montgomery March.
- Describing the development of the Black Power movement, including the change in focus of SNCC, the rise of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, and the Black Panther movement.
- Describing the impact of African-American entrepreneurs including S. B. Fuller and A. G. Gaston.
Sociology elective: “Describe social movements and social change” by contrasting the impact of the modern civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gun rights movement and the environmental movement in the United States.”
Alabama’s Department of Education sponsors the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), an online portal for sharing lessons, activities, podcasts and informational materials. The site (alex.state.al.us/plans.php) features many teacher-designed materials to help teach about the civil rights movement. These include dozens of lesson plans and podcasts as well as informational materials and activities provided by sponsoring partners. The ALEX site allows teachers to create a personal work space for storing and sharing lesson plans.
ALEX indexes more than 200 resources related to the civil rights movement. These include a number of teacher-created lesson plans explicitly linked to state standards and a variety of learning objects. In addition, ALEX collects lessons from a variety of outside providers, including Thinkfinity partners such as EconEdLink, EDSITEment and ReadWriteThink. ALEX directs teachers to a number of podcasts that include lectures, oral history interviews and student-created resources. Alabama-created resources are explicitly linked to state standards, making them convenient for teachers to include in their scopes and sequences.
Alabama’s standards contain an exceptionally high amount of required detail. This is appropriate, given the central role the state played in major civil rights events. Geography and history are not the only reasons for Alabama’s high grade. The state was one of the highest ranked in a Fordham Institute survey, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011, with a grade of A- and a final score of 90 percent. Civil rights movement content is well-sequenced across grade levels.
The state still has room to improve its standards. While Alabama requires students to learn about a variety of leaders, events and groups in the civil rights movement, its standards lack clarity on the causes of the movement and the nature and extent of white resistance. Although the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing is included as required content, students are not required to learn about the Ku Klux Klan or Bull Connor, both important symbols of white resistance. The standards make connections to current events and to the local community, but do not trace connections across social justice movements or make explicit the important lessons for civic education.
Alabama’s supporting materials are outstanding. The ALEX database contains a wealth of material that is clearly organized and accessible, highlighting a variety of original historical documents that provide a comprehensive approach to teachers approaching this essential era in American history.
The Major Documents
Like more than a dozen others, Alaska is a “local control” state, leaving districts to set required content and frameworks. Although Alaska adopted new English/language arts and mathematics standards in 2012, its social studies standards remain unchanged. The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s Content and Performance Standards for Alaska Students (2006) does not mention the civil rights movement. The state mandates only learning outcomes related to Alaskan history.
The Alaska Department of Education website offers no materials for teaching and learning about the civil rights movement.
Alaska’s failure to set appropriate history standards for its students does not bode well for the state’s ability to graduate students with an understanding of the past. The Department of Education’s review of the need to set new standards for reading and math acknowledges that Alaska’s standards set bars for learning considerably lower than in other states. This prompted the state to revise its standards upward. If Alaskan students deserve detailed standards in reading and math, why is history left out? The decision to omit requirements related to major events in American history is troubling.
The Major Documents
Arizona has five master strands for social studies education in its Academic Standards (revised 2006). The civil rights movement appears in both the civics and government strand and in the U.S. history strand: “Post-war tensions led to social change in the United States and to a heightened focus on foreign policy. Civil rights struggles, changing social expectations, global tensions and economic growth defined the modern United States. Those issues continue to change and reshape our nation.”
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 1: Students should “recognize that Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez worked for and supported the rights and freedoms of others.”
Grade 3: Students are asked to “recognize that individuals (e.g., Susan B. Anthony, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez) worked for and supported the rights of others.”
Grade 7 Civics: Identify the government’s role in progressive reforms (e.g., women’s suffrage, labor unions, temperance movement, civil rights).
Grade 8: Students are required to “describe the importance of the following civil rights issues and events: a. Jim Crow Laws, b. nonviolent protests, c. desegregation, d. Civil Rights Act of 1964, e. Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Grade 8 Civics: Describe the impact that the following acts had on increasing the rights of groups and individuals: Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Indian Rights Act of 1968 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Describe the impact that the following had on rights for individuals and groups: Jim Crow laws, literacy test, poll taxes, grandfather clause; civil rights movement (i.e., Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks); desegregation of the military, schools, transportation, sports; United Farm Workers (i.e., César Chávez); National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
U.S. History: Students must “Describe aspects of post World War II American society:”
- Postwar prosperity (e.g., growth of suburbs, baby boom, GI Bill).
- Popular culture (e.g., conformity v. counter culture, mass media).
- Protest movements (e.g., anti war, women’s rights, civil rights, farm workers, César Chávez).
- Assassinations (e.g., John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X).
- Shift to increased immigration from Latin America and Asia.
Arizona’s Teaching Diversity in American History Committee has produced a number of lesson plans and resources aligned to Arizona’s Social Studies Standards as well as to Arizona’s Common Core Standards in Language Arts. These resources, several directly relevant to teaching the civil rights movement, are online. One eighth-grade lesson, “Use of the Boycott,” is designed to teach students how Gandhi’s ideas influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez. It recommends viewing a video of Gandhi and his followers but does not offer context for this video or suggest other original historical documents. An 11th-grade lesson on protest music includes a number of civil rights songs as suggested texts without comment. A seventh-grade lesson titled “Jim Crow Diversity” does recommend some original historical documents. An 11th-grade lesson on the right to vote includes additional materials. However, none of these lessons offers particularly challenging or even age-appropriate activities.
Arizona’s content requirements for learning about the civil rights movement are weak. Like many states, Arizona’s standards omit discussion of racism and white resistance. The state does require students to learn about Jim Crow, literacy tests and poll taxes, but fails to provide guidance about the origins of those discriminatory laws. While Arizona does include education about the civil rights movement in multiple grades, a closer inspection reveals that much of the required content simply repeats from year to year rather than building in complexity.
The story about the civil rights movement told in these standards is a story of a small number of heroic individuals (no groups are included in either required or suggested knowledge) who influenced legislation (students are repeatedly required to learn about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965) without substantial resistance. The lack of meaningful supporting materials risks leaving teachers and students adrift without guidance from the standards.
The Major Documents
The Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks have not been updated since 2007. They include documents supporting K-8 social studies instruction, American history and a Contemporary United States History elective course for high school.
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 3: Examine historical people and events of Arkansas (e.g., Maya Angelou, Civil War, civil rights movement). Recognize individuals who contributed to the common good of society (e.g., Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, César Chávez).
Grade 4: Identify major historical events that occurred during the 20th century (e.g., World War I, Great Depression, World War II, space exploration, civil rights).
Grade 6: Examine the following components of the civil rights movement: Freedom Riders, sit-ins, organized marches, boycotts, school integration and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Explain the migration of African Americans northward before and during the civil rights movement. Identify significant individuals whose lives impacted the civil rights movement (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Stokely Carmichael, Medgar Evers, Little Rock Nine, Thurgood Marshall). Examine changes brought about by the following world leaders including, but not limited to: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher and Mao Zedong.
U.S. History: Only one requirement in the American history social studies curriculum framework (revised 2006) covers the movement: “Investigate civil rights issues affecting the following groups: African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, women.”
Civics/American government: The curriculum framework (2006) for the one-year required course has an institutional take on the civil rights movement, identifying key court cases, legislation and presidents:
- Analyze court cases that demonstrate how the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individuals (e.g., Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Tinker v. Des Moines, Gideon v. Wainwright).
- Examine changes in civil rights legislation (e.g., affirmative action, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Civil Rights Acts of 1964-1965, Voting Rights Act of 1964).
- Identify United States presidents and summarize their roles in the civil rights movements: Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
AP United States Government and Politics: The Arkansas Department of Education Enhanced AP United States Government and Politics curriculum framework (2006) includes the following items in the section on civil rights and equal protection:
- Barriers to voting, including the white primary, the grandfather clause, poll taxes, literacy tests, acts of violence and intimidation.
- Brown v. Board of Education: reversal of Plessy v. Ferguson, court-ordered desegregation “with all deliberate speed.”
- De facto v. de jure segregation.
- The civil rights movement.
- Changes in civil rights legislation (e.g., Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Civil Rights Act of 1968, affirmative action programs and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).
Contemporary United States history elective: This one-semester course’s curriculum framework (2006) includes a strand called “Race and Ethnicity.” For this strand, students “analyze the role which race and ethnicity have played in world affairs.” Students should:
- Research the civil rights movement in the United States (e.g., desegregation of the United States military, Brown v. Board of Education, NAACP, SCLC, CORE, Freedom Rides, Black Panthers).
- Compare and contrast the views of various civil rights leaders (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X).
- Examine the role of government in securing civil rights (e.g., federal court cases, federal legislation, 24th Amendment).
The Arkansas Department of Education provides relevant online resources to aid teachers. The first, African and African American History: A Resource Guide for Arkansas Teachers was produced by the Arkansas Black History Task Force in 1998. This committee was established in 1997 in response to legislation requiring the Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education to “oversee dissemination of instructional materials and training for the teaching of African-American history in grades K-12 in Arkansas public schools and training in racial and ethnic awareness and sensitivity for teachers and administrators.” In addition to the Resource Guide, the Task Force developed trainings to be conducted in Arkansas’ 15 education service cooperatives and the three Pulaski County school districts. Although it does not seem to have been updated since its original printing, the Resource Guide contains many useful citations related to the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement. Its appendix contains four sample lesson plans using the resources, one relating to the civil rights movement.
The website also directs teachers to a coloring book produced by the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission. Arkansas African American History Makers contains images and biographies of 20 notable African Americans from Arkansas.
In addition to these publications, Arkansas maintains a wiki called “Social Studies Place.” That site is designed to inform K-12 social studies educators about available resources and updates from the Department of Education. One section of this site is dedicated to African-American history resources. It contains links to several items of interest for teaching the civil rights movement, including the University of Arkansas’ collection of the papers of Daisy Bates (adviser to the Little Rock Nine).
Arkansas’ standards are strong in listed content but weak in context and connections. Treatment of the civil rights movement could be greatly improved for early grades in particular. The state is to be commended for including the civil rights movement and a detailed treatment of barriers to voting in its AP U.S. Government class; unfortunately, this content is reserved for students taking the advanced class. Otherwise, Arkansas’ discussion of barriers to the movement’s success is limited.
The state’s Resource Guide contains rich annotated bibliographies of learning objects (including texts and multimedia resources) related to the history, causes, progress and effects of the civil rights movement appropriate for all grade levels. These materials would be greatly improved if supplemented by lesson and unit plans linked to standards and assessment materials.
The Major Documents
California’s Criteria for Evaluating Instructional Materials requires students to study the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. at every grade level:
Materials for studying the life and contributions of César E. Chávez and the history of the farm-labor movement and of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement shall be included at each grade level, with suggestions for supporting the respective holidays in honor of those men and the accompanying activities.
California’s History-Social Science Content Standards, along with the accompanying Frameworks, contains extensive provisions for study of the civil rights movement in middle and high school. Because it occupies both categories, this study evaluates the Framework as both a major document and as supporting material.
Elementary and Middle School
Kindergarten: Identify the purposes of, and the people and events honored in, commemorative holidays, including the human struggles that were the basis for the events (e.g., Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day).
Grade 3: Describe the lives of American heroes who took risks to secure our freedoms (e.g., Anne Hutchinson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr.).
Grade 11: The learning objectives in Standard 10, directing that “Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights,” deal mainly with the civil rights movement:
- Explain how demands of African Americans helped produce a stimulus for civil rights, including President Roosevelt’s ban on racial discrimination in defense industries in 1941, and how African Americans’ service in World War II produced a stimulus for President Truman’s decision to end segregation in the armed forces in 1948.
- Examine and analyze the key events, policies and court cases in the evolution of civil rights, including Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke and California Proposition 209.
- Describe the collaboration on legal strategy between African-American and white civil rights lawyers to end racial segregation in higher education.
- Examine the roles of civil rights advocates (e.g., A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, James Farmer, Rosa Parks), including the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and the “I Have a Dream” speech.
- Discuss the diffusion of the civil rights movement of African Americans from the churches of the rural South and the urban North, including the resistance to racial desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham, and how the advances influenced the agendas, strategies and effectiveness of the quests of American Indians, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities.
- Analyze the passage and effects of civil rights and voting rights legislation (e.g., 1964 Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act of 1965) and the 24th Amendment, with an emphasis on equality of access to education and to the political process.
Principles of American Democracy and Economics:
In this 12th-grade course, students study landmark Supreme Court cases including Brown v. Board of Education.
In addition to its content standards, California publishes an extensive document called the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools. Revised in 2009, the narrative framework is designed to “provide guidance for instruction” while reflecting “guidance, comments and thoughts from scholars of history-social science, curriculum experts, and classroom teachers throughout California.” This unique document is cited here at length because its extensive discussion of the civil rights movement provides so much additional direction for teachers.
Grade 8 and High School
The Framework takes care to emphasize the civil rights movement’s connections to the past, from slavery to Reconstruction through World War II:
- Students should analyze how events during and after Reconstruction raised and then dashed the hopes of black Americans for full equality. They should understand how the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution were undermined by the courts and political interests. They should learn how slavery was replaced by black peonage, segregation, Jim Crow laws and other legal restrictions on the rights of blacks, capped by the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896. Racism prevailed, enforced by lynch mobs, the Ku Klux Klan, and popular sentiment. Students also should understand the connection between these amendments and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Although undermined by the courts a century ago, these amendments became the basis for all civil rights progress in the 20th century.
- Attention should be paid to the effect of [World War II] on the home front. … Wartime factory work created new job opportunities for unskilled women and blacks. The racial segregation of the armed forces, combined with the egalitarian ideology of the war effort, produced a strong stimulus for civil rights activism when the war ended.
- Students [should] grasp the enormous barriers black Americans had to overcome in their struggle for their rights as citizens. Attention should be given to the provisions enacted into the Constitution in 1787 that preserved slavery, the post–Civil War laws and practices that reduced the newly freed slaves to a state of peonage, and the Jim Crow laws that were upheld by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions in the late 19th century. Students should be aware of Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute. Excerpts from his 1895 Atlanta Exposition address will show his efforts to adjust to the handicaps of racial segregation. Discrimination continued to confront black citizens who migrated to northern cities and who served in World Wars I and II.
The framework also calls for a detailed discussion of Brown, exploring not just the decision but also the application of its underlying principles to current events:
- Students should learn about the rise of the civil rights movement and the legal battle to abolish segregation. The battle in the courts began with challenges to racial segregation in higher education and achieved a signal victory in 1954 with the Brown v. Board of Education decision. This important decision should be read and discussed. Students should analyze why one of the first demands of the civil rights movement was for equal educational opportunity.
- Why is education so important in the life chances of an individual? What happens to people who are not educated in America today? What kinds of jobs can they get? How does mass illiteracy affect an entire society? … What would life in the United States be like if there were no public schools?
The framework proceeds to outline a detailed chronology of major events and figures in the movement, taking care to emphasize both grassroots and legislative components:
- The Brown decision and its slow acceptance by local and state governments stimulated a generation of political and social activism led by black Americans pursuing their civil rights. Momentous events in this story illumine the process of change: the commitment of white people in the South to “massive resistance” against desegregation; the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was started by Rosa Parks and then led by the young Martin Luther King Jr.; the clash in Little Rock, Ark., between federal and state power; the student sit-in demonstrations that began in Greensboro, N.C.; the Freedom Rides; the March on Washington in 1963; the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964; and the march in Selma, Ala., in 1965. Students should recognize how these dramatic events influenced public opinion and enlarged the jurisdiction of the federal courts. They should understand Dr. King’s philosophical and religious dedication to nonviolence by reading documents such as his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” and they should recognize the leadership of the black churches in the movement. By viewing films of this period, students should recognize both the extraordinary moral courage of ordinary black men, women and children and the interracial character of the civil rights movement.
- The expansion of the role of the federal government as a guarantor of civil rights should be examined, especially during the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. After President Kennedy’s assassination, Congress enacted landmark federal programs in civil rights, education and social welfare. Students should examine the historical significance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
- The peak of legislative activity in 1964-65 was accompanied by a dramatic increase in civil unrest and protest among urban blacks, and 1966 saw the emergence of the Black Power movement. The assassination of Dr. King in 1968 deprived the civil rights movement of its best-known leader, but not its enduring effects on American life. In considering issues such as school busing and group quotas, students can discuss the continuing controversy between group rights to a fair share as opposed to individual rights to equal treatment. Well-chosen readings should heighten students’ sensitivity to the issues raised in this unit, such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Lerone Bennett’s Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Richard Wright’s Native Son and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.
The framework’s discussion of the civil rights movement concludes by emphasizing the movement’s connection to other campaigns:
The success of the black civil rights movement encouraged other groups—including women, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and individuals with disabilities—in their campaigns for legislative and judicial recognition of their civil equality. Students should study how César Chávez and the United Farm Workers movement used nonviolent tactics, educated the general public about the working conditions in agriculture, and worked to improve the lives of farmworkers. Major events in the development of all these movements and their consequences should be noted.
New Framework Coming Soon
California’s Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission approved a new draft History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools for field review on July 17, 2009, before the implementation of Assembly Bill X4 2, which sharply cut back spending during California’s current budget crisis. Recent legislation, SB 1540, requires California to updates its curriculum framework beginning in 2014.
California’s new History-Social Science Framework update, if adopted, will add detail to the state’s coverage of the civil rights movement, including coverage of A. Philip Randolph, W. E. B. Du Bois and Ella Baker. It also encourages teachers to increase their exploration of debates over divergent tactics in the civil rights movement.
California’s major documents provide a nuanced view of the civil rights movement. The Framework adds important clarifications and connections. It emphasizes the movement’s rich connections to past events in U.S. history and suggests a varied list of details for covering resistance to the movement (a far cry from the Standards’ terse requirement that students learn about “opposition to desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham.”) The Framework also dwells productively on the material consequences of inadequate education for individuals and society—the kind of significant statement lacking in general state coverage of the civil rights movement. Finally, the Framework does an excellent job of encouraging teachers to use original historical documents and even fiction.
It is worth noting that the Framework’s treatment of the movement still needs some work. Focused on a King-Parks narrative, the Framework omits major advocacy groups and diverse leaders even as it takes care to mention the heroism of everyday people. Other than a cursory mention of Black Power, the Framework does not deal with differences within the movement about strategy and tactics. It can be further improved by identifying the work of major civil rights groups.
California’s score would be even higher if it offered additional support resources to teachers, including sample unit and lesson plans. As it stands, California’s major documents offer an excellent example to the rest of the nation, using a narrative approach to teach teachers (and hopefully, by extension, students) about the civil rights movement.
Survey of Standards and Frameworks
Colorado’s Academic Standards for Social Studies includes three “Evidence Outcomes” relevant to the civil rights movement, all covered in high school:
- Analyze the complexity of events in U.S. history. Topics to include but not limited to the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement.
- Examine and evaluate issues of unity and diversity from Reconstruction to present. Topics to include but not limited to the rise and fall of Jim Crow, role of patriotism and the role of religion.
- Analyze the origins of fundamental political debates and how conflict, compromise and cooperation have shaped national unity and diversity. Topics to include but not limited to suffrage, civil rights and the role of government.
In Colorado, local districts are responsible for developing curriculum. There are no other guiding documents from the Colorado Department of Education.
Colorado is a local-control state where curricular decisions are made at the local level. In the last year, the Colorado Department of Education has responded to district requests for sample standards-based curriculum resources by creating sample course and unit overview templates. Two of those templates, high school U.S. history units titled “The American Dream” and “Change is a Comin,’” include recommended content focusing on several important aspects of the civil rights movement. In addition, the Colorado Department of Education’s website maintains a list of free online instructional resources for social studies, some of which contain materials and primary-source documents relevant to the civil rights movement.
Colorado’s standards provide poor coverage of the civil rights movement. The relevant “evidence outcomes” are as lacking in evidence as they are mired in generality. Students are asked to “analyze the complexity of events in United States history” and “examine and evaluate issues of unity and diversity,” but the state provides no yardsticks or specific content expectations. To be fair, Colorado’s standards are weak across the board, not only in their coverage of the civil rights movement—the state also earned an F in the Fordham Institute’s survey, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011.
The sample unit plans show considerable promise, especially as they are part of a broader initiative to engage teachers statewide in effective curriculum planning. The units are explicitly linked to state standards and the CCSS, including thoughtful guiding questions that genuinely encourage students to think deeply about the causes of the civil rights movement. They clearly outline suggested technical vocabulary while placing the movement in context of the arc of American history. Unfortunately, the sample units are only for high school. The state’s resources could be improved by adding suggested original historical documents and additional materials, including more-specific lesson plans.
The Major Documents
The Connecticut Social Studies Framework Grades PK-12 (2009) does not require study of the civil rights movement. Several grade level expectations (GLEs) mention civil rights movement figures or events as examples, but the Framework makes it clear that “these examples are simply that—suggestions—and are not the only illustrative examples one might choose to use.” Connecticut has not yet adopted its revised Framework (2011). That document’s coverage of the civil rights movement is not significantly different from the content in the 2009 version.
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 3: Students should be able to “explain the significance of events surrounding historical figures (e.g., George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Squanto, Sacagawea, Abraham Lincoln, César Chávez, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks).”
U.S. History: During the high school course, which is the second half of U.S. history, students are expected to: “Trace the evolution of citizens’ rights (e.g., Palmer Raids, struggle for civil rights, women’s rights movements, Patriot Act)”; “Evaluate the role and impact significant individuals have had on historical events (e.g., Malcolm X, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan)”; Connect Connecticut history to United States history by “describe[ing] how major events in U.S. history affected Connecticut citizens (e.g., Great Depression, World War II, civil rights).”
One GLE in the state’s one-semester civics course mentions civil rights when asking students to “analyze laws that have been modified to meet society’s changing values and needs (e.g., civil rights laws, banking regulations).”
The Connecticut State Department of Education’s website offers an annotated list of links for resources teaching a variety of areas in social studies but does not provide specific resources for teaching and learning about the civil rights movement online.
Connecticut’s scant requirements and supporting materials are disappointing, but not especially surprising given the overall lack of rigor and content in the state’s history standards. Still, it is a shame that a state whose rich history includes the Amistad case, a long tradition of abolitionism, an important chapter in the Black Power struggle and strong participation in Freedom Summer does not do more to encourage teaching and learning about the civil rights movement. Even if Connecticut does not adopt more detailed standards, it could support teachers more with resources and suggested lesson plans.
The Major Documents
The state of Delaware issues both content standards and standards clarifications. Delaware released its most recent clarifications in 2010. While they dwell deeply on the importance of using original historical documents to study history, they maintain the skills focus of the state standards rather than suggesting specific content areas. They do not include the civil rights movement.
The Delaware Recommended Curriculum includes suggested course outlines for each grade. These units are peer-reviewed and juried to ensure alignment with the Delaware Content Standards.
The “Expansion of Freedom” unit for seventh grade includes several civil rights-related lessons. Brown is included in a list of suggested Supreme Court cases for student research. Another lesson in this unit requires students to analyze, compare and draw inferences from photos from the Jim Crow and women’s suffrage eras. This lesson includes the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, encouraging students to engage in cause-and-effect analysis.
The Delaware Department of Education has developed a recommended curriculum for U.S. history 1850-1990 that, while not mandatory, is used widely across the state. It recommends a number of lessons from the Stanford University History Education Group’s Reading Like a Historian curriculum. Weeks 26-29 cover the expansion of civil liberties. The major description of this section of the unit summarizes the content:
Approaches to ending racial segregation include legislation, reform movements, non-violence and violence. These approaches, and judicial reinterpretations of amendments, contributed to significant gains for minorities during the civil rights era. But the goal of full equality remains unfulfilled. Historians disagree about when the civil rights movement started, the emphasis placed on civil rights leaders, and the centrality of nonviolent protest in affecting change.
The unit includes eight recommended instructional resources and one assessment resource. The instructional resources cover integration of the armed forces, school desegregation, school integration, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the role of women in the 1950s, the Great Society and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two of the recommended lessons in this area are Delaware-created. One was developed for Law Day 2008 and provides a case study to help students understand educational inequality in Delaware in the 1950s. The second uses original historical documents from the Delaware state archives to evaluate Constitutional change over time. This lesson is an excellent example of the use of original documents to promote understanding of school desegregation at a local level. The other recommended lessons also use original historical documents to good effect.
Delaware has evidently decided that the civil rights movement does not rise to the level of required content. To be fair, the state’s standards intentionally avoid requiring any specific content. As the standards state, “The reason why specific people, laws, events, etc., are not listed is because no group of historians will ever agree on the essential and necessary facts that everyone should know.” This appeal to relativism surrenders the opportunity to lead with high expectations, rigor and accountability.
The state’s supporting materials show promise. They are clearly organized and accessible and are particularly interested in promoting the use of original historical documents. They would be improved if they expanded coverage of the civil rights movement into the elementary grades and addressed a broader range of movement-related topics.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
The Major Documents
The District of Columbia’s Social Studies Pre-K Through Grade 12 Standards discusses the civil rights movement in several grades. It contains many examples of leaders, groups and events that students should understand.
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 1: Like many states, the District of Columbia requires students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. as part of a requirement to understand national holidays.
Grade 3: Students are asked to “Identify and research outstanding statements of moral and civic principles made in Washington, D.C., and the leaders who delivered them, that contributed to the struggle to extend equal rights to all Americans.” This requirement is followed by a list of nonrequired examples that includes Martin Luther King Jr.’s Lincoln Memorial addresses of 1957 and 1963, as well as Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’s speech at the Poor People’s March.
Grade 5: The roots of discrimination and segregation—including Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan—are included in Reconstruction rather than as part of the civil rights movement. The Klan is mentioned again in the Jazz Age. For the civil rights movement, the Standards’ “Broad Concept” asks that students “describe the key events and accomplishments of the civil rights movement in the United States.” It contains the following detailed learning expectations:
- Describe the proliferation of the civil rights movement of African Americans from the churches of the rural South to the urban North.
- Explain the role of the NAACP.
- Identify key leaders in the struggle to extend equal rights to all Americans through the decades (e.g., Mary McLeod Bethune, Ella Jo Baker, César Chávez, Frederick Douglass, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, Charles Houston, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Carlos Montes, Baker Motley, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Eleanor Roosevelt, Reies López Tijerina).
- List and describe the steps toward desegregation (e.g., A. Philip Randolph’s proposed 1941 March on Washington, Jackie Robinson and baseball, Truman and the armed forces, Adam Clayton Powell and Congress, and the integration of public schools).
- Explain the growth of the African-American middle class.
Grade 11: In their study of U.S. history, students are asked to “analyze the origins, goals, key events, and accomplishments of [the] civil rights movement in the United States.” The related learning outcomes reach well beyond the civil rights movement to encompass a variety of struggles:
- Explain the roots of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement in the legal struggles and largely interracial coalition building of the 1940s (e.g., CORE and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund).
- Describe the diffusion of the civil rights movement of African Americans from the churches of the rural South to the urban North, including the resistance to racial desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham, and how their advances influenced the agendas, strategies and effectiveness of the quests of Native Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities.
- Describe the birth and the spread of the Chicano movement, from New Mexico to Denver to Washington, D.C., and analyze its moderate and more militant arms (e.g., Brown Berets, United Farm Workers, Mexican American Political Association and Raza Unida).
- Explain the role of institutions (e.g., the NAACP; the Warren Court; the Nation of Islam; CORE; SCLC; League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC; the National Council of La Raza, or NCLR; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF; the National Puerto Rican Coalition; and SNCC).
- Describe the legacies and ideologies of key people (e.g., A. Philip Randolph, Dolores Huerta, Raúl Yzaguirre, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Jo Baker, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X).
- Outline the steps toward desegregation (e.g., Jackie Robinson and baseball, Harry Truman and the armed forces, and Adam Clayton Powell and Congress) and the integration of public schools, including Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe.
- Trace the identification of rights of immigrant populations (non-English speakers) by examining a series of legal decisions from the Supreme Court (e.g., Hernández v. Texas, Méndez v. Westminster, Plyler v. Doe, Lau v. Nichols and Keyes v. Denver).
- Explain the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the 24th Amendment, with an emphasis on equality of access to education and to the political process.
- Describe the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965 and the effect of abolishing the national origins quotas on the demographic makeup of America.
- Analyze the women’s rights movement launched in the 1960s, including differing perspectives on the roles of women, the National Organization of [sic] Women, and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
In addition, the movement gets some treatment in ancillary standards: The discussion of World War II includes a requirement to learn about A. Philip Randolph; another standard requires students to “[e]xplain the rise of the Dixiecrats and the Southern Manifesto, which set the stage for the ultimate exodus of Southern whites from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.” A later one requires students to “[d]escribe the Black Power and black studies movements (e.g., the Black Panthers; Organization Us; black-themed film, music and art; and the birth of academic black studies).”
Grade 12: Students discuss Brown and Bakke in their required one-semester Principles of U.S. Government class, in which they are required to “explain the controversies that have resulted over changing interpretations of civil rights” by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The District of Columbia provides materials to educators for teaching topics in history, but does not make these materials public, and did not make them available for this report.
The District of Columbia’s standards score highly in content and are especially well sequenced across grades. The district’s social studies standards have been highly praised elsewhere, including by the Fordham Institute’s survey, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011, which awarded them a rare A-. That review noted, however, that the district’s post-World War II standards were not exceptional. These standards can still be improved in some key areas, including making explicit connections to civic education and current events. These connections help students to understand the civil rights movement and its relationship to their lived experience.
The District might receive a substantially higher score if its supporting materials for teachers were available for review. Public access would also help teachers easily find and implement constructive ideas for their classrooms.
The Major Documents
Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSSS) contain a number of benchmarks specific to the civil rights movement from kindergarten through high school.
The “Remarks and Examples” (abbreviated simply as “examples”) in Florida’s standards were updated in 2012. The entire set of standards is scheduled for revision in 2013. The standards are very detailed. Unusually, they include specific access points across grades for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 4: While studying Florida history, students are required to “[i]dentify Florida’s role in the civil rights movement. Examples are Tallahassee bus boycotts, civil disobedience, and the legacy of early civil rights pioneers, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore.”
Grade 8: In middle school, students learn about Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan in the context of Reconstruction.
The bulk of Florida’s civil rights movement coverage, as in many states, is in the high school social studies curriculum. The following benchmarks are the core of Florida’s civil rights-related requirements:
- Analyze support for and resistance to civil rights for women, African Americans, Native Americans and other minorities.
- Examine the freedom movements that advocated civil rights for African Americans, Latinos, Asians and women.
- Explain the impact of World War II on domestic government policy (e.g., rationing, national security, civil rights, increased job opportunities for African Americans, women, Jews and other refugees).
- Analyze the attempts to extend New Deal legislation through the Great Society and the successes and failures of these programs to promote social and economic stability. Examples may include, but are not limited to, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, War on Poverty, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start.
- Evaluate the success of 1960s-era presidents’ foreign and domestic policies. Examples may include, but are not limited to, civil rights legislation, Space Race, Great Society, War on Poverty.
- Compare nonviolent and violent approaches utilized by groups (African Americans, women, Native Americans, Hispanics) to achieve civil rights. Examples may include, but are not limited to, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, boycotts, riots, protest marches.
- Assess key figures and organizations in shaping the civil rights movement and Black Power movement. Examples may include, but are not limited to, the NAACP, National Urban League, SNCC, CORE, James Farmer, Charles Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Constance Baker Motley, the Little Rock Nine, Roy Wilkins, Whitney M. Young, A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Williams, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X [El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz], Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture], H. Rap Brown [Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin], the Black Panther Party [e.g., Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale].
- Assess the building of coalitions among African Americans, whites, and other groups in achieving integration and equal rights. Examples may include, but are not limited to, Freedom Summer, Freedom Rides, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Tallahassee bus boycott of 1956, March on Washington.
- Analyze significant Supreme Court decisions relating to integration, busing, affirmative action, the rights of the accused, and reproductive rights. Examples may include, but are not limited to, Plessy v. Ferguson , Brown v. Board of Education , Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education , Regents of the University of California v. Bakke , Miranda v. Arizona , Gideon v. Wainwright , Mapp v. Ohio , and Roe v. Wade .
- Examine the similarities of social movements (Native Americans, Hispanics, women, antiwar protesters) of the 1960s and 1970s.
- Analyze the impact of citizen participation as a means of achieving political and social change. Examples are e-mail campaigns, boycotts, blogs, podcasts, protests, demonstrations, letters to editors.
- Identify the expansion of civil rights and liberties by examining the principles contained in primary documents. Examples are Preamble, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation, 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th Amendments, Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Florida’s CPALMS (Collaborate, Plan, Align, Learn, Motivate, Share) database indexes lessons and resources reviewed by peers and experts. Several are specific to teaching about the civil rights movement. “Rosa Was Tired” links to a lesson and rubrics from Social Studies School Service (via the Zinn Education Project). It breaks down the myth of the “tired seamstress.” Another lesson, for fifth grade, is titled “From Text to Art: Exploring the Civil Rights Dreams of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.” It includes rubrics and informational texts. Most content here comes from providers outside Florida, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Stanford History Education Group, although they are annotated to support state content standards. Lessons cover the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Riders and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In addition, the State of Florida’s African American History Task Force works to ensure awareness of the requirements, identify and recommend needed state education leadership action, assist in adoption of instructional materials by the state and build supporting partnerships. Among other initiatives, the Task Force has created a website for African-American history curricula and resources. This site provides online courses for educators (though there is no course yet for the civil rights movement) and indexes many valuable online resources, including many primary-source documents.
The Task Force has developed the African and African American History Curriculum Frameworks, designed for infusion into the K-12 language arts sequence. The Frameworks takes a comprehensive approach to its subject, beginning in ancient Africa and continuing through modern Florida. This ambitious document is weak in its coverage of the civil rights movement. The 11th-grade section on the movement suggests the following content:
Students will explore the legal cases (i.e., Plessy v. Ferguson, Road to Brown, Brown v. the Board of Education), which deal with racial problems in the United States. Students will analyze the Great Debate between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Students will examine the role of literature and communication for informing the population about civil rights (A Raisin in the Sun, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “I Have a Dream Speech” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). Students will explore the role of women in the civil rights struggle (i.e., Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Maya Angelou and others). Students will understand Resistance to the civil rights movement by such groups as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
This is followed by two recommended activities: “Students will compare and contrast the ideas of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Students will select and read literature which promotes civil rights and social change in America.”
Beyond the work of the Task Force, the state sponsors a Black History Month Essay Contest.
Florida has a strong set of civil rights-related history standards that could be improved with a few modifications. The standards do not shy away from setting out core knowledge when it comes to key personalities in the civil rights movement, including a mix of state and national figures. The standards are weakest when talking about resistance to the movement. Although Florida requires students to learn about the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow when studying Reconstruction, the 20th century standards do not mention segregation laws, poll taxes, literacy tests, Jim Crow or any other episodes of white resistance and racism. This has the unfortunate effect of making the movement seem one-sided and its success inevitable, omitting key history. While the state’s content is relatively strong, the standards do not detail conflicts within the movement or connect to current events.
The state’s supporting resources for African-American history are robust and well-designed. However, little content is explicitly designed to teach the civil rights movement with nuance. The CPALMS database lessons do make it easy for teachers to find lessons that are aligned with the state standards. The lessons offered are few in number but high-quality, as they come from well-known sources. There could be considerably more movement-related lessons in the database, but those present do a good job of using historical documents.
Overall, the state is moving in the right direction. Florida is setting high expectations and following through with end-of-course exams matched to those expectations. With a few changes, the state could have model standards for teaching the civil rights movement.
The Major Documents
The Georgia Performance Standards begins coverage of the civil rights movement in second grade. In addition to these standards, Georgia also provides grade-level curriculum frameworks. These are “models of instruction” designed to support teachers in the implementation of the Georgia Performance Standards. Suggested content in the frameworks that is different from or supplementary to the content in the standards is identified here by grade level. The frameworks are treated here as major documents as well as support documents, as with California.
Elementary and Middle School
Kindergarten: Students learn about Martin Luther King Jr. The suggested instructional plan includes several essential questions encouraging teachers to dig more deeply into discussion of King’s work and life, including connections to citizenship in the school and community. The plan includes a suggested set of slides to help students learn more about King as well as tips for teachers. These tips include a number of useful resources for finding out more about King’s life, including links to original historical documents and suggested service projects.
Grade 2: Students learn about Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. The instructional plan’s Unit Five focuses on Georgians and civil rights. It goes beyond biographical facts, encouraging students to understand cultural changes that occurred because of Robinson’s and King’s actions. Unusually, the unit also asks students to “discuss opportunity cost and choice-making within in the context of Robinson and King’s lives.” This includes the following challenging essential questions:
- Why did many African-American citizens move to Northern states during the days of segregation?
- During the days of Dr. King and Jackie Robinson, why was it sometimes more important to work than to get an education?
- How did the Montgomery Bus Boycott have an effect on the bus companies?
- How did Dr. King’s fight for workers’ rights help underpaid workers?
- How did Jackie Robinson help other athletes to get jobs as professional athletes?
Throughout, the unit’s essential questions refer students back to thinking about their own experience, the idea of citizenship, and the current state of their communities. It includes many useful links to original historical documents.
Grade 3: The Standards require students to learn about a group of historical figures that includes Thurgood Marshall. Students are asked to “explain social barriers, restrictions, and obstacles that these historical figures had to overcome and describe how they overcame them.” The framework documents offer considerably more detail and nuance, situating Marshall in context between units exploring Frederick Douglass and César Chávez. Unit Five suggests well-elaborated assessment activities, including a research project for students that asks them to identify and explain the major cases won by Marshall. This unit also covers the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the context of biographical exploration of Lyndon Johnson.
Grade 5: The Standards singles out selected civil rights movement people, events and developments for learning about U.S. history between 1950 and 1975:
- Discuss the importance of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.
- Explain the key events and people of the civil rights movement; include Brown v. Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and civil rights activities of Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
- Describe the impact on American society of the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
In addition, fifth-grade standards cover the 24th Amendment.
The framework documents support this instruction with a unit titled “Overcoming the Past: The Age of Civil Rights.” It includes many essential questions related to the civil rights movement, including the following:
- How did the conflict of the Montgomery Bus Boycott create change?
- How did the March on Washington create positive changes in America?
- How did Thurgood Marshall help create change for African Americans in his positions as a member of the NAACP and United States Supreme Court?
- Why would others be affected by Rosa Parks’ actions during the civil rights movement?
- How did the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. affect the civil rights movement?
The unit’s suggested assessment activities include an exercise for students to make trading cards about key figures and events in the civil rights movement and a timeline activity tracing the development of voting rights through different constitutional amendments. The “Teacher Tips” slideshow for this unit include many links to original historical documents and useful online resources. The culminating unit for this grade makes explicit connections to contemporary citizenship, including the following essential questions:
- How did the 24th Amendment’s elimination of poll taxes allow more people to vote?
- Why is it important that all Americans have the opportunity to vote?
Grade 8: Students learn about the civil rights movement in some detail in their Georgia history class when they are expected to evaluate Georgia’s role in the modern civil rights movement. The Standards singles out the following key elements:
- Describe major developments in civil rights and Georgia’s role during the 1940s and 1950s; include the roles of Herman Talmadge, Benjamin Mays, the 1946 governor’s race and the end of the white primary, Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King Jr., and the 1956 state flag.
- Analyze the role Georgia and prominent Georgians played in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s; include such events as the founding of SNCC, Sibley Commission, admission of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter to the University of Georgia, Albany movement, March on Washington, Civil Rights Act, the election of Maynard Jackson as mayor of Atlanta, and the role of Lester Maddox.
- Discuss the impact of Andrew Young on Georgia.
Unit Nine in the eighth-grade framework does not go into much more detail, although it offers an annotated list of resources for learning about the topics identified in the Standards.
U.S. History: Here, the Standards goes into even more depth. Students learn about A. Philip Randolph’s proposed march on Washington along with Roosevelt’s response. At least three major standards cover aspects of the civil rights movement. The first calls for students to identify dimensions of the civil rights movement, 1945-1970:
- Explain the importance of President Truman’s order to integrate the U.S. military and the federal government.
- Identify Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball.
- Explain Brown v. Board of Education and efforts to resist the decision.
- Describe the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and his “I Have a Dream” speech.
- Describe the causes and consequences of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The next standard requires students to describe and assess the impact of political developments between 1945 and 1970 that affected civil rights:
- Describe the Warren Court and the expansion of individual rights as seen in the Miranda decision.
- Describe the political impact of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; include the impact on civil rights legislation.
- Explain Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society; include the establishment of Medicare.
- Describe the social and political turmoil of 1968; include the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and the events surrounding the Democratic National Convention.
The last standard expects that students will encounter civil rights again when they analyze the impact of social change movements and organizations of the 1960s:
- Compare and contrast SNCC and SCLC tactics; include sit-ins, freedom rides and changing composition.
- Describe the National Organization of [sic] Women and the origins and goals of the modern women’s movement.
- Analyze the anti-Vietnam War movement.
- Analyze César Chávez and the United Farm Workers movement.
- Explain the importance of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the resulting developments; include Earth Day, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the modern environmental movement.
- Describe the rise of the conservative movement as seen in the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater and the election of Richard M. Nixon.
A unit titled “Social Movements” supplements the Standards, but does not significantly elaborate on content identified elsewhere.
In addition to the curriculum frameworks, Georgia offers substantial resources for teaching about the civil rights movement. The Department of Education worked with a television station and school systems across Georgia for their Civil Rights Project in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and other historic events of 1963. Those resources, indexed online, include “Share the Journey” packets for grades K-12. These resources, among the best of their kind in the nation, include valuable lessons, detailed plans, and original historical documents. They are clearly linked to the state standards as well as to the Common Core, guiding teachers through detailed units. While they focus on the events of 1963, the “Share the Journey” lessons expand from the March on Washington to cover a broad view of the civil rights movement. They treat resistance to the movement in detail, particularly from fifth grade onward. The sixth-grade lesson links King’s work to the Latin-American and Caribbean freedom struggles, while the seventh-grade lesson makes global links to the struggle against apartheid—particularly innovative approaches for teachers working in world history classes.
Beyond the “Share the Journey” lessons, the DOE website directs teachers to an excellent set of online resources collected by the Georgia Historical Society.
Georgia’s standards and frameworks make a serious effort to address the civil rights movement. Unlike other states, Georgia is careful to require students to learn about a variety of prominent figures in the movement.
There are a few key omissions. The standards do not deal well with opposition to the movement. Students are not required to learn about violence against protesters, including notable events like the Birmingham protests and groups like the Ku Klux Klan. While the standards do require students to compare and contrast SCLC tactics with SNCC tactics, they do not stipulate that students should learn about nonviolence as a strategy or its relationship to Black Power.
The frameworks add powerful additional detail to the standards, particularly in the early grades. They encourage teachers to pose challenging questions and include a number of well-organized activities. When paired with the supporting materials, Georgia stands out as a state that is working hard to provide high-quality teaching materials about the civil rights movement.
The Major Documents
Hawaii’s Content and Performance Standards (2007) detail standards, benchmarks and sample performance assessments at each grade level.
Elementary and Middle School
There are no requirements that Hawaiian students at this level learn about the modern civil rights movement.
U.S. History: The benchmarks provide for limited coverage of the civil rights movement.
In 10th grade, students are asked to “[a]nalyze the key factors, including legislation and acts of civil disobedience, that brought on the African-American civil rights movement after World War II.” The sample performance assessment attached says that students should investigate “how segregation laws, Plessy v. Ferguson being overturned by Brown v. Board of Education, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott led to civil rights movement.”
An additional standard says that students should “[d]escribe the significant events, individuals and groups associated with the civil rights era (1954-1968).” The attached sample performance assessment says students should explain “how events, (e.g., sit-ins, marches, voter registration, the civil rights laws of the 1960s) individuals (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr., George Wallace, Malcolm X), and groups (e.g.. Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Black Power organizations) affected the civil rights movement.”
One final standard addresses the civil rights movement: “In contemporary culture and society, describe the expansion of the civil rights movement to other groups, including Native Americans and women.” The sample performance assessment says that students should explain “the civil rights issues brought forth by Native Americans (e.g., AIM) and women (e.g., NOW).”
The state’s “Benchmark Maps” underscore what is essential to students to understand:
- After World War II, a series of factors and events brought about the modern civil rights movement.
- The civil rights movement was not a monolithic movement, but was affected by a variety of people and organizations.
- The successes of the civil rights movement inspired other groups, such as women and Native Americans, to seek equality.
Hawaii’s Department of Education does not provide publicly available resources for teaching the civil rights movement.
Hawaii’s standards require minimal study of the civil rights movement. Although the state’s suggested assessment tasks provide substantial additional detail to the vague language in the standards and benchmarks, they still fall short of a comprehensive treatment of the civil rights movement. The major documents provide almost no account for resistance to the civil rights movement other than mentioning George Wallace in a suggested assessment exercise.
While the standards do recognize that the movement was not monolithic, they provide little guidance on this matter besides a mention of Malcolm X and SNCC. In addition, the movement is presented as a topic to be covered rather than a key piece of American history. This disconnection reflects a larger problem with the major documents’ narrative content and flow. The state’s low score reflects the problems with its standards combined with the lack of resources for teaching about the civil rights movement. Unfortunately for such a diverse state, Hawaii seems to have decided against setting high expectations or providing materials for student learning about the civil rights movement.
The Major Documents
The Idaho Content Standards (2009) include minimal mention of the civil rights movement. The state’s social studies content standards provide no guidance for teaching about the movement.
Elementary and Middle School
Kindergarten: Like many states, Idaho requires young students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. as part of a unit on national holidays.
American Government: Students should be able to “analyze the struggles for the extension of civil rights.”
U.S. History II: Students should be able to “trace the development and expansion of political, civil and economic rights.”
The Idaho State Department of Education website does not provide resources for teaching about the civil rights movement.
Although Idaho’s standards require students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr., they do not require students to learn about the civil rights movement. The vague and content-free mandates to consider the “struggles for the extension” and the “development and expansion” of civil rights could be filled without any reference to the modern civil rights movement. This represents a missed opportunity to set high expectations for learning about one of American history’s most important events. To be fair, the inadequacy of the state’s civil rights movement requirements matches the Idaho social studies standards overall. Like many local-control states, Idaho’s lack of guidance puts a heavy burden on districts, schools and individual teachers.
The Major Documents
The Illinois Learning Standards (2002) include 12 specific mandates, one of which is for the study of African-American history:
Every public elementary school and high school shall include in its curriculum a unit of instruction studying the events of black history. These events shall include not only the contributions made by individual African Americans in government and in the arts, humanities and sciences to the economic, cultural and political development of the United States and Africa, but also the socio-economic struggle which African Americans experienced collectively in striving to achieve fair and equal treatment under the laws of this nation. The studying of this material shall constitute an affirmation by students of their commitment to respect the dignity of all races and peoples and to forever eschew every form of discrimination in their lives and careers.
In addition, the Illinois Social Science Assessment Framework gives a detailed description of what students should learn about the civil rights movement.
Elementary and Middle School:
Grade 5: By the end of elementary school, students are expected to:
- Identify the significance of major U.S. holidays, including Independence Day, Presidents Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
- Understand the origins and course of the civil rights movement, including the roles of individual American citizens, federal intervention in Little Rock, Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Grade 8: The framework builds on the figures and events learned in fifth grade with additional details and a requirement for more conceptual understanding of the causes of social movements:
- Identify the roles played by federal, state and local political leaders—as well as individual American citizens—in the civil rights movement, including: federal intervention in Little Rock; Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Martin Luther King Jr., the SCLC and the 1963 March on Washington; Freedom Riders; Jackie Robinson and the desegregation of baseball; the work of César Chávez and the development of the United Farm Workers; Robert Kennedy and the civil rights movement; Lyndon Johnson and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Understand the basic causes, course and impact of significant social movements and events from history and related legislation (where applicable), including: westward expansion before and after the Civil War and the significance of the words, “Go west, young man;” the Gold Rush and the Homestead Act; the abolitionist movement; the birth of the civil rights movement (e.g., roles of Tuskegee Institute and Booker T. Washington, the NAACP and W. E. B. Du Bois); significant immigrations before and since the Civil War; the women’s suffrage movement; the civil rights movement in the 20th century.
U.S. History: The framework for the 11th-grade course continues to add layers of sophistication to students’ understanding about the civil rights movement while requiring them to:
- Analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights, in terms of key court cases and ballot initiatives: Dred Scott v. Sanford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Regents of California v. Bakke, Zelman v. Ohio; key leaders: A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall; constitutional amendments: 19th and 24th; 1965 Voting Rights Act and Fair Housing Act of 1968.
- Analyze the development of federal civil and voting rights for citizens, including the 19th & 24th amendments, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Understand events and influential individuals of the civil rights movement (e.g., the role of civil rights advocates, including Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and César Chávez; the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream Speech;” events such as segregation, desegregation, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Selma-to-Montgomery March, the Freedom Riders, and Central High School in Little Rock; the role of African-American political groups, including the NAACP, CORE, SCLC and SNCC; the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Watts Riots.
- Trace the origins, events and consequences of major U.S. social movements, including: temperance movement, social gospel, the religious origins of the civil rights movement, the organized labor movement, women’s suffrage movement (Susan B. Anthony) and the “women’s movement” of the 1960s and 70s.
The Illinois State Board of Education’s website offers a page of links to supporting materials about a variety of resources for social studies. These include links to the King Institute and a timeline of events in the civil rights movement. Both are externally produced content. The timeline on Infoplease runs from 1948 (desegregation of the armed forces) to the present day. The single resource for black history links to www.blackhistory.com, a site that offers some teaching resources mixed in with social-networking opportunities and individually updated blogs without a connection to education.
Illinois’ standards show promise. They appropriately portray the civil rights movement as the work of many groups and individuals. Illinois is one of only a few states to require students to learn about all three of our core civil rights movement groups (CORE, SNCC and the SCLC) and covers all but two (Birmingham bombings and protests; Freedom Summer) of the core events.
Unfortunately, Illinois’s standards fall far shorter in other categories. The standards do not include resistance to the civil rights movement or racism. There is no mention of Jim Crow laws, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, poll taxes, literacy tests or the main figures of white resistance such as Bull Connor, George Wallace, Orval Faubus or Ross Barnett. This makes it seem as if the movement faced no meaningful opposition, and risks confusing students about the movement’s trajectory and the courage required to right injustices.
Illinois should consider including some of its own rich connections to movement struggles if it revises its documents and resources. Chicago had direct links to the SCLC and campaigns that followed the Selma struggle, while Black Panther activity in Chicago has been important in the city’s history.
Finally, Illinois’ documents could be improved by encouraging students to understand internal debates in the movement about tactics and strategies. Requiring students to be able to identify Malcolm X is not the same as challenging students to compare Black Power to nonviolent resistance. Some attention to redressing repetition in the standards from grade to grade could create room for inclusion of history, tactics and opposition to the benefit of Illinois students.
The lack of supporting materials outside of Illinois’s major documents does little to fill in the gaps or provide a road map to implementing the content inside the standards, much less omitted content.
The Major Documents
Indiana’s Core Standards for Social Studies (2008) has 11 core concepts for U.S. History, a high school course. One deals directly with the civil rights movement:
Describe political, economic and social conditions that led to the civil rights movement. Identify federal, state and civil rights leaders who played a central role in the movement and describe their methods. Give examples of actions and events that characterized the movement as well as the legislative and judicial responses.
Elementary and Middle School
Indiana does not set out specific content requirements for study of the civil rights movement before high school.
U.S. History: Most of Indiana’s instruction about the civil rights movement is required in this two-semester course. The standard indicators (2007) outline a number of events, personalities and concepts related to the civil rights movement:
- Summarize the early struggle for civil rights and identify events and people associated with this struggle. Example: Executive Order 9981, Jackie Robinson and the desegregation of professional baseball, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Little Rock school crisis.
- Describe the constitutional significance and lasting effects of the United States Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education.
- Explain the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s by describing the ideas and actions of federal and state leaders, grassroots movements and central organizations that were active in the movement. Example: People: John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, George Wallace, Earl Warren; Organizations: NAACP, SCLC, CORE, SNCC, the American Indian Movement (AIM); Events: March on Washington, Medgar Evers and University of Mississippi desegregation, protests in Birmingham and Selma, Ala.
- Read Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and summarize the main ideas in each.
- Identify and describe federal programs, policies and legal rulings designed to improve the lives of Americans during the 1960s. Example: War on Poverty, the Great Society, Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA), Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Act of 1965, school desegregation, Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States and Miranda v. Arizona.
There are no supporting materials for teaching and learning about the civil rights movement on the Indiana Department of Education’s website. Some materials are collected on Indiana’s “Learning Connection” site. This site, which requires registration, is a place for Indiana educators to share materials. The civil rights-related materials on this site are either scarce or difficult to access.
Indiana’s standards are relatively content-rich. Unlike many state standards, they identify original historical documents by name. They do an excellent job of identifying key individuals, groups and events of the civil rights movement. However, they are considerably weaker when approaching resistance to the movement and its causes. This is part of an overall lack of context and nuance in the state’s major documents. George Wallace appears between Stokely Carmichael and Earl Warren in a list of people whose relationships are not explored. Indiana’s scores for clarity and connectivity are low due to an overall lack of explanation of the relationships between listed items and key conceptual gaps in the standards (i.e., movement tactics, internal conflicts, connections to the present day).
The lack of easily available supporting resources and materials does not add the nuance and context that might help to elevate Indiana’s coverage across the board. The state’s coverage is more along the lines of lists in the major documents than a coherent approach to teaching the movement.
The Major Documents
Iowa has statewide mandated core-content standards only in reading, math and science. The Iowa Core Curriculum mentions the phrase “civil rights movement” only in a suggested curriculum for a middle school Behavioral Sciences class, in an exercise that reads, in part: “In groups students research the actions of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The students identify how the actions of participants and groups in the civil rights movement impacted the lives of the individual and changed group decision-making.”
The Iowa Department of Education’s Social Studies resources page does not contain materials for teaching and learning about the civil rights movement. Its online educator community, The Agora, does not have readily accessible resources for teaching the movement.
Iowa has, essentially, decided against having standards for social studies and history. The state offers no materials supporting teaching and learning about the civil rights movement.
The Major Documents
In April 2013, Kansas adopted the revised Kansas Standards for History Government and Social Studies.
Elementary and Middle School
As in many states, Martin Luther King Jr. is mentioned in first grade as part of a list of holidays. The civil rights movement is first mentioned in seventh grade, in a unit titled “Kansas and a Changing World (1950s-2000s).” Civil rights, Thurgood Marshall and Brown are included in lists of key ideas, people and events. Two sample “Compelling Questions” are related to the civil rights movement:
- In what ways were African Americans getting an inferior education in Topeka public schools?
- In what ways did beliefs and ideas about race lead to segregation in Kansas?
The civil rights movement receives a more comprehensive treatment in the high school United States History course. A unit titled “Civil Rights, Social Change” covers the movement and its links to other pushes for social change. As the Standards explains:
Race issues have been a part of the American history landscape since the nation’s beginnings. The second half of the 20th century saw dramatic changes in how Americans perceived race relations and the concept of equality. In this unit, students will compare and contrast the role of the many different groups who took an active stance against discrimination in all parts of American society, including economic, political, and social injustice. Students will examine the social change that takes place as a result of community, executive, legislative and/or judicial actions that impact equality in everyday life in the United States.
Key components are itemized and listed in the categories of ideas, people/roles, places/institutions and events:
- Ideas: integration, desegregation, economic equality, nonviolent protest, student activists, sit-ins, Freedom Riders, counter culture, National Organization of Women (NOW), Great Society.
- People/Roles: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, James Meredith, Medgar Evers, George Wallace, Orval Faubus, Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael, Jackie Robinson, Leonard Peltier, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rachel Carson, Phyllis Schlafly, Betty Friedan, Ralph Nader.
- Places/Institutions: Birmingham, Little Rock, Montgomery, Memphis, Greensboro, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Haight-Ashbury, Three Mile Island.
- Events: Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, Montgomery Bus Boycott, the children’s march, 24th Amendment, Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1964, and 1965, Voting Rights Act, March on Washington, American Indian Movement, Title IX.
Five sample “compelling questions” frame the unit:
- What were the most important choices made that advanced the United States towards greater equality?
- Under what circumstances, if any, is civil disobedience justified?
- In what ways were politics, economics, history, and geography obstacles to social change in the United States?
- What social, political and economic changes have occurred as a result of civil rights movements?
- What factors led to the rise of the environmental movement and how has it progressed?
The Standards further embeds the civil rights movement in high school United States Government, explicitly linking the movement to ideas of civic responsibility as well as a lens into the processes of institutional change. The unit “Human and Civil Rights in American Democracy” begins:
Students need to understand that American democracy evolved from the “tyranny of the majority” that could be found in ancient Greek democracy into a model based on individual rights, protection of the minority, and compatible with a culturally diverse society. Students need to know how concepts of rights have changed over time and how social and governmental institutions have responded to issues of rights and diversity. Key Supreme Court cases such as Dred Scott, Plessy, Brown, and Miranda, as well as the Bill of Rights, may be used as a foundation for class discussion. Students should know the basic outline of the history of the civil rights movement, the struggle for women’s suffrage, and later movements for equality.
Key concepts for this unit include civil disobedience and Brown.
The Kansas Educational Resource Center indexes lesson plans and resources aligned to the state standards. It directs teachers to a number of quality external lessons that use original historical documents, including lessons from The New York Times and Education World. The resources supporting teaching about the civil rights movement include several lesson and unit plans and are clearly organized by grade and topic. They do not include much in the way of original content, instead directing teachers to external sites.
Kansas’s revised standards are a significant improvement upon their previous set. They identify a number of key concepts, people and events in the civil rights movement. There is still considerable room for improvement – the new standards operate more as a list of ideas rather than as a narrative that might offer more substantial guidance to teachers. In particular, reading the standards does not give a sense of how the civil rights movement fits into the arc of American history or how the key terms relate to each other. Mentioning Three Mile Island in a list that includes Pine Ridge and Montgomery does little to elucidate the importance of each place or the events that happened there.
In addition, there are still significant content gaps in the standards—they could do much better in discussing the history of the movement and its obstacles to success. Mentioning George Wallace and Orval Faubus is not the same as a detailed discussion of the nature and scope of resistance the movement faced.
The state’s selected resources are adequate but not outstanding. As Kansas continues to develop its history resources, it should look further across the Internet and collect resources from effective teachers to share across the state.
The Major Documents
Kentucky’s Core Academic Standards was last revised in June 2010.
Elementary and Middle School
Fifth-grade skills and concepts include the following: “Students will investigate the events surrounding patriotic symbols, songs, landmarks (e.g., American flag, Statue of Liberty, the Star-Spangled Banner), and selected readings (e.g., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech: “I Have a Dream”), and explain their historical significance.”
U.S. History: The civil rights movement is mentioned in high school skills and concepts: “Students will … analyze economic growth in America after WWII (e.g., suburban growth), struggles for racial and gender equality (e.g., civil rights movement), the extension of civil liberties, and conflicts over political issues (e.g., McCarthyism, U.S. involvement in Vietnam).”
The 2008 Kentucky Social Studies Teacher Network Curriculum Framework for United States History suggests a unit called “Civil Rights and Cultural Transformations.” This is not an official state document, but an advisory one created by the network in partnership with the state’s Department of Education. The unit’s suggested length is six blocks (12 traditional class periods). It identifies a number of key concepts for teaching the civil rights movement but does little to link those concepts together in a coherent arc. For example, the 1964 Civil Rights Act is listed in between Woodstock and Miranda v. Arizona.
The social studies resources page of the Kentucky Department of Education’s website does not identify resources for teaching about the civil rights movement.
Kentucky’s standards do not portray the civil rights movement as a force in its own right, filled with diverse personalities, internal and external conflicts, facing intractable opposition; rather, it is something that “America experienced.” That it is presented as one of many postwar changes is disappointing.
In addition, Kentucky misses opportunities to draw from its own rich movement history. From Muhammad Ali to the Louisville fight against restrictive housing covenants, Kentucky has been an active site of struggle and resistance to the civil rights movement.
The state’s supporting resources are limited at best. While the Kentucky Social Studies Teacher Network’s framework provides more specific guidance regarding key concepts in the civil rights movement, it does not provide the kind of detailed guidance that would help teachers dig deeply into this rich and important part of American history. Additional lesson plans and guidance for using original historical documents would help fill the gaps created by the standards.
The Major Documents
Louisiana’s history standards were revised in 2010. Requirements for instruction in Louisiana are set forth in the state’s Comprehensive Curriculum. Revised in 2012, the Curriculum focuses instruction about the civil rights movement in high school, with one mention before that.
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 2: Louisiana requires second-grade students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. in a unit about national holidays.
Grade 8: Students learn about the civil rights movement in the context of Louisiana history. The Curriculum requires study of Brown, school integration and Louisiana events in the civil rights movement. It includes use of visual documents for students to construct a newscast about one of the major movement events.
U.S. History: The High School United States History Standards contains a grade-level expectation about the civil rights movement: “Describe the role and importance of the civil rights movement in the expansion of opportunities for African Americans in the United States.” This is followed by several examples: “NAACP, Brown v. Board of Education, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights Act (1964), Voting Rights Act (1965).”
The 10-unit U.S. History curriculum covers 1865 to the present. Jim Crow laws are discussed in Unit Five in the context of the Great Migration. Unit Seven includes study of A. Phillip Randolph, CORE and the desegregation of the armed forces. The curriculum directly addresses the civil rights movement in Unit Nine, “A Time for Change (1944-Present).”
The four-week unit features these objectives:
Students learn how post-war social and political movements brought about change by analyzing the methods used by leaders, the effectiveness of legislation, and the impact of key events. Students understand the role and importance of the civil rights movement in the expansion of opportunities for African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and women in the United States.
The unit is designed to fulfill several of the state’s 54 grade-level expectations (GLEs). Two GLEs specific to the civil rights movement itself are:
- Identify the primary leaders of the civil rights movement and describe major issues and accomplishments.
- Evaluate various means of achieving equality of political rights (e.g., civil disobedience vs. violent protest).
Puzzlingly, the civil rights movement is listed as an activity in this unit after study of a number of other social movements. Other than what seems to be a sequencing error, the civil rights movement content in this document is superb. Multiple units link time-tested teaching strategies to movement ideas, figures and events. The lessons reach well beyond the traditional movement narrative, from the murder of Emmett Till to Watts and beyond. An activity on the Baton Rouge bus boycott makes an important link to the state’s own history, as do lessons on Ruby Bridges and Plessy, both associated with Louisiana. Throughout, the curriculum directs teachers to valuable resources available online, including many original historical documents. As this part of the curriculum doubles as supporting material, it was evaluated in both categories here (as in the case of a few other states).
African American Studies Elective: Louisiana requires students to take one social studies elective. This course is one of nine options offered in the state’s Comprehensive Curriculum. The course begins with ancient Africa and ends with the civil rights movement. It uses the following objectives:
Students will understand the effects of Jim Crow laws on the day-to-day activities of African Americans. Students will understand how boycotts, sit-ins, and other forms of civil disobedience were used as effective tools that helped to end many legal and institutional forms of racism. Students will understand that there were many instances in which blacks and whites worked together to end decades of racial discrimination toward African Americans in the United States.
The civil rights movement unit provides a detailed treatment of major events and personalities in the civil rights movement, including a discussion of racism. It encourages the use of original historical documents and integrates well-supported teaching strategies to teach the movement.
Louisiana’s standards and required curricula are among the very best in the nation at covering the civil rights movement. The state’s high school materials are extraordinarily detailed and well-constructed, setting rigorous content expectations while using excellent lesson-planning practices. High school teachers would do well to consult the U.S. History unit as well as the African American Studies unit when planning instruction for their classrooms. This does not mean there is not room for improvement in Louisiana—coverage of the movement is substantially weaker in the early grades, and documents could be made more searchable for outside access. Overall, Louisiana leads the nation in efforts to teach the civil rights movement.
Survey of Standards and Frameworks
Maine’s guiding standards document, Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction, isolates almost no events or individuals for social studies instruction. It does not mention the civil rights movement. This is a change from the 1997 edition of Learning Points, which required that students in the secondary grades “Demonstrate an understanding of the causes and effects of major events in United States history and their connection to both Maine and world history with emphasis on events after 1877, including, but not limited to: industrialization, the Great Depression, the Cold War (and its ending), World War I and World War II, the Vietnam era, civil rights movement, Watergate.”
The Maine Department of Education website provides no supporting materials for teaching the civil rights movement.
Maine’s decision to move away from content requirements is a step in the wrong direction and evidence of extremely low expectations. The civil rights movement is only one of many essential topics in American history that the state has chosen not to require. Unlike other local-control states, Maine provides no supporting materials for teaching the civil rights movement. This burdens teachers, schools and districts.
The Major Documents
In Maryland, the major documents considered for this study were the State Curriculum (revised 2006) and state curricula for U.S. Government and U.S. History courses. Both of the courses are required for high school graduation.
Elementary and Middle School
In kindergarten and first grade, students are asked to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. as part of the study of national holidays. The kindergarten social studies standards identify Rosa Parks as an important figure in the American political system. Students in eighth grade should “[e]xplain how the United States government protected or failed to protect the rights of individuals and groups”; more specifically, they should “[d]escribe methods that were used to deny civil rights to women, African Americans and Native Americans.”
U.S. Government: The required U.S. Government course curriculum includes several items relevant to study of the civil rights movement:
- Analyze various methods that individuals or groups may use to influence laws and governmental policies including petitioning, letter writing and acts of civil disobedience.
- Analyze how the Supreme Court decisions in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) impacted the rights of individuals.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of legislation in promoting equity and civil rights, such as the Civil Rights Act (1964), Voting Rights Act (1965), Higher Education Act Title IX (1972), Indian Education Act (1972), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA 1990) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 1997).
U.S. History: The state curriculum for the required U.S. History class includes the following expectations relevant to the civil rights movement:
- Analyze the practices, policies and legislation used to deny African Americans’ civil rights, including black codes, lynching, the Ku Klux Klan, voting restrictions, Jim Crow Laws and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
- Analyze the growing impact of television and other mass media on politics and political attitudes, such as the Kennedy-Nixon debate, the Vietnam conflict, and the civil rights movement.
- Examine the battle for school desegregation, including Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) and the roles of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Thurgood Marshall.
- Describe the efforts to enforce school desegregation and local reactions to these efforts, including crisis at Little Rock (1957) and the University of Mississippi (1962).
- Describe various activities that civil rights activists used to protest segregation, including boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and voter-registration campaigns.
- Compare the philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and the Black Power movement.
- Describe the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Malcolm X’s leadership and assassinations on the civil rights movement.
- Describe the goals of civil rights legislation, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the 24th Amendment.
- Describe why urban violence and race riots escalated during the 1960s in reaction to ongoing discrimination and the slow pace of civil rights advances.
- Analyze the opposition to the civil rights movement, such as the Dixiecrats, white citizens councils, white supremacist movements.
- Evaluate the impact of school desegregation stemming from the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision, including local implementation of busing.
- Describe the controversy involving the extension of civil rights through the implementation of Affirmative Action, such as the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978).
- Describe the Native American quest for civil rights, including the establishment of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the implementation of legislation.
- Describe the Latino quest for civil rights and the formation of the United Farm Workers Union.
- Describe the impact of the women’s movement on government actions such as Higher Education Act Title IX (1972), the Equal Rights Amendment (1972).
The U.S. History curriculum does an excellent job of setting the stage for the civil rights movement—unlike many similar instructional plans, it takes care to identify the roots of the movement in the Progressive Era, by asking students to “[a]nalyze African American responses to inequality, such as the Niagara movement, the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, and the Universal Negro Improvement Association.” Unlike many states, Maryland’s instructional plan does not only discuss the Ku Klux Klan in Reconstruction—the Klan makes an additional appearance in the Jazz Age.
The Maryland School Improvement website offers limited resources to support teaching the civil rights movement. It does contain a lesson on the desegregation of the armed forces, which takes the form of a guided historical investigation, encouraging students to explore multiple original historical documents. A similar lesson covers the social response to lynching. Both lessons and their supporting materials are thoughtfully constructed and useful to educators.
In addition to these materials, the Maryland State Department of Education has a partnership with the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. This partnership has produced lessons across grade levels that are aligned with museum content. Some of the lessons are collected online. Several are movement-related. The lessons “Civil Rights and Race Relations in Maryland” and “Jim Crow in Maryland” are particularly effective at making connections to local issues. The lessons as a whole are excellent—most teachers could immediately use them in their classrooms.
Maryland’s civil rights movement requirements cover several major areas but are weak overall. Two of the state’s eight learning objectives focus on the struggle to integrate schools and universities but the objectives omit other triggers for the civil rights movement, such as specific ways voters were disenfranchised. Another two learning objectives focus on Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X but omit other figures and key groups, perpetuating a personality-driven narrative about the movement. The state does an admirable job of covering diverse tactics, and is one of only a handful of states to include the urban uprisings of the 1960s in its required curriculum.
Slight modifications to these standards could yield substantial impact. They could be improved by making explicit linkages to current events and civic engagement. Integrating learning across grade levels will allow the state to add more required content in appropriate sequences while increasing awareness of this essential period in American history.
The Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework has students learning about the civil rights movement only in high school.
Elementary and Middle School
No requirements for instruction on the civil rights movement.
U.S. History II: Students are required to “Analyze the origins, goals and key events of the civil rights movement.” These include:
- People: Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.
- Institution: NAACP.
- Events: Brown v. Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Little Rock School Crisis, the sit-ins and Freedom Rides of the early 1960s, the 1963 civil rights protest in Birmingham, the 1963 March on Washington, the 1965 civil rights protest in Selma and the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Seminal Primary Documents to Read: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” President Lyndon Johnson’s speech to Congress on voting rights (March 15, 1965).
In addition, students are required to “Describe the accomplishments of the civil rights movement,” including:
- The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
- The growth of the African-American middle class, increased political power and declining rates of African-American poverty.
Massachusetts is in the process of developing 100 PK-12 model curriculum units in ELA/literacy, history/social science, mathematics and science. These will be completed in the summer of 2014. These units are not intended to be a full curriculum, but are designed for voluntary use or adaptation by school districts. They are accessible online with free registration. Some units include content relevant to teaching the civil rights movement. The National and Massachusetts Holidays unit for first grade includes a lesson on Martin Luther King Jr., while the second-grade unit Civic Rights: Equality for All contains lessons on King and Ruby Bridges. This unit connects King and Bridges with other individuals involved in global struggles for civil rights. A planned unit titled “African-American Civil Rights,” for the ninth through 11th grades, is not yet available online.
Massachusetts’ standards make an effort to tell part of the story of the civil rights movement. They isolate several key individuals, even as they neglect to mention instrumental groups like CORE, SCLC and SNCC. Students learn about some tactics, such as sit-ins, but are not encouraged to explore the debates about tactics within the movement. Requiring students to learn about Malcolm X does not mean that they will examine the relative merits of Black Power and nonviolent resistance.
The state’s list of required events is especially strong. Unfortunately, the state’s decision to omit obstacles to the civil rights movement including the means of oppression and disenfranchisement risks presenting students with a view of the civil rights movement that lacks context. This view is unlikely to allow students to better understand current events and improve their civic engagement.
Massachusetts could improve its documents and resources by connecting with local struggles, such as the busing controversies in Roxbury and elsewhere in the 1970s. These local connections allow students to understand opposition to the civil rights movement as something that extended (and continues to extend) beyond such commonly known figures as Bull Connor and the Ku Klux Klan.
The supporting materials show promise but have considerable room to grow. They are easy to access and clearly organized. However, they focus on individuals rather than on the movement as a whole and do not reach beyond the basic narrative of the civil rights movement.
Michigan has content standards and more detailed learning benchmarks and covers civil rights in high school only.
Elementary and Middle School
There are no specific requirements for teaching about the civil rights movement at this level.
U.S. History and Geography: The civil rights movement is the third of three major topics included in a unit that covers the post-World War II era until 1989. The specific standards are:
- Civil rights in the post-WWII era: Examine and analyze the civil rights movement using key events, people and organizations.
- Civil rights movement: Analyze the key events, ideals, documents and organizations in the struggle for civil rights by African Americans including: the impact of WWII and the Cold War (e.g., racial and gender integration of the military), Supreme Court decisions and governmental actions (e.g., Brown v. Board, Civil Rights Act of 1957, Little Rock school desegregation, Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965); protest movements, organizations, and civil actions (e.g., integration of baseball, Montgomery Bus Boycott, March on Washington, Freedom Rides, NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, Nation of Islam and Black Panthers; resistance to civil rights).
- Ideals of the civil rights movement: Compare and contrast the ideas in Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington speech to the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Seneca Falls resolution and the Gettysburg Address.
- Civil rights expanded: Evaluate the major accomplishments and setbacks in civil rights and liberties for American minorities over the 20th century including American Indians, Latinos/Latinas, new immigrants, people with disabilities and gays and lesbians.
- Tensions and reactions to poverty and civil rights: Analyze the causes and consequences of the civil unrest that occurred in American cities by comparing the civil unrest in Detroit with at least one other American city (e.g., Los Angeles, Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta or Newark).
The Michigan Department of Education does not provide teaching resources for any curriculum areas. Upon request, they do provide connections to content-specific organizations in Michigan. Their social studies consultant has recently established a committee to gather and promote resources on the civil rights movement.
Although Michigan does expect students to study several dimensions of the civil rights movement, the standards still fall far short of a comprehensive picture of one of American history’s most important events. Suggested content does include a variety of significant events and key groups but does not provide the kind of historical context and study of opposition that students need to fully understand the movement.
It is encouraging that Michigan plans to fill its current gap in resources for teachers working to educate students about the civil rights movement.
The Major Documents
Minnesota has adopted new social studies academic standards for the 2013 school year. Standard 20 in the U.S. History standards directs teachers to study of civil rights movements: “Post-World War II United States was shaped by an economic boom, Cold War military engagements, politics and protests, and rights movements to improve the status of racial minorities, women and America’s indigenous peoples. (Post-World War II United States: 1945-1989).”
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 5: In fifth grade, a citizenship and government benchmark says that students should be able to “[e]xplain how law limits the powers of government and the governed, protects individual rights and promotes the general welfare. For example: Miranda v. Arizona, Ninth and Tenth Amendments, Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Grade 6: Sixth grade’s Minnesota Studies standards for civic skills continue discussion of the civil rights movement. Students are asked to “[e]valuate arguments about selected issues from diverse perspectives and frames of reference, noting the strengths, weaknesses and consequences associated with the decision made on each issue. For example: Historical issues—women’s suffrage, treaties with indigenous nations, civil rights movement, New Deal programs. Strengths might include—expanded rights to new group of Americans, established tribal sovereignty, collaborative effort of multiple groups in American society, provided a financial safety net for individuals. Weaknesses might include—too expensive, unintended consequences, caused more problems than it solved.”
Later, the standards discuss
the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a republic. Students are to
“[d]escribe the establishment and expansion of rights over time, including the impact of key court cases, state legislation and constitutional amendments. For example: Key court cases and state legislation—the Minnesota Human Rights Law, Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona.” Brown also appears in the seventh-grade benchmarks, as does the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Sixth-grade students are encouraged to make connections to Minnesota in their study of the civil rights movement. One benchmark makes this explicit: “Describe civil rights and conservation movements in Post-World War II Minnesota, including the role of Minnesota leaders. (Post-World War II United States: 1945-1989) For example: Movements—civil rights movement (Hubert H. Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, student takeover of Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota); American Indian Movement; women’s rights movement; conservation movement (Ernest Oberholtzer, Boundary Waters Canoe Area).”
Grade 7: Brown appears in the seventh-grade benchmarks, as do the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Civil Rights Act. These are all discussed in the context of civics and government education. Seventh graders learn about the black codes as they study Reconstruction. After Reconstruction, as in many states, the Great Migration is included in a discussion of national transformation.
One interesting benchmark encourages students to make connections between Jim Crow laws and other kinds of institutionalized racism: “Analyze the effects of racism and legalized segregation on American society, including the compromise of 1876, the rise of “Jim Crow,” immigration restriction, and the relocation of American Indian tribes to reservations. (Development of an Industrial United States: 1870-1920) For example: Withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877, Southern “redeemer” governments, 1892 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, 1887 Dawes Allotment Act.”
After World War II, students are asked to critically evaluate different social movements: “Compare and contrast the goals and tactics of the civil rights movement, the American Indian Movement, and the women’s rights movement; explain the advantages and disadvantages of non-violent resistance.”
Several benchmarks in the high school history standards are relevant to study of the civil rights movement. One continues Minnesota’s innovative approach of linking Jim Crow to broader disenfranchisement and racism: “Describe ‘Jim Crow’ racial segregation and disenfranchisement in the South, the rise of ‘scientific racism,’ the spread of racial violence across the nation, the anti-Chinese exclusion movement in the West, and the debates about how to preserve and expand freedom and equality.” Three additional benchmarks deal directly with the civil rights movement:
- “Explain the roots of the various civil rights movements, including African American, Native American, women, Latino American and Asian American.”
- “Identify obstacles to the success of the various civil rights movements; explain tactics used to overcome the obstacles and the role of key leaders and groups.”
- “Evaluate the legacy and lasting effects of the various civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s; explain their connections to current events and concerns.”
According to Minnesota state statutes, it is against the law to endorse/promote any curriculum materials through the state agency.
Minnesota’s standards scored high in sequencing and connections. For standards designed to guide students and teachers toward big questions about the nature of American history, they do an outstanding job. They are especially effective in encouraging teachers and students to connect the institutionalized racism of Jim Crow laws to other discriminatory periods in American history. The standards do lack depth and breadth, however. They would be greatly improved by increasing the level of detail, providing more specific guidance to teachers and students. Paired with the lack of supporting resources mandated by statute, Minnesota’s districts, schools and teachers are left to their own devices when it comes to teaching the movement.
The Major Documents
In 2011, the state of Mississippi adopted two new strands—civil rights/human rights and culture—for its K-12 social studies framework. A number of the related required competencies and objectives deal directly with the civil rights movement. Notably, many of the competencies and objectives are related to helping students gain a deep understanding of the importance of mutual tolerance, respect and civil liberties in everyday society. Others deal with historical and contemporary pushes for human and civil rights. The 2011 Mississippi Social Studies Framework describes the new strands:
Civil Rights/Human Rights
Civil rights/humans rights education … is defined as the mastery of content, skills and values that are learned from a focused and meaningful exploration of civil rights/human rights issues (both past and present), locally, nationally and globally. This education should lead learners to understand and appreciate issues such as social justice, power relations, diversity, mutual respect, and civic engagement. Students should acquire a working knowledge of tactics engaged by civil rights activists to achieve social change. Among these are: demonstrations, resistance, organizing and collective action/unity.
The competencies and objectives in the culture strand aim to place historical events, actors and prominent ideas in a cultural context. Students should be able to relate better to historical and contemporary events and see them as alive with possibility and open for critique. Particular emphasis is placed on the role of mass culture (media, arts, religion, contemporary sentiments, etc.) in the shaping of society.
Elementary and Middle School
Kindergarten: Students should study Martin Luther King Jr.
Grade 3: Understand how the diversity of people and customs affects the local community:
- Explain how cultural artifacts represent cultures in local communities. (e.g., pictures, animals and masks).
- Compare and contrast celebrations of various groups within the local community.
- Research and identify historical figures of various cultures (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr., Betsy Ross, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, etc.).
Grade 4: Understand the roles, rights and responsibilities of Mississippi citizens:
- Distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors of a responsible citizen (e.g., courteous public behavior, respect for the rights and property of others, tolerance, self-control, participation in the democratic process and respect for the environment, etc.).
- Identify historical figures (e.g., Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr., etc.), circumstances (e.g., slavery, abolition, segregation and integration, etc.), and conditions (e.g., The Great Migration, Trail of Tears, Women’s Suffrage, etc.) related to the struggle for civil/human rights in Mississippi and their impact on Mississippi’s society.
- Compare and contrast the benefits and challenges of unity and diversity among citizens of Mississippi.
Grade 6: Understand the influences of historical documents (e.g., Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, etc.), events and social movements on the rights of American citizens:
- Compare and contrast the essential ideas of various historical documents that are important in shaping the values of American democracy.
- Analyze how various philosophers influenced the writing of America‘s historical documents.
- Analyze political and social impacts of civil rights movements throughout the history of the United States (e.g., demonstrations, individual and group resistance, organizing efforts and collective action/unity).
- Explain and analyze the current state of civil and human rights for all people in our nation (e.g., people with disabilities, minorities, gender, etc.).
- Explain how conflict, cooperation and interdependence (e.g., social justice, diversity, mutual respect, and civic engagement) among groups, societies and nations influenced the writing of early historical documents.
Grade 9 (Mississippi Studies): Understand and describe the historical circumstances and conditions that necessitated the development of civil rights and human rights protections and/or activism for various minority groups in Mississippi:
- Compare and contrast de facto segregation and de jure segregation in Mississippi from 1890 to the present, including the rise of Jim Crow era events and actors (i.e., Ross Barnett, James Eastland, the integration of University of Mississippi, Sovereignty Commission, etc.), and their impact on Mississippi‘s history and contemporary society.
- Identify and explain the significance of the major actors, groups and events of the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century in Mississippi (i.e., Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Dr. T. R. M. Howard, James Meredith, Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, COFO, CORE, etc.).
- Compare and contrast the development and resulting impact of civil rights movements (e.g., women’s suffrage, African-American liberation, Native American citizenship and suffrage, immigration rights, etc.) in Mississippi.
- Investigate and describe the state government’s responses to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Understand the trends, ideologies and artistic expressions in Mississippi over time and place:
- Examine the cultural impact of Mississippi artists, musicians and writers on the state, nation and world.
- Analyze the ways Mississippians have adapted to change and continue to address cultural issues unique to the state (e.g., the establishment of historical and commemorative markers for civil rights movement and Confederate icons).
- Analyze the impact of religious traditions upon the daily lives of Mississippians from the era of European exploration to the present.
U.S. History: Understand how the civil rights movement achieved social and political change in the United States and the impact of the civil rights struggle of African Americans on other groups (including but not limited to feminists, Native Americans, Hispanics, immigrant groups and individuals with disabilities):
- Analyze the issues that gave rise to the civil rights movement from post-Reconstruction to the modern movement.
- Trace the major events of the modern movement and compare and contrast the strategies and tactics for social change used by leading individuals/groups.
- Analyze the response of federal and state governments to the goals (including but not limited to ending de jure and de facto segregation and economic inequality) of the civil rights movement.
- Evaluate the impact of the civil rights movement in expanding democracy in the United States.
- Compare and contrast the goals and objectives of other minority and immigrant groups to those of the civil rights movement led predominantly by African-Americans.
- Cite and analyze evidence of the political, economic and social changes in the United States that expanded democracy for other minority and immigrant groups.
U.S. Government: In this one-semester course, students are expected to understand the role that governments play in the protection, expansion and hindrance of civil/human rights of citizens:
- Explain Supreme Court rulings that have resulted in controversies over changing interpretations of civil rights, including those in Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena and United States v. Virginia (VMI).
Mississippi’s framework also sets standards for a one-semester Minority Studies elective course that includes study of the civil rights movement and a one-semester African American Studies elective course that requires study of the Black Power movement. The Minority Studies framework does not substantially add to the content stipulated in the required course standards, with the exception of a benchmark that requires students to learn about the effects of racism in contemporary society, including discussion of economic policies and ongoing inequalities. The African American Studies framework does add some depth, explicitly linking the legacy of slavery and its legal protections to Jim Crow through the development of the modern civil rights movement. It also covers the desegregation of the military and encourages students to compare and contrast the major intellectual wings of the civil rights movement. This framework, like the Minority Studies framework, covers institutionalized racism and its persistence in current events.
In addition to the frameworks, Mississippi’s Department of Education provides an online slide show specific to civil rights education. It explains the legislative mandate in Mississippi for education about civil rights and points teachers to a selection of websites (most centered on Mississippi) for further investigation.
Mississippi’s recent integration of civil rights instruction throughout grades is a promising start but continues to fall short when it comes to specifying required content. The state does include a number of leaders in its suggested content, but the events list falls short, relying on Mississippi-centered content. The standards do an excellent job of sequencing content across grades, however, as well as linking the civil rights movement to current events. Among the national standards, they are exceptional at explicit links to citizenship and civics. Overall, more work should be done to set appropriate and high expectations in a state whose progress in education has repeatedly attracted national attention.
The state’s supporting materials do not contain lesson plans or much in the way of suggested resources for teachers. As Mississippi’s Civil Rights Education Commission prepares to further its important work, it should continue adding to the state’s frameworks with directed supplementary resources.
As Mississippi refines its new standards, it should include more directed requirements to learn about the obstacles to the civil rights movement as well as internal debates about its tactics. Anything less than an approach that meets these objectives simply risks providing students with an inappropriate, one-dimensional picture of one of American history’s most important events.
The Major Documents
The civil rights movement is not mentioned in Missouri’s Social Studies Grade and Course-Level Expectations (2008).
Elementary and Middle School
No civil rights content is required.
U.S. History: Students are required to “[a]nalyze the evolution of American democracy, its ideas, institutions and political processes from colonial days to the present, including…Civil War and Reconstruction, struggle for civil rights, expanding role of government.”
This same item, with the addition of the American Revolution, appears in the requirements for the U.S. Government course. The civil rights movement is not mentioned in Missouri’s Course-Level Expectations, although the Brown decision is mentioned in a list of required influential Supreme Court decisions.
The Missouri Department of Education’s Missouri Heritage Project includes some suggested content and resources for teaching about the civil rights movement. This website lists possible research topics and links to eight lesson plans, most from Missouri-based SuccessLink. While the lessons are good, they lack the breadth necessary for a full treatment of the nuanced aspects of the civil rights movement. The resource page is not easy to locate.
Missouri’s standards essentially require students to know nothing about the civil rights movement. The vague requirement to learn about the “struggle for civil rights” is not a substitute for serious instructional leadership. This is especially negligent given Missouri’s own rich civil rights history—from sit-ins in Kansas City to boycotts and protests in St. Louis, Missouri, citizens have a variety of role models to learn from in their own state. Unfortunately, by omitting the civil rights movement, the state has lost the opportunity to spotlight local or national figures, groups, events and tactics. The state could make up for this gap by developing rich resources for teachers and students, but has not yet taken this opportunity.