The Montana Standards for Social Studies does not mention the civil rights movement itself. Rosa Parks is named as an example in a fourth-grade benchmark for Social Studies Content Standard 6. That standard requires students to “demonstrate an understanding of the impact of human interaction and cultural diversity on societies"; Parks is included in benchmark 5: identify examples of individual struggles and their influence and contributions (e.g., Sitting Bull, Louis Riel, Chief Plenty Coups, Evelyn Cameron, Helen Keller, Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Parks). Montana reports that it will soon revise its state social studies standards.
A few curricular documents mentioning the civil rights movement are available from the website of Montana’s Office of Public Instruction. One is a model secondary-level language arts teaching unit designed to support the teachers using Zitkala-a’s American Indian Stories. This unit encourages teachers to make an important connection between the African-American civil rights movement and the American Indian freedom struggles:
Think about what we know or teach about the slave trade, system of slavery in the U.S., system of prejudice and discrimination before the civil rights movement in the South that helps us understand books like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Walker. This is a common text for middle-school students. Since our students have learned much about the slave trade, and slavery in America, they better understand novels that require previous knowledge and understanding. Too many of our children have little understanding of accurate American Indian history and authentic cultural experience that informs contemporary literatures written by American Indians. How does a study of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry compare or contrast with the particular history of American Indian peoples and how that history informs their literature?
There are no additional documents supporting instruction about the civil rights movement available on the Office of Public Instruction’s website.
Montana does not suggest that students learn about the civil rights movement beyond inclusion of Rosa Parks in a list of significant figures. This represents a failure of leadership by the state of Montana and 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 is matched by absence of required content overall. Montana’s emerging body of supporting materials does show some promise in linking the civil rights movement to struggles for American Indian civil rights and sovereignty. These documents, while easy to access and well presented, discuss the civil rights movement only in passing.
The Major Documents
Nebraska approved its new Social Studies Standards in December 2012.
Elementary and Middle School
Students in the first, second, third and eighth grades learn about Martin Luther King Jr. as part of the study of patriotic holidays.
High school students “[a]nalyze the significance and benefits of” holidays including Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In high school, the civil rights era is included in a list of major events in U.S. history as part of a standard that requires students to “analyze how major past and current U.S. events are chronologically connected, and evaluate their impact(s) upon one another.” A later standard asks students to “[a]nalyze and evaluate the impact of people, events, ideas and symbols, including various cultures and ethnic groups, on history in the United States.” The list that follows includes such diverse items as jazz, the Holocaust and Steve Jobs, as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the civil rights era, NAACP, AIM and César Chávez.
There is one other mention of the civil rights movement in the Standards, when students are expected to “[c]ompare and contrast primary and secondary sources to better understand multiple perspectives of the same event (e.g., Equal Rights Amendment, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s declaration of war speech, the Pentagon Papers).”
Currently, Nebraska is sharing social studies resources online from a wiki platform. Although the resources here do not focus on the civil rights movement, they do contain a number of links to sites where movement-related content can be found. The resources give heavy emphasis to the use of original historical documents, including a slideshow focusing on the challenge of finding quality documents and accompanying lessons.
Nebraska’s Standards discusses neither resistance to the civil rights movement or its tactics for overcoming resistance. Suggested content omits key legislative milestones, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. While the standards place the civil rights movement in the arc of American history, even this coverage is shallow, omitting important details that would help teachers and students fulfill the requirement. The Standards does single out original historical documents for analysis, but even there the approach is puzzling—the Equal Rights Amendment and the Pentagon Papers do not represent “multiple perspectives of the same event.”
These standards represent 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 is matched by the thinness of the standards overall.
The Major Documents
Nevada’s Social Studies Content Standards includes minimal coverage of the civil rights movement. Minority rights movements are mentioned in a benchmark under the broad heading of “Social Responsibility & Change.” That standard calls for students to “understand how social ideas and individual action lead to social, political, economic, and technological change.”
Elementary and Middle School
Nevada requires no civil rights content at this level.
Under the category heading “Civil Rights & the 1960’s” are the following two benchmarks:
- Explain how the social and economic opportunities of the post-World War II era contributed to social responsibility and change.
- Identify and describe the major issues, events and people of minority rights movements, i.e., Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black Power movement, United Farm Workers, American Indian Movement, Viva La Raza and women’s rights movement.
There are no other mentions of the civil rights movement.
The Nevada Department of Education’s website contains no documents to assist in teaching the civil rights movement. Although some content-specific resources are available online, including Indian education resources and lesson plans, the site includes no sample lesson or unit plans supporting the civil rights movement.
However, DOE officials report that Nevada’s social studies teachers have a wide variety of programs available to them in this area. In the past several years, the Nevada Bar Association has focused Law Day curriculum on local civil rights cases. The Special Collections Library at the University of Nevada, Reno, had a special exhibit on civil rights in Nevada, including primary-source documents and guides for classroom teachers. The Governor’s Council for Education Relating to the Holocaust also presents a workshop each year for teachers and most years there is at least one breakout session about how lessons from the Holocaust can be used to teach about civil rights in the modern era. The Teaching American History Grant for Northern Nevada has also focused several of its workshops on civil rights and the Constitution in recent years and continues to use civil rights as a lens to teach about many modern era social studies lessons.
Nevada seems to have taken the most general approach possible to requiring study of the civil rights movement. It offers no direction to teachers by specifying any content other than Black Power and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Further, it entirely omits the history, complexity, resistance to, tactics and trajectory of the civil rights movement.
These standards represent 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 is matched by the minimalism of the state’s social studies standards overall.
Although many groups in Nevada have engaged teachers with a number of initiatives and workshops relating to the civil rights movement, these are not Department of Education initiatives and therefore were not scored as part of the state’s supporting materials.
The Major Documents
The K-12 Social Studies New Hampshire Curriculum Framework was last revised in June 2006.
Elementary and Middle School
Students are asked to “[e]xplore how individuals’ ideals have profoundly affected life in the United States, e.g., Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief in nonviolence or John Stark’s statement “Live Free or Die.”
- Describe ways in which particular events and documents contributed to the evolution of American government, e.g., states’ rights, universal suffrage, or civil rights.
- Examine how suffrage expanded to various groups of citizens, e.g., women African Americans.
- Analyze the tension between states’ rights and national authority, e.g., the nullification crisis of 1832 or school integration of the 1960s.
In high school, the following requirements are related to the civil rights movement:
- Evaluate how individual rights have been extended in the United States, e.g., Truman’s integration of the Armed Services or the Miranda decision.
- Examine the impact of sectionalism on national crises and United States government policies, e.g., Hartford Convention or Brown v. Board of Education.
New Hampshire does not offer readily accessible materials to support teaching and learning about the civil rights movement.
New Hampshire’s coverage of the civil rights movement is cursory at best. The standards portray one of American history’s most important eras as a monolithic entity without detail, resistance or nuance. The state does not make up for this lack with supporting resources. New Hampshire has missed the opportunity to set high expectations for learning about one of American history’s most important events.
The Major Documents
In New Jersey, the civil rights movement falls under social studies standard 6.1, “The United States and the World.” According to the 2009 New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for Social Studies, students in New Jersey learn about the civil rights movement beginning in primary school. The movement is given a more comprehensive treatment in high school. The state’s Social Studies Timeframe Table for the ninth through 12th grades divides U.S. history from 1585 to the present day into 16 eras, of which “Civil Rights and Social Change” is 13th.
Elementary and Middle School
By the end of fourth grade, students should be able to “describe how the actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders served as catalysts for social change and inspired social activism in subsequent generations.”
By the end of 12th grade, students should have met the following benchmarks:
- Analyze the effectiveness of national legislation, policies and Supreme Court decisions (i.e., the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Rights Amendment, Title VII, Title IX, Affirmative Action, Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade) in promoting civil liberties and equal opportunities. Explain how individuals and organizations used economic measures (e.g., the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sit-downs, etc.) as weapons in the struggle for civil and human rights.
- Determine the impetus for the civil rights movement and explain why national governmental actions were needed to ensure civil rights for African Americans.
- Compare and contrast the leadership and ideology of Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X during the civil rights movement and evaluate their legacies.
New Jersey’s Department of Education has developed model curricula for social studies. At the time of publication, only limited resources related to this project were available online. The Student Learning Objectives for several units are available, giving a window into the unit contents. The unit titled “Civil Rights and Social Change (1945 to Early 1970s)” includes a number of detailed student-level outcomes that encourage students to examine conflicts within the movement, make connections to other movements, use original historical documents and make connections to local history.
While it recognizes the importance of the civil rights movement, New Jersey gives it inadequate treatment in the standards. The standards require students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, but not Rosa Parks or instrumental movement groups like CORE, SCLC and SNCC. Students 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 weak. Omission of obstacles to the civil rights movement, including the means of oppression and disenfranchisement, risks presenting students with a view that lacks context. This view is unlikely to allow students to better understand current events and improve their civic engagement. Supporting materials do little to fill this gap; they reach beyond the material required in the standards, but do not support that content with lesson plans, detailed guidance to teachers or original historical documents.
The Major Documents
The New Mexico Content Standards with Benchmarks and Performance Standards (2009) includes mention of the civil rights movement in elementary school and high school.
Elementary and Middle School
In addition to a mention of Martin Luther King Jr. as a “United States historical event and symbol,” students are expected to “describe the cultural diversity of individuals and groups and their contributions to United States history (e.g., George Washington, Ben Franklin, César Chávez, Rosa Parks, NAACP, tribal leaders, American Indian Movement).”
The civil rights movement is included under the broad benchmark requiring students to “analyze and evaluate the impact of major eras, events and individuals in United States history since the Civil War and Reconstruction.” The specific performance standard, “Analyze the development of voting and civil rights for all groups in the United States following Reconstruction,” includes:
- Intent and impact of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.
- Segregation as enforced by Jim Crow laws following Reconstruction.
- Key court cases (e.g., Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade).
- Roles and methods of civil rights advocates (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Russell Means and César Chávez).
- The passage and effect of the voting rights legislation on minorities (e.g., 19th Amendment, role of Arizona supreme court decision on Native Americans and their disenfranchisement under Arizona constitution and subsequent changes made in other state constitutions regarding Native American voting rights—such as New Mexico, 1962, 1964 Civil Rights Act, Voting Act of 1965, 24th Amendment).
- Impact and reaction to the efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
- Rise of Black Power, Brown Power, American Indian Movement and United Farm Workers.
A few supplemental documents on the New Mexico Public Education Department’s website mention the civil rights movement. One is a civil rights timeline activity, presumably for younger students, that (among other tasks) asks students to identify whether Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader of the civil rights movement, a president or an astronaut. It also asks students to say whether the goal of the civil rights movement was to make Americans equal, angry or rich.
By failing to require key content and thereby giving solid direction to teachers, New Mexico’s standards do not adequately cover the civil rights movement. Even the content supplied as suggestions falls well short of a comprehensive picture of one of American history’s most important events. The state’s standards do not provide the kind of rich historical context and study of opposition to the movement that students need to master understanding of the movement, apply it to knowledge of current events and enrich their own civic potential.
The Major Documents
The New York State Department of Education, under the leadership of the Board of Regents, has adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies. These do not substantially change the civil rights standards from this report’s last evaluation.
New York’s Learning Standards for Social Studies contains four sample tasks related to the civil rights movement. Text elaborating upon social studies standard 1 (History of the United States and New York) mentions the civil rights movement: “Based on a study of key events in United States history, such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement, discuss how at least two core civic ideas, such as individual rights and the consent of the governed, have been forces for national unity in this diverse society.”
One sample task for standard 1 asks students to “read Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ and discuss how this letter expresses the basic ideas, values, and beliefs found in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
Another sample task asks students to investigate “Rosa Parks’ decision to challenge the Jim Crow laws in Alabama in 1955.” A final sample task suggests that students “investigate how Americans have reconciled the inherent tensions and conflicts over minority versus majority rights by researching the abolitionist and reform movements of the nineteenth century, the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the twentieth century, or the social protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s.” Because the core curriculum links required content with suggested connections and activities, it is considered as a supporting resource as well as a major document for the purpose of this study.
Elementary and Middle School
Martin Luther Ling Jr. is included in a list of holidays students should understand for effective citizenship.
Unit 11 (“The changing nature of the American people from World War II to the present”) in the middle school social studies core curriculum deals directly with the civil rights movement. The relevant parts of the content outline are excerpted in Table 11 along with their associated “Connections.” The civil rights movement content here is linked to the “Civic Values” theme in the curriculum.
For high school, the Core Curriculum continues its Content/Connections layout. The high school curriculum begins with a lengthy list of Supreme Court cases students should understand. Among those are several civil rights cases, including Brown.
While the high school Core Curriculum mentions “Truman and civil rights” in the content column of Unit Six (“The United States in an Age of Global Crisis”), it does not directly require students to learn about desegregation of the armed forces.
More extensive coverage is found in Unit Seven (“World in Uncertain Times: 1950-Present”). The relevant parts of the content outline are excerpted in Table 12 along with their associated “Connections.”
New York publishes the Social Studies Instructional Strategies and Resources for prekindergarten through sixth grade. This document identifies selected strategies to support implementation of the core curriculum. Several lessons are related to teaching the civil rights movement. In first grade, the Resources recommends that teachers learn about Ruby Bridges and Martin Luther King Jr. to discuss the ideas of roles, responsibilities and rights. This lesson makes a direct connection to students’ lives and their roles as citizens in the classroom and beyond. The fourth-grade Resources include Martin Luther King Jr. as a person who “helped extend our freedoms” and propose research into his biography.
For civics education, New York has online resources linking specific lessons in the Project Citizen and We The People programs to social studies content standards. Many states simply provide links to these outside providers; New York’s approach is far superior in that it curates the available lessons and provides teachers with specific guidance when approaching outside sites. Many linked lessons are directly relevant to the civics implications of the civil rights movement.
With some modifications, New York’s social studies content standards and core curriculum could be models for the rest of the country. The state paints a detailed picture of the civil rights movement, covering major leaders, groups and events fairly comprehensively. Unfortunately, New York leaves out much of the opposition to the movement, covering none of our rubric’s recommended content. This has the effect of making the movement seem inevitable while hurting students’ ability to make sense of continuing racism and civil rights struggles. Overall, these are among the top standards in the country—a few changes would dramatically diminish their excessive periodization, deepen the narrative and lift the state’s grade dramatically.
The state’s supporting resources do not reach very far to curate and collect lesson plans and resources specific to teaching the civil rights movement. Additional materials, like the state’s outstanding curriculum on the Great Irish Famine would do even more to help teachers and students understand the civil rights movement.
The Major Documents
North Carolina implemented new standards during the 2012-2013 school year. The new K-12 Social Studies Essential Standards is conceptual in nature. The state has created multiple support documents to help teachers understand and implement the new standards. Most important is the K-12 Social Studies Unpacking Document, which provides examples of essential understandings or “big ideas” that students should acquire. It includes examples of the type of factual content and specific topics that help students to understand the big ideas in the Standards. Because of its special nature, the Unpacking Document is assessed both as a major document and as a supporting resource for the purposes of this study, as in selected other states.
Elementary and Middle School
Five of the 28 clarifying objectives for the eighth-grade course North Carolina and the United States: Creation and Development of the State and Nation encourage teaching of the civil rights movement. Table 13 identifies the standards and objectives addressing the civil rights movement and their accompanying objectives from the Unpacking Document. One interesting feature of the new Unpacking Document is that it includes hyperlinks to selected materials for examples. This innovative approach is reproduced in a time where lesson planning is likely to include online aspects; these links direct teachers easily to relevant content while staying within the standards’ recommended content.
The American History II course examines the United States from the late 19th century through the early 21st century. The essential standards of American History Course II will trace the change in the ethnic composition of American society; the role of the United States as a major world power and the movement toward equal rights for racial minorities and women. Table 14 outlines standards that have been excerpted from the Unpacking Document for the American History II course.
The hyperlinks embedded directly in the Unpacking Document lead teachers to an exceptionally rich and well-curated set of online resources for teaching the civil rights movement. They have an admirable emphasis on original historical documents, most linked to lesson plans and resources that teachers could easily adopt in their classrooms.
North Carolina has also developed key teaching resources. The first, a sample unit for teaching the civil rights movement in eighth grade identifies a broad range of key concepts, leaders and events in the civil rights movement, encouraging teachers to embark on a deep exploration of its causes, consequences and conflicts. The unit includes a number of challenging essential questions. For example, it links the study of segregation to geography by encouraging students to think about the idea of ghetto and the importance of place to lived experience. Several essential questions challenge students to think deeply about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship as they study the movement. The unit includes rubrics, suggested assessment activities and a strong emphasis on using original historical documents.
An additional set of documents collects suggested activities for students during and after field trips to civil rights museums. While not all teachers will have access to similar museums, these activities could be models for other local exhibits or repurposed for “virtual” museum tours now widely available online.
North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction has established several working partnerships to share resources with teachers to teach the movement. The DPI conducted sessions for teachers at the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro. These were focused on using the resources of the museum to teach the concept of civil rights and the civil rights movement. The DPI has committed to sharing lesson plans, developed by the museum, to teach about civil rights and the movement. The DPI is also working actively to share civil rights education resources developed by the North Carolina Civic Education Consortium. Finally, the DPI has established a partnership with the Bill of Rights Institute to produce an online course that will include movement-related content.
North Carolina’s standards and supporting resources do a good job of helping teachers and students to learn about the civil rights movement. The standards scored high in sequencing and connections, showing genuine interest in placing the movement in the arc of history and connecting it across grade levels and historical eras. Major and supporting documents could be improved by adding detail and depth, especially in describing the causes of the movement, the depth and nature of institutionalized racism and the scope of resistance the movement faced. The Unpacking Document stands out for its innovative use of well-curated hyperlinks that guide teachers to original historical documents and resources to use those documents in the classroom.
The Major Documents
The North Dakota Content and Achievement Standards for Social Studies (December 2007) addresses the civil rights movement briefly for high school. In addition to these content standards, the state issues the Achievement Standards (also called the North Dakota Standards and Benchmarks Performance Standards: Social Studies). This document, last updated in 2001, aligns standards with grade-band benchmarks and performance standards. North Dakota is scheduled to revise its social studies content standards in 2014.
Elementary and Middle School
North Dakota does not require study of the civil rights movement in these grade levels.
Students are expected to “[a]nalyze the struggle for equal opportunity (e.g., civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, civil rights legislation and court cases, civil rights organizations, National Organization for Women, Equal Rights Amendment, American Indian Movement, César Chávez).”
North Dakota’s Department of Public Instruction does not provide supporting documents online to support teaching the civil rights movement. Under the provisions of state law, the state superintendent supervises the adoption of state content standards and local school districts supervise the development and implementation of curriculum and instruction. State law authorizes regional education associations to provide technical support and foster collaboration in the development of curricular and instructional supports to meet the needs of schools and districts. Schools and regional education associations collaborate in the development of local curriculum in all subject matters, including social studies and the teaching of the civil rights movement.
Instead of setting detailed expectations for learning about the civil rights movement, North Dakota’s standards include vague language about the “struggle for equal opportunity.” While they suggest that students learn about two major figures, they fall far short of providing even a basic picture of the movement, much less its causes and obstacles. This represents a missed opportunity to set high expectations and adequate supports for learning about one of American history’s most important events. There is hope that the 2014 revisions will adopt a more nuanced and thorough set of requirements.
The Major Documents
Ohio’s New Learning Standards: K–12 Social Studies was adopted in 2010 and revised in 2012.
Elementary and Middle School
The New Learning Standards does not require teaching about the civil rights movement at this level.
Ohio’s New Learning Standards: High School Social Studies (2010) contains syllabi for six high school social studies courses: American History, Modern World History, American Government, Economics and Financial Literacy, Contemporary World Issues and World Geography. Each contains a course theme and broad topics that are further clarified with content statements. At best, these course syllabi barely mention the civil rights movement. One content statement in the American History course syllabus reads: “Following World War II, the United States experienced a struggle for racial and gender equality and the extension of civil rights.”
In addition to the New Learning Standards, Ohio has developed Model Curricula for each grade level. These take the standards as starting places but add content elaborations, instructional strategies, instructional resources and connections. The Model Curricula mention black codes and the Ku Klux Klan in Reconstruction for study in eighth grade. In high school, the American History Model Curricula mention the civil rights movement in the following ways:
- As part of content elaboration: “What if the federal government had not used deficit-spending policies during the Great Depression, Truman had not ordered atomic bombs dropped on Japan or African Americans had not protested for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s?”
- Instructional strategies: “Display numerous artifacts or other primary sources related to a historical event (e.g., Japanese-American internment, immigration, civil rights). Give students the task of selecting and organizing a certain number of the resources to interpret. Have each student develop a thesis to explain the relationship among the selected resources, using information to support their theses.”
- Content elaboration: “Racial discrimination was institutionalized with the passage of Jim Crow laws. These state laws and local ordinances included provisions to require racial segregation, prohibit miscegenation, limit ballot access and generally deprive African Americans of civil rights…[t]he rise of the Ku Klux Klan and other nativist organizations brought increased violence against African Americans.”
- Content elaboration: “African-American organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Urban League (NUL) struggled for equal opportunities and to end segregation. They demonstrated and sought redress in the courts to change long-standing policies and laws.”
The U.S. Government Model Curricula mentions the civil rights movement in the following ways:
- Content elaboration: “Poll taxes disenfranchised the poor and were also used as Jim Crow legislation to deny the right to vote to African Americans. Amendment 24 prohibits the use of poll taxes in federal elections.
- Instructional strategies: “Have students investigate the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Have them consider the resulting achievements and their impact on current civic life. Have students discuss how the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped open access to more elements of American society and provide more opportunities to minorities. Have students discuss how the laws passed in the 1960s by the Congress (e.g., Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965), executive acts (e.g., integration of the military, affirmative action programs) and Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Brown v. Board of Education, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) helped enforce the rights addressed by the 14th and 15th Amendments.
The Model Curricula direct teachers to a select number of instructional resources. Although not all of the links work, some of the resources point to excellent lessons—particularly lessons about Jim Crow and the 1963 March on Washington.
Ohio’s New Learning Standards requires no content related to the civil rights movement. The state’s supplementary materials add some depth, but not nearly enough to compensate for the state’s abdication of responsibilities. Ohio should consider further revising its major documents to include detailed guidance for educators interested in teaching about this essential era in American history. The state’s supporting resources do a good job of filling in the gaps left by the standards. They are easy to access and clearly organized. Additional elaboration of the Model Curricula, including more connection with original historical documents, would provide further guidance to Ohio teachers.
The Major Documents
The Oklahoma C3 Academic Standards for the Social Studies was last modified in 2012. It is part of Oklahoma’s C3 initiative—preparing students for “College, Careers and Citizenship.”
Elementary and Middle School
Like many states, Oklahoma requires young students to learn about national holidays, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Oklahoma continues study of Martin Luther King Jr. as students are asked to describe “relationships between people and the events of the past” commemorated on his holiday and others. This is part of citizenship standards.
Students “participate in shared and individual research using biographies and informational text historic examples of honesty, courage, patriotism, self-sacrifice, and other admirable character traits seen in citizens and leaders.” The list that follows includes Jackie Robinson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
The rise of the Ku Klux Klan is included in this grade’s discussion of Reconstruction.
In Oklahoma History, high school students are asked to “[e]xamine multiple points of view including the historic evolution of race relations in Oklahoma including Senate Bill 1 establishing Jim Crow laws, the growth of all-Black towns, the Tulsa Race Riot, and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.” In addition, students “[c]ite specific textual and visual evidence to evaluate the progress of race relations and acts of civil disobedience in the state including the A) Judicial interpretation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment which ultimately resulted in the desegregation of public facilities, and public schools and universities, B) Landmark Supreme Court cases of Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (1948) and McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents for Higher Education (1950). C) Lunch counter sit-ins organized by Clara Luper and the NAACP, and D) Leadership of Governor Gary in the peaceful integration of the public common and higher education systems.”
In the United States Government standards, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is included in a list of documents and speeches for examination. These standards also require study of Brown as part of a list of landmark Supreme Court cases.
The contemporary United States history standards include a number of requirements specific to the civil rights movement:
- Assess the impact of the Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, and the actions of the Ku Klux Klan.
- Cite specific textual and visual evidence to compare and contrast early civil rights leadership including the viewpoints of Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey in response to rising racial tensions, and the use of poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise blacks and poor whites.
- Describe the rising racial tensions in American society including the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, increased lynchings, race riots as typified by the Tulsa race riot, and the use of poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise blacks and poor whites.
- Cite specific textual and visual evidence to analyze the major events, personalities, tactics, and effects of the civil rights movement.
A. Assess the effects of President Truman’s decision to desegregate the United States armed forces, and the legal attacks on segregation by the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, the United States Supreme Court decisions in the cases of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher and George McLaurin, and the differences between de jure and de facto segregation.
B. Compare and contrast segregation policies of “separate but equal,” disenfranchisement of African Americans through poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence; and the sustained attempts to dismantle segregation including the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, the Oklahoma City lunch counter sit-ins led by Clara Luper, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the Birmingham church bombing, the adoption of the 24th Amendment, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
C. Compare and contrast the view points and the contributions of civil rights leaders and organizations linking them to events of the movement including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech, Malcolm X, NAACP, SCLC, CORE, SNCC, and the tactics used at different times including civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance, sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and voter registration drives.
D. Evaluate the effects the civil rights movement had on other contemporaneous social movements including the women’s liberation movement, the United Farm Workers and César Chávez, and the American Indian Movement.
In addition to the Standards, Oklahoma has produced an Implementation Guide for the Oklahoma C3 Standards for the Social Studies. Although this document does not provide additional specifications or resources for teaching the civil rights movement specifically, it gives a unique look into the very thoughtful process that went into the state’s redesign of its standards, along the way citing some of the best emerging practices in teaching social studies.
Oklahoma also produces an annotated list of online social studies resources. Many of the outside providers cited contain excellent lesson plans and heavily promote the use of original historical documents for teaching the civil rights movement. Only one lesson is specifically flagged for teaching the civil rights movement–the excellent (and Common Core-aligned) Choices in Little Rock unit offered for free from Facing History and Ourselves.
Oklahoma’s new standards are among the best in the nation for coverage of the civil rights movement. They take care to include state-specific content, events and leaders, linking these thoughtfully to the national movement. They go beyond the normal “Montgomery to Memphis” narrative, covering almost all of the content in our rubric. Connecting the exhaustive treatment of the civil rights movement to current events and students’ lived experience would make the standards even better. As it is, they should be an example for other states trying to improve the scope and depth of their own standards.
Oklahoma could do more to supplement its new and outstanding standards with lesson plans and unit plans specifically selected to align to content in the standards. This would help teachers working to meet the ambitious goals set by the state.
The Major Documents
The Oregon Social Sciences Academic Content Standards was adopted in August 2011. This document contains two levels of standards: core standards and grade level standards. They do not mention the civil rights movement.
The Oregon Department of Education’s website does not provide resources specific to teaching the civil rights movement.
Oregon does not require its students to study the civil rights movement. Its standards entirely omit the history, complexity, resistance to, tactics and trajectory of one of the most important eras in American history. These standards represent a missed opportunity to set high expectations. A lack of resources in addition to the standards’ omissions means that no expectations or help are offered to Oregon’s teachers and students.
The Major Documents
Pennsylvania’s Academic Standards for History (2003) does not mention the civil rights movement, although it does mention the concept of civil rights in several places. The standards for civics and government mention civil disobedience, but not in the context of the civil rights movement. In addition to the Standards, Pennsylvania publishes the Curriculum Framework. The Framework identifies essential questions, concepts and competencies but does not detail specific content.
Pennsylvania’s Standards Aligned System website does an excellent job of clearly linking resources and supporting materials to the state’s content standards. The site points teachers to many resources related to the civil rights movement. Even when those resources are outside the Pennsylvania site (for example, on a third-party provider like Thinkfinity), the SAS site clearly links resources to state standards and provides a summary of activities, allowing teachers to choose quickly among resources that might be useful to their specific lessons or student populations. The linked resources, in general, are high-quality. Many use original historical documents and encourage teachers to use those documents thoughtfully in the classroom.
Pennsylvania does not require students to learn about the civil rights movement. This represents a missed opportunity to set high expectations. The state’s linked resources represent well-curated lessons and original historical documents from across the Internet. They supplement the vague standards with concrete ideas for teaching the civil rights movement. They could be improved further by adding content that links the national movement and nationally shared materials to content more specific to Pennsylvania and its citizens.
The Major Documents
Rhode Island’s Grade Span Expectations for Social Studies (GSEs) was last revised in 2012. As a supporting resource for its standards, Rhode Island developed Grade Span Specific (GSS) documents. These documents include essential questions and topics that strongly link to the GSEs—they are designed to aid teachers and districts in developing curricula.
Elementary and Middle School
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is mentioned in the GSEs for the fifth through sixth and the seventh through eighth grades. In both grade bands, this speech is listed in a group of “enduring/significant documents” that includes the Magna Carta, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and the “U.N. Rights of the Child” (presumably the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child). In the fifth through sixth grades, students are asked to “demonstrate an understanding of sources of authority and use of power, and how they are/can be changed by identifying and summarizing the rule of law” using these documents. In the seventh through eighth grades, students are asked to compare and contrast “the key stages of development of the rule of law” as presented in these documents. The Grade Span Specific documents suggest additional detail for the fifth through sixth and the seventh through eighth grades, including an additional reference to the “I have a Dream” speech and the use of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks as examples of how “a person’s actions or a group’s actions” can “create multiple reactions.”
The GSS documents suggest civil rights as a topic for discussion with the essential question “How does looking at the past help us understand the present, and plan/predict the future?”
The GSEs mention the civil rights movement in limited ways. One GSE asks students to “demonstrate an understanding of how individuals and groups exercise (or are denied) their rights and responsibilities”; one method for accomplishing this is “identifying and explaining ways individuals and groups have exercised their rights in order to transform society (e.g., civil rights movement, women’s suffrage).” Later, students demonstrate proficiency at understanding political systems and processes by “analyzing multiple perspectives on an historical or current controversial issue (e.g., immigration, environmental policy, escalation of the war in Vietnam, Brown v. Board of Education).” The GSS documents do not add much in the way of detail.
The Rhode Island Department of Education has produced an appendix to the GSEs with suggested resources for social studies teachers. For civil rights movement, the appendix points teachers to two lessons from the National Archives, both from the justifiably popular “Teaching With Documents” series. One lesson is about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the other about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. Both lessons are well-constructed and make excellent use of original historical documents.
Rhode Island’s Grade Span Expectations is broad, sweeping and generally lacking detail. If details about the civil rights movement are included, they do not deviate from the standard shorthand of the King-Parks narrative. The omission of opposition to the movement and its internal conflicts presents a simplified view of the movement, one that makes its hard-fought achievements seem inevitable given the course of American history. To Rhode Island’s credit, it is one of a handful of states that make an explicit connection between the civil rights movement and current events.
Rhode Island’s general lack of detail is consistent with the state’s coverage of other major events in American and world history. The state’s supporting resources are thin, failing to make connections to current or local events. Although the two identified lessons are excellent, they are hardly enough to support educators working to teach this essential era in American history.
The Major Documents
The South Carolina Academic Standards for Social Studies was revised in 2011. In addition to the Standards, South Carolina updated its Social Studies Support Document in 2012. The Support Document is a unique resource that offers official advice about how best to teach the content standards. The document dealing with U.S. history spells out in considerable detail what content students are expected to know. Both the Standards and the Support Document are online. Because the Support Document functions both as official guidance and supporting material, it was scored as a major document and as supporting material for the purposes of this study.
Elementary and Middle School
Study of the civil rights movement begins in kindergarten, as students identify reasons for celebrating national holidays, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Support Document explains it is essential for students to know that “On this day, America remembers Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to make sure every person in America is respected and treated fairly.”
A subsequent standard asks students to “[d]escribe the actions of important figures that reflect the values of American democracy, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr.” The Support Document explains it is essential for students to know that “Rosa Parks refused to obey unjust laws and helped to end segregation on public transportation in America. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great civil rights leader who led many marches and boycotts to change laws so that all Americans would have equal rights.”
Mary McLeod Bethune is included in a list of people who have made significant contributions to democracy. The Support Document explains it is essential for students to know that she was “instrumental in educating African-American women, and ensuring that their rights were recognized and their voices heard throughout the United States.”
At this level, students are asked to “[s]ummarize the development of economic, political, and social opportunities of African Americans in South Carolina, including the end of Jim Crow laws; the desegregation of schools (Briggs v. Elliott) and other public facilities; and efforts of African Americans to achieve the right to vote.” The Support Document adds details like poll taxes, literacy tests, extensive description of the origins and nature of Jim Crow laws and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. In addition, it offers a substantial explanation of what it is essential for students to know at this grade level. This remarkable document is quoted at length here:
It is important for students to understand that the movement for civil rights for African Americans was an ongoing process that originated during the early abolitionist period. A number of organizations and individuals were actively protesting and pushing for an end to the Jim Crow laws and restrictions on voting long before the post-World War II civil rights movement began. Following World War II, living conditions for most in South Carolina had improved from the days of the Great Depression. However, African Americans who had played an active role in the military during World War II came home to a land still mired in segregation. Economic, political, and social opportunities were limited due to the persistence of Jim Crow laws passed by southern legislatures.
In South Carolina, the arena of public education played a major role in ending segregation throughout the country. The Supreme Court ruled in 1896 (Plessy v. Ferguson) that operating a segregated school system in which black and white students attended different schools was constitutional so long as the schools were “separate, but equal.” However, the two school systems were far from equal. The white schools received the newest materials, including buses, books, and desks. Old and outdated furniture and instructional materials were then passed down to the schools that black students attended. Although their schools were inferior to the schools provided for white students, the parents of some African-American children in Clarendon County, South Carolina, actively sought a bus to take their students to school. The school board provided buses for the white students but refused to provide transportation for African-American students. Parents purchased their own bus but the school board denied their request to pay for the gas. With the assistance of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the parents brought suit against the district school board seeking equal treatment under the law, as required by the fourteenth amendment. The case was called Briggs v. Elliott. The state court ruled in favor of the school district. The parents appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States. The NAACP had four similar cases before the Supreme Court from other parts of the country. Briggs became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision reached by the Supreme Court in the early 1950s. In Brown, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was inherently unequal and that African-American students should be integrated into classrooms with white children with “all deliberate speed.”
However, the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education  was not quickly enforced as called for [“with all deliberate speed”] and, as result, had little immediate effect. Segregation continued in schools and in other public facilities throughout the South. Rosa Parks was a member of the NAACP who was tired of segregation. Her refusal to move from her seat on a public bus led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This peaceful protest against segregation started a series of protests throughout the South that included sit-ins, marches, and boycotts. During the bus boycotts in Montgomery, Martin Luther King Jr., a local pastor, became a leader of the nonviolent protest movement for African-American civil rights. He also made the famous “I Have a Dream” speech at a protest march in Washington, D.C. News coverage of protesters being attacked by police dogs and sprayed with fire hoses in places such as Birmingham and Selma, Alabama was featured on television and in nationwide newspapers leading to greater public awareness of racial discrimination and sympathy for the conditions of African Americans in the South. It also led South Carolina’s leaders to be concerned that these protests would hurt their efforts to attract businesses to the state. As a result, South Carolina government and business leaders began to deliberately plan to peacefully integrate public facilities in the state while exhausting all legal options. Although the state of South Carolina legally resisted integration all the way to the United States Supreme Court, Clemson University soon became the first state facility in South Carolina to integrate [January 28, 1963] and did so without incident at a time when other states experienced court orders, violence, and a National Guard presence as their state-supported colleges lead the way in the desegregation process. Stores and restaurants opened their doors to African-American customers. This peaceful integration was eventually marred by the “Orangeburg Massacre” , when black students were shot by the South Carolina Highway Patrol and the National Guard after protesting a segregated bowling alley.
As a result of the civil rights protests, the federal government passed laws that protected the rights of African Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made segregation illegal in all public facilities. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests. The twenty-fourth amendment outlawed poll taxes. African Americans were allowed to freely vote and be elected to state legislatures for the first time since Reconstruction.
Two fifth-grade standards contain movement-related content:
- Explain the practice of discrimination and the passage of discriminatory laws in the United States and their impact on the rights of African Americans, including the Jim Crow laws and the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson.
- Explain the advancement of the modern civil rights movement; including the desegregation of the armed forces, Brown v. Board of Education, the roles of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Civil Rights acts, and the Voting Rights Act.
The Support Document unpacks these standards, giving explicit guidelines to teachers as to what it is essential for students to know:
World War II changed the landscape for civil rights in America. The contribution of African Americans to the war effort helped to bring about the desegregation of the United States military. Although African Americans fought in segregated units during the war, many died for their country just as white soldiers did. However, African Americans returned from war to a country racially divided. Upon the war’s conclusion, African Americans faced many instances of prejudice and discrimination. President Harry S. Truman, in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the military, ordered the desegregation of the army , however, he could not order the end to all discrimination.
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared the practice of school segregation unconstitutional in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. According to the Supreme Court, the schools were to be integrated “with all deliberate speed.” With “deliberate speed” open for interpretation, the process of integrating the public schools was in fact deliberate but far from speedy. Students should be able to explain how over the course of the next fourteen years from the Brown decision, until the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, the civil rights movement gained momentum.
The civil rights movement experienced several leaders, including King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X, who utilized a variety of strategies to bring attention to the struggle of African Americans to achieve equal rights. Students should already have an understanding of Dr. King. They should be able to describe the nonviolent philosophy of Dr. King and others who protested many injustices through marches and boycotts. Included in this discussion of civil rights activities should be the roles of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Women’s Association in the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama; the sit-ins at segregated lunch counters; and the Freedom Rides. These activities educated the general public and gained sympathy from many Americans, including President John F. Kennedy, because television brought the abuses of Jim Crow into living rooms across the country. Kennedy proposed a civil rights bill to Congress. Following the assassination of President Kennedy, several laws were passed by Congress banning segregation in public places and protecting the right of all Americans to vote during the mid-1960s. Malcolm X believed that change was not happening quickly enough. He did not believe that white Americans would ever support equal rights for African Americans and encouraged his followers to rely on themselves as opposed to newly passed civil rights laws. Later Malcolm X believed that true equality would not be fully achieved without white citizens working together with African Americans. Both Malcolm X and Dr. King were assassinated during the last half of the 1960s.
In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination in public places and provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities. The Civil Rights Act also made employment discrimination illegal. Passage of the Voting Act of 1965 was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. President Johnson signed the Voting Act of 1965 into law on August 6, 1965. This law placed a nationwide prohibition against the denial of the right to vote based on the literacy tests. The Act contained special enforcement policies that focused on those areas of the country where Congress believed the potential for discrimination to be the greatest.
Students learn about the Ku Klux Klan as part of study of the 1920s. Mary McLeod Bethune is mentioned again in the standards for this grade. One standard is especially detailed in covering the civil rights movement in South Carolina: “Analyze the movement for civil rights in South Carolina, including the impact of the landmark court cases Elmore v. Rice and Briggs v. Elliot; civil rights leaders Septima Poinsette Clark, Modjeska Monteith Simkins, and Matthew J. Perry; the South Carolina school equalization effort and other resistance to school integration; peaceful efforts to integrate beginning with colleges and demonstrations in South Carolina such as the Friendship Nine and the Orangeburg Massacre.” After an extensive discussion of the circumstances of Brown and Briggs, the Support Document offers substantial clarification on the matter of what it is essential for students to know:
South Carolina officials resisted efforts to integrate schools in a variety of ways. While the Briggs case was still pending in the federal courts, South Carolina launched a statewide effort to improve education by making separate African-American schools equal to schools for whites and were able to remain segregated under the Plessy “separate but equal” doctrine. This massive building program is known as the equalization effort. Modem schools for African-American students were built throughout the state. When the equalization effort was not successful in persuading the courts that “separate but equal” should be upheld, the Brown ruling was met with widespread and sometimes violent opposition and delay. The Governor of South Carolina, James F. Byrnes, encouraged this resistance. White Citizens Councils were established to coordinate efforts to intimidate African Americans who petitioned for equal treatment and to label whites who supported the court’s ruling as traitors to their race. South Carolina’s Senator Strom Thurmond authored the Southern Manifesto, signed by all but three of the Congressmen from the Deep South [101 in total]. This document condemned the Brown decision for upsetting the relationship of whites and African Americans in the South and encouraged resistance to desegregation. Resistance included the establishment of numerous ‘white flight’ private academies, school choice, and plans for the voluntary closing of public schools. For almost two decades, South Carolina sought to avoid the integration of public schools. Similar actions were taken in other southern states. It would be the early 1970s before full-scale integration occurred in most South Carolina schools.
The Brown decision prompted other civil rights actions throughout the South and South Carolina was affected. In response to the actions of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Supreme Court ruled that city buses could not be segregated. South Carolina’s bus companies ignored the ruling. When students staged a sit-in at a North Carolina lunch counter, South Carolina students followed their example throughout the state and initiated a new tactic. Grassroots protests and demonstrations throughout South Carolina echoed the national movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. The response of the white leadership of South Carolina was tempered by their desire to attract economic investment to the state (8-7.1). Pictures of protests and violence in other southern states broadcast on nationwide television and newspapers did not encourage such investment. Consequently in 1963, South Carolina began to slowly and deliberately integrate public facilities. Beginning with Clemson College and followed by the University of South Carolina, state colleges were integrated without the violence which engulfed campuses in other southern states. This relatively peaceful integration of public facilities in South Carolina was marred by the violence of the Orangeburg Massacre. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were enforced in South Carolina and public schools were finally desegregated as a result of another court ruling fifteen years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.
Although many South Carolinians played a significant role in the civil rights movement, most notable among them are Septima Clark, Modjeska Simkins and Matthew Perry. Septima Poinsette Clark was a public school teacher. In a case brought by the NAACP, she sought equal pay for African-American and white teachers. A member of the NAACP, Clark left South Carolina when the state legislature passed a bill saying that public employees could not belong to any civil rights organization. Clark later taught at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee where many civil rights leaders learned the strategy of nonviolent direct action. Clark served in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led by Dr. King. Clark founded citizenship schools to improve literacy among the African-American community and increase voter registration. Modjeska Monteith Simkins was a teacher and public health worker. An active member of the NAACP, she also participated in the efforts to equalize teachers’ salaries and to reform the white primary (Elmore v. Rice). Simkins also helped write the declaration for the lawsuit that asked for the equalization of Clarendon County schools (Briggs v. Elliot). Matthew J. Perry was the first graduate of the new law school at South Carolina State to pass the bar exam. As a civil rights lawyer, Perry was instrumental in bringing cases in South Carolina to challenge segregation. African-American efforts to push for integration of schools to conform to the Brown ruling were first pursued at the college and university level because these would be least resisted by white parents. Perry defended the right of an African American student to attend Clemson University. Perry also fought for the adoption of single-member districts in South Carolina’s House of Representatives, making it possible for more black lawmakers to get elected. Perry later served as South Carolina’s first African-American federal judge.
The Supporting Document continues in some depth regarding additional people and events in South Carolina, including sit-ins and the Orangeburg Massacre.
The requirements for this course include Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as a significant American historical document; they also require study of the 11th through the 27th amendments to the Constitution.
In addition to requirements to refresh learning about Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan, the high school standards ask students to “[a]nalyze the African-American civil rights movement, including initial strategies, landmark court cases and legislation, the roles of key civil rights advocates and the media, and the influence of the civil rights movement on other groups seeking equality.” The Support Document uses this standard to synthesize information that has been built from grade to grade, bringing in national events and trends to complete students’ learning about the civil rights movement:
It is essential for students to know: The civil rights movement was a liberal movement that challenged the conservative status quo of race relations in the United States to secure for African Americans the full rights of citizenship including the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In order to analyze the strategies of the civil rights movement, it is essential that students understand its goals which were equal treatment and the right to vote. A thorough review of the failed promises of the Declaration of Independence; Reconstruction and the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments; the Jim Crow era; and the response of African Americans to discrimination should establish the context for the civil rights movement of the post-World War II period. It is also important to place the civil rights movement in the context of the post World War II Cold War era. During the war, African Americans demanded more equitable treatment in war industries. As a result, President Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Commission. However when the war ended, African Americans lost jobs to returning white soldiers. African Americans also served in the military but were in segregated units. African-American soldiers from the North experienced Jim Crow as they trained on military bases in the South. Some returning African-American veterans were lynched. This motivated President Truman to establish a civil rights commission, to support an anti-lynching law and to desegregate the military by executive order. Revelations of concentration camps and the ‘Final Solution’ shocked Americans and called into question race relations in the United States. Cold War competition required that the United States gain the support of emerging nations in Asia and Africa. Strategies used by the African-American civil rights movement forced the United States to live up to its constitutional promises or face embarrassment on the international stage.
The strategies of the civil rights movement had roots in the early twentieth century in the development of organizations [NAACP] that established the judicial precedents that eventually led to the Brown decision and in the successful application of the strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience by Gandhi in India. Students need to know the ruling in the Brown decision and the reaction of both conservatives and liberals to this decision. A real understanding of nonviolence requires that students understand the direct action nature of the movement in so much as sites were specifically selected to show to the nation and the world the face of racism in order to get the support of the electorate for government assistance in securing civil rights. Students should understand how those strategies were used in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sit-ins, freedom rides, the Birmingham campaign, the March on Washington, Freedom Summer, and the Selma-to-Montgomery March. A focus on the role of the media, especially television, will link the civil rights movement to the popular culture of the post-World War II era and help explain its strategy and success.
The civil rights movement is an example of the importance of leadership. Although students have some familiarity with Martin Luther King Jr., they may not understand the complexity of his role as the movement’s organizer and spokesperson. Students should understand that the nonviolent direct action campaign of the civil rights movement was successful in getting presidential support and the support of the majority of the voting public in the early 1960s; the extent to which Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon were advocates of the civil rights movement; the specific pieces of legislation that were passed and how they addressed discrimination including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1968; and how politics affected and was affected by the movement. For instance, Harry Truman’s advocacy of civil rights in 1948 led to the emergence of the Dixiecrats. Democratic (Kennedy and Johnson) support of civil rights legislation and Nixon’s Southern Strategy turned a formerly solid Democratic south into a Republican stronghold.
Students should understand how changes within the movement affected public support for civil rights legislation. The goals, actions, and leadership of the black power movement [Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and the Black Panthers] among northern, urban African Americans were significantly different from those of southern African Americans. While Southern African Americans could confront segregation by law (de jure) with direct action, de facto segregation as practiced in other parts of the country was more insidious. Televised reports of urban riots and the radical rhetoric of the black power movement alienated the general public and undermined support for further government action. Oversimplification of black power should be avoided by including the efforts of black power advocates to protect and empower the African-American community and promote ethnic pride.
The movement for African-American civil rights had an impact on the movements for women’s rights, the rights of Latinos, and the rights of Native Americans. Students should understand how the participation of women in the civil rights movement prompted them to form organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) to promote their own rights and the extent to which women were successful in securing the support of government and the public in promoting women’s rights. Students should understand the impact of The Feminine Mystique, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Roe v. Wade, and the Equal Rights Amendment on the women’s rights movement and the development of conservative counter movements. The goals, strategies and government response to movements for the rights of Latinos and Native Americans were similar to the early African-American civil rights movement. These movements also lost support when they turned more militant.
In addition to the superlative material in the Supporting Document, South Carolina provides a number of other supporting resources for educators seeking to teach the civil rights movement. In 1994, the South Carolina Department of Education published African Americans and the Palmetto State. At more than 250 pages, this book (available for free on the DOE’s website) is an extraordinary resource for teachers. Its coverage of the civil rights movement in South Carolina is well constructed and engaging. It would be improved further with aligned lesson plans.
The South Carolina Department of Education also points teachers to the National Humanities Center Toolbox Library. On this site, the “The Making of African American Identity,” Vol. III, 1917-1968, educators can find a number of curated original historical documents as well as well-constructed lesson plans. Resource documents for each grade add to recommended content, directing teachers at each grade level to websites full of documents and lesson plans.
In 2012, the S.C. Department of Education partnered with the National Council for History Education (NCHE) and Richland School District 2 to present a conference at South Carolina State University titled “The Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina.” A similar conference titled “The Desegregation of South Carolina Public Schools” was scheduled for June 20-21, 2013.
South Carolina’s major documents are the best in the nation. While the Standards does not contain that much detail about the civil rights movement, the Support Documents provide a remarkable degree of detail, support and nuance for teachers. In this respect, it serves the same function as California’s Framework document. While the Framework is good, South Carolina’s Support Documents is even better. It shows us what genuinely thoughtful sequencing across grade levels looks like. For example, students are introduced to a large amount of content as early as third grade, but they are not expected to identify individual personalities and groups until later grades. They make tough instructional choices, giving much-needed guidance on the difference between essential and nonessential knowledge to overburdened teachers. Like California, South Carolina has built a living and narrative version of American history to supplement its more general standards.
The state supplements its existing materials with a number of well-curated resources, including a book published by the state’s Department of Education and a large selection of well-chosen websites. South Carolina’s supporting documents manage to improve on an already superlative set of major documents to great effect.
The Major Documents
South Dakota’s 2006 Social Studies Content Standards provides little coverage of the civil rights movement. In addition to the Standards, the Department of Education provides the supplementary Grade Standards, Supporting Skills, and Examples for K-12 social studies. Since this serves the same function as curriculum frameworks do in other states, it was considered as part of South Dakota’s major documents for the purpose of this study.
Elementary and Middle School
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is included as an example in a list of celebrations students might identify.
Martin Luther King Jr. appears in a list offered as examples for an activity in which students identify the accomplishments of historical figures.
Students at this level are required to “describe ways historical figures contributed to modern-day life.” Listed examples here are “Thomas Jefferson-Declaration of Independence; Rosa Parks-civil rights; Susan B. Anthony-suffrage; Sequoyah-Cherokee alphabet.”
The Grade Standards identifies Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan as examples of content in the Reconstruction era. These topics are not connected to mention of the civil rights movement later.
The civil rights movement is offered as an example for covering this high school social studies standard: “Students are able to describe the causes and effects of cultural, economic, religious, political, and social reform movements on the development of the United States.” Other listed examples are: women’s suffrage, populists and progressives, isolationists, anarchists, anticommunism, American Indian Movement and the Reagan revolution. Brown is identified as an example supporting the study of judicial review in the Grade Standards.
The South Dakota Department of Education’s website does not provide materials supporting teaching and learning about the civil rights movement.
South Dakota’s coverage of the civil rights movement is extremely limited. Although two key figures and one key event are mentioned, the state’s major documents do not connect the dots for teachers, offering essentially no guidance for teaching and learning about one of the most important eras in American history.
The Major Documents
After receiving feedback and insight from educators in Tennessee and reviewing national exemplars in social studies education and two sets of draft standards, the State Board of Education approved new social studies standards on July 26, 2013. These standards will begin in the 2014-15 school year. They are included here as current standards, even though their implementation will be phased in during the 2014 school year.
Elementary and Middle School
Students “Participate in shared research projects to identify and describe the events or people celebrated during state and national holidays and why we celebrate them.” The list of events includes Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Students use informational texts to describe the importance of celebrating national holidays, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Diane Nash is included in a list of famous Tennessee leaders students should be able to identify.
Students are asked to participate in shared research using biographies. Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. are among the suggested topics. Another standard requires students to “[e]xplain the connection between a series of events in United States history. Teachers may choose any events. Some suggestions are as follows: Jamestown, Plymouth, Westward Expansion, Trail of Tears, Industrial Revolution, Ellis Island, Suffrage Movement, Great Depression, Dust Bowl, the civil rights movement, and wars involving the United States.”
One standard requires students to “[u]se timelines and historical passages to summarize the history of a region, including events, inventions/inventors, artists, writers, and political figures.” The list of suggestions includes Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
The Ku Klux Klan is mentioned in a discussion of Reconstruction. In addition, students are asked to “Describe the effects of Jim Crow Laws on the nation and Tennessee.” Additional standards at this grade level cover the movement in considerable detail. Students are required to “[a]nalyze the key events and struggles during the civil rights movement, including: Brown v. Board of Education; Nonviolent protest and the influence of the Highlander Folk School; Central High School-Little Rock, Arkansas and Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee; Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks; Tent Cities in Fayette and Haywood Counties; Nashville Sit-Ins and Diane Nash; Freedom Riders; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” One additional standard stipulates that students should “[e]xplain the effect President Kennedy’s assassination had on the country, including passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, and continuing the space program.” The fifth-grade standards close by recommending some primary documents and supporting texts, including “‘I Have a Dream Speech’ and ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’ Martin Luther King Jr.”
The Reconstruction standards here again mention the Ku Klux Klan, including its role in Tennessee. They recommend that students read excerpts from the black codes and Jim Crow laws.
The Ku Klux Klan is mentioned in the history standards in the context of the 1920s and “attacks on civil liberties and racial and ethnic tensions.” Later standards discuss the civil rights movement and surrounding events in detail:
- Examine court cases in the evolution of civil rights, including Brown v. Board of Education and Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.
- Examine the roles of civil rights advocates, including the following: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Stokely Carmichael, President John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson, James Meredith, Jim Lawson.
- Examine the roles of civil rights opponents, including Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, Orval Faubus, Bull Connor, and the KKK.
- Describe significant events in the struggle to secure civil rights for African Americans, including the following: Columbia Race Riots; Tent Cities of Haywood and Fayette Counties; Influence of the Highlander Folk School and civil rights advocacy groups, including the SCLC, SNCC, and CORE; Integration of Central High School in Little Rock and Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Birmingham bombings 1963, Freedom Rides, including the opposition of Bull Connor and George Wallace; March on Washington; Sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, boycotts, Nashville sit-ins, Diane Nash; Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Cite textual evidence, determine the central meaning, and evaluate the explanations offered for various events by examining excerpts from the following texts: Martin Luther King Jr. (“Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream” speech) and Malcolm X (“The Ballot or the Bullet”).
- Analyze the civil rights and voting rights legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and the 24th Amendment.
- Describe the Chicano movement, the American Indian Movement, and feminist movement and their purposes and goals.
- Investigate the life and works of Alex Haley and his influence on American Culture, including The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots: The Saga of An American Family.
The standards also recommend several civil rights movement-related texts, including original legislation, texts by King and Malcolm X and speeches by César Chávez.
United States Government and Civics
The standards for this course emphasize reading original historical documents. They discuss civil disobedience and make a direct connection to the civil rights movement, including suggested readings by Martin Luther King Jr.
In addition to the required courses, Tennessee sets standards for an elective African-American History course. These standards add some details to study of the civil rights movement already set out in required courses. They support the use of multiple original historical documents.
The Tennessee Department of Education has been working with the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the Nashville Public Library and Tennessee History for Kids in order to provide online access to resources, but these are not yet available.
Tennessee’s standards are excellent, particularly in their support of original historical documents and emphasis across grade levels. They set a good example for states that do not wish to take a narrative approach, like California and South Carolina, but instead wish to isolate detailed content. The new resources being developed by the state seem promising but were not available to evaluate at the time of this report. If Tennessee continues on its current trajectory, we can expect it to create supporting resources that match its high-quality standards.
The Major Documents
The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies (TEKS), revised in 2010, offers fairly substantial guidance to teachers regarding the civil rights movement.
Elementary and Middle School
Students are expected to:
- Analyze various issues and events of the 20th century such as industrialization, urbanization, increased use of oil and gas, the Great Depression, the world wars, the civil rights movement and military actions.
- Identify the accomplishments of notable individuals—such as Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, César Chávez, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team—who have made contributions to society in the areas of civil rights, women’s rights, military actions and politics.
Like many states, Texas includes state-specific civil rights movement information in its state history class. In Texas, that class is taught in seventh grade. Students are expected to:
- Describe and compare the civil rights and equal rights movements of various groups in Texas in the 20th century and identify key leaders in these movements, including James L. Farmer Jr., Hector P. Garcia, Oveta Culp Hobby, Lyndon B. Johnson, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Jane McCallum and Lulu Belle Madison White.
U.S. History II
TEKS expectations for this course begin with a set group of “traditional historical points of reference,” one of which is the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Students must:
- Explain the significance of the following years as turning points: 1898 (Spanish-American War); 1914-1918 (World War I); 1929 (the Great Depression begins); 1939-1945 (World War II); 1957 (Sputnik launch ignites U.S.-Soviet space race); 1968-1969 (Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and U.S. lands on the moon); 1991 (Cold War ends); 2001 (terrorist attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon); and 2008 (election of first black president, Barack Obama).
A fairly detailed set of content expectations for the civil rights movement follows, mandating that “The student understands the impact of the American civil rights movement.” Students are expected to:
- Trace the historical development of the civil rights movement in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, including the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments.
- Describe the roles of political organizations that promoted civil rights, including ones from African-American, Chicano, American Indian, women’s, and other civil rights movements.
- Identify the roles of significant leaders who supported various rights movements, including Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez, Rosa Parks, Hector P. Garcia, and Betty Friedan.
- Compare and contrast the approach taken by some civil rights groups such as the Black Panthers with the nonviolent approach of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Discuss the impact of the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. such as his “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on the civil rights movement.
- Describe presidential actions and congressional votes to address minority rights in the United States, including desegregation of the armed forces, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo.
- Evaluate changes and events in the United States that have resulted from the civil rights movement, including increased participation of minorities in the political process.
- Describe how litigation such as the landmark cases of Brown v. Board of Education, Mendez v. Westminster, Hernandez v. Texas, Delgado v. Bastrop I.S.D., Edgewood I.S.D. v. Kirby, and Sweatt v. Painter played a role in protecting the rights of the minority during the civil rights movement.
Brown v. Board of Education is discussed again later, along with other landmark court decisions including Plessy.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is mentioned (though not as required content) in the standards for the required one semester class. TEKS specifies that students should:
- Evaluate a U.S. government policy or court decision that has affected a particular racial, ethnic or religious group such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the U.S. Supreme Court cases of Hernandez v. Texas and Grutter v. Bollinger.
The civil rights movement is not mentioned in the standards for this class or for any social studies electives outlined in TEKS.
Texas has created the “Project Share” website to share lesson plans and resources. Unfortunately, the site currently indexes only math and science resources. There are no resources supporting teaching and learning about the civil rights movement on the Texas Department of Education website.
Texas’s standards are scattershot but have potential. On one hand, the state requires students to learn about a number of personalities both within and opposed to the movement, creating rich guidelines for teachers. On the other hand, the state has entirely omitted requirements for students to learn about key movement groups (CORE, SCLC, SNCC) and key opposition groups (the Ku Klux Klan, for instance), making it seem that the movement and its opposition were more about conflicts between individuals than they were highly organized battles using often controversial strategies and tactics.
Texas would do well to try to offer a more coherent and chronological picture of the movement, rather than mixing it in with other activist endeavors in the same time period. It might also consider developing and indexing resources for teaching and learning about the civil rights movement to supplement the standards. This approach might help teachers and students better fine-tune their teaching and learning, in turn benefiting the diverse students of Texas.
The Major Documents
Utah’s students begin to learn about the civil rights movement in fifth grade. Utah’s Secondary Core Curriculum for Social Studies provides requirements for high school.
Elementary and Middle School
Students are asked to “assess the impact of social and political movements in recent United States history,” with two indicators:
- Identify major social movements of the 20th century (e.g. the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, child labor reforms).
- Identify leaders of social and political movements.
United States History II:
The standards and objectives for this course provide some additional guidance to teachers about the civil rights movement. Standard nine mandates that “students will understand the emergence and development of the human rights and culture in the modern era.” An objective to “[a]nalyze how the civil rights movement affected United States society” requires students to:
- Identify the causes and consequences of civil rights legislation and court decisions.
- Investigate the fight for the political, economic and social equality of women.
- Analyze how the black civil rights movement utilized both social and political actions to achieve its goals.
- Investigate the gains in civil rights made by the American Indian nations, Mexican Americans and other ethnic groups in the last half of the 20th century.
U.S. Government and Citizenship
Brown is mentioned in the standards along with other influential court decisions.
The Core Curriculum makes no additional mention of the civil rights movement.
The Utah Education Network contains a number of lesson plans and web resources aligned to the state standards. The sample curriculum for U.S. History II contains movement-related content. Students are to “[a]nalyze how the civil rights movement affected American society. There are four expectations listed here:
1. Identify the causes and consequences of civil rights legislation and court decisions.
2. Investigate the fight for political, economic, and social equality of women.
3. Analyze how the black civil rights movement utilized both social and political actions to achieve its goals.
4. Investigate the gains in civil rights made by the American Indian nations, Mexican Americans, and other ethnic groups in the last half of the twentieth century.”
This area of the curriculum is linked to two lesson plans. One uses primary sources to teach students that the movement did not simply appear in the 1960s—an essential lesson lacking in the coverage of many states. Included links send teachers to three websites for additional materials, including one that indexes FBI documents and another hosting multimedia resources about Supreme Court decisions.
In addition to online documents, Utah’s State Office of Education now offers an online course for teachers about the civil rights movement as part of an effort to provide substantial professional development opportunities on this crucial time in U.S. history. The course covers major figures, events and groups in the struggle and the activities of black and white Americans. The course description explains its process this way:
Each week, you will use some combination of documentary films, archival footage, oral history interviews, articles, photographs, memoirs, primary source materials, and traditional histories to understand the clash of interests between black participants/activists and white supremacists; the critical role of local black people and their white allies (both are often overlooked); and the evolving, expanding struggle that was the civil rights movement. Each week’s assignments will place you in the context of people carrying out actions to dismantle American racism, often at great risk to themselves, in order to realize the words of the nation’s Declaration of Independence.
This is a two-credit, eight-week course that our survey of state social studies specialists and superintendents revealed was unique in its breadth and ambition.
As part of the anniversary of the March on Washington, Utah has created some additional resources. A timeline of events from 1954 into the 1970s with links to specific events during each of those years. This is a rich and well-constructed resource for teachers that curates outside content in a dynamic environment. It is matched by the civil rights resources linked at the Utah Education Network’s “Themepark,” where coverage expands far beyond the standard narrative and resources.
Utah’s standards are minimal. They mandate instruction about the civil rights movement with essentially no content other than a reference to divergent tactics and a single mention of Brown. They make a vague attempt to link the movement to other liberation movements with no evidence or content.
The state’s online documents and lesson plans are accessible and well-organized. They offer a broad variety of resources, including many that heavily emphasize the use of original historical documents. The UEN sites will undoubtedly see much traffic from educators within and outside of Utah looking for ideas to teach the movement. The new online course on the civil rights movement stands in stark contrast to the state standards and has the potential to be an exciting new example for other states.
The Major Documents
Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities (last revised in 2000) provides requirements for teaching the civil rights movement. In 2004, Vermont’s State Board of Education produced a supplemental document, Grade Expectations for Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities. This document identifies Grade Cluster Expectations (GCEs), described as “more specific statements of the Vermont standards.”
Elementary and Middle School
Martin Luther King Jr. is included in the state’s history and social sciences standards setting out “how democratic values came to be and how people, (e.g., Washington, Lincoln, King) events (e.g., 4th of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day) and symbols (e.g., flags, eagles) have exemplified them.”
The social studies GCEs mention the civil rights movement once, saying that students should “connect the past with the present” by “[i]nvestigating how events, people, and ideas have shaped the United States and/or the world; and hypothesizing how different influences could have led to different consequences (e.g., How did the civil rights movement change the United States, and how might the United States be different if it had never happened?).”
Vermont does not require study of the civil rights movement in high school, although a few of the GCEs have suggested content related to the movement. The state asks students to “act as citizens by [a]nalyzing and evaluating changes in the interpretation of rights and responsibilities of citizenship over time (e.g., changes in voting age, changes in voting rights for women and African Americans).” Later, the Ku Klux Klan is included as a suggestion for analyzing subcultures (along with “Goths” and “Hippies”). A few additional CGEs elsewhere in the Civics, Government and Society strand touch on issues of race, but none are directly related to the civil rights movement.
Vermont shares instructional resources through the Vermont Education Exchange. This site is only available to Vermont educators. There are no civil rights movement resources on the Department of Education’s website itself.
Vermont’s standards and frameworks fail to set forth explicit requirements to learn about the civil rights movement.
The Major Documents
The state of Virginia fully implemented its new History and Social Science Standards of Learning for the first time in the 2010-11 school year. The Virginia Department of Education explains that the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) and Curriculum Framework “comprise the history, civics and geography content that teachers in Virginia are expected to teach and students are expected to learn.”
In Virginia, history instruction begins in kindergarten. Beginning with fourth grade, it continues in a sequence of courses (Virginia Studies, U.S. History to 1865, U.S. History to Present, Civics & Economics, World History & Geography to 1500, World History & Geography 1500-Present, World Geography, Virginia & U.S. History, Virginia & U.S. Government). For all of these, the state issues four documents: standards, a curriculum framework, the “Enhanced Scope & Sequence” and blueprints for test construction. The standards and framework were considered as the state’s major documents, while the lessons in the scope and sequence were evaluated as supporting documents.
Elementary and Middle School
The History and Social Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools (2008) requires that students learn about Martin Luther King Jr. in kindergarten as part of a unit on national holidays.
Students learn about King as part of civics instruction. He is included in a list with Jackie Robinson, George Washington and others as “Americans whose contributions improved the lives of other Americans.”
In civics, students are asked to identify the contributions of several influential Americans including Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr.
Virginia’s curriculum frameworks for each course are designed to add to the standards by identifying “Essential Understandings, Essential Questions, Essential Knowledge and Essential Skills.”
“Essential Knowledge” is provided for each named figure or event. The information provided for Martin Luther King Jr. (or his holiday) for the early grades shows ascending levels of detail:
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day: This is a day to remember an African American who worked so that all people would be treated fairly. It is observed in January. (Kindergarten)
- Martin Luther King Jr.: He was an African-American minister who worked so that all people would be treated fairly. He led peaceful marches and gave speeches. (Grade 2)
- Martin Luther King Jr.: He was an African-American minister who worked for equal rights for all people. He helped bring about changes in laws through peaceful means. (Grade 3)
Virginia Studies (Grade 4)
Standards for the Virginia Studies course discuss state resistance to the events of the civil rights movement: “The student will demonstrate knowledge of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Virginia by ... identifying the social and political events in Virginia linked to desegregation and massive resistance and their relationship to national history.”
The curriculum framework clarifies this standard with essential understandings, questions and knowledge reproduced in Table 15:
United States History—1865 to the Present (Grade 6 or 7)
Civil rights is mentioned briefly.
The student will demonstrate knowledge of the key domestic and international issues during the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by:
Examining the civil rights movement and the changing role of women.
Describing the development of new technologies in communication, entertainment, and business and their impact on American life.
Identifying representative citizens from the time period who have influenced America scientifically, culturally, academically, and economically.
Examining American foreign policy, immigration, the global environment, and other emerging issues.
The curriculum framework for U.S. history after World War II discusses this standard in some depth. The essential understandings, questions and knowledge related to the civil rights movement are reproduced in Table 16.
In addition, desegregation of the armed forces is mentioned as essential knowledge under Standard USII.8d.
There is no mention of the civil rights movement per se in the standards for this course. However, the essential knowledge provided in support of one standard (“The student will demonstrate knowledge of civil liberties and civil rights by … explaining every citizen’s right to be treated equally under the law”) includes reference to the civil rights movement and the history of discrimination.
Virginia and United States History
The standards treat the civil rights movement with more depth than the standards for other courses. One standard requires students to “demonstrate knowledge of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.” It includes two sub-standards, reproduced in Table 17 along with their accompanying framework-designated understandings, questions and knowledge:
In addition to its standards and frameworks, Virginia provides a detailed scope and sequence for its social studies classes. The History and Social Science Enhanced Scope and Sequence (ESS) Sample Lesson Plans provides examples for implementing the standards and framework. These lessons are sequenced throughout grade levels and clearly organized online.
Civil rights movement-related lessons begin in kindergarten, with “Happy Birthday, Dr. King!” Second-grade content includes lessons about Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. Third-grade lessons add Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall for biographical study. In fourth grade, a sample lesson plan for the Virginia History course focuses on Jim Crow and massive resistance, pointing teachers to a number of online resources. In addition to lessons prefacing the civil rights movement, the sample plans supporting U.S. History 1865-Present include content on school desegregation and the philosophy of nonviolent action. High school lessons build on this content, including a lesson that specifically addresses the roots of the movement before 1954. A sample lesson for the Virginia and United States Government course links the civil rights movement to essential understandings of citizenship.
The Virginia Department of Education provides civil rights education instructional resources on their History and Social Science Instruction Web page. These teacher, student and parent resources and information come from the Virginia General Assembly’s Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Committee, as well as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission. The resources include a variety of audio, video, print resources and lesson plans selected by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Division of Legislative Services that help explain the civil rights movement as well as Virginia’s role in the movement and the impact of massive resistance in communities across the state. Virginia Department of Education staff members serve on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission and act as a conduit to provide information from the Commission to Virginia’s 132 school divisions and their teachers.
The Virginia Department of Education maintains multiple partnerships with museums and cultural institutions. Staff members work with the Virginia Association of Museums to inform Virginia teachers of staff-development opportunities related to civil rights education. The state’s June 2013 conference was civil-rights-themed and open to all Virginia teachers. Virginia Department of Education staff members continue to be a part of the Moton Museum education team to develop museum space for students as well as develop online resources for teachers. The Moton Museum is part of the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail. Staff are currently working with the Student and Teacher Programs Coordinator for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution to share the programs and online resources available to Virginia teachers while the National Museum of African American History and Culture is under construction.
While Virginia’s standards devote a good bit of ink to the civil rights movement, they lack necessary breadth. These standards do have potential; some tweaks and expansions could go a long way toward improving the required content.
On one hand, the state requires students to learn about a number of personalities both within and opposed to the movement, creating rich guidelines for teachers. On the other hand, the state has entirely omitted requirements for students to learn about key movement groups (CORE, SCLC, SNCC) and key opposition groups (the Ku Klux Klan, for instance), making it seem that the movement and its opposition were more about conflicts between individuals than they were highly organized battles using often controversial strategies and tactics.
Virginia’s list of notable events is a bit scattershot—it does not mention Little Rock, the Birmingham protests, Mississippi Freedom Summer, the 24th Amendment or the Selma-to-Montgomery March. On the other hand, it does cover much Virginia history (including Massive Resistance) that is not addressed in our rubric. Unfortunately, this seems to come at the expense of an exploration of national resistance to the civil rights movement.
Virginia’s resources, on the other hand, are rich and varied. While some (especially the second- and third-grade lessons) take a fairly conventional “What do I know? What do I want to know? What have I learned?” (KWL) approach with little innovation in content or approach, the lessons for later grades provide excellent examples. They are easy to access and well-organized. Where the state really shines is in its extended reach beyond simple lesson and unit plans—the partnerships with museums and cultural organizations show that Virginia is dedicated to providing first-rate resources for teachers and students to learn about the civil rights movement and its impact, both locally and nationally.
The Major Documents
The State of Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s K-12 Social Studies Learning Standards (May 2008) includes the “K-12 Social Studies Grade Level Expectations” (GLE) and “Essential Academic Learning Requirements” (EALR). In January 2013, Washington amended the civics standards for the 11th and 12th grades, issuing an errata sheet.
In addition to the Standards and the EALR, Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction publishes suggested Unit Outlines by grade level to support social studies instruction. These are included in the major documents because they serve the same function as frameworks in other state—the unit outlines do not prescribe a program of study, as a curriculum might; rather, they add suggested examples to the grade-level expectations.
Elementary and Middle School
The eighth-grade Unit Outlines suggests that students should be able to explain “how Reconstruction and the emergence of Jim Crow laws help to define U.S. history following the Civil War.”
Civics mandates in 11th grade cover the civil rights movement. Four examples of student-performance expectations are specifically relevant:
- Examines how the Brown v. Board of Education decision promotes equality as one of the goals of our nation.
- Examines how the “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” promotes equality as one of the goals of our nation.
- Examines how the Civil Rights Act sought to extend democratic ideals.
- Critiques how courts and government policies have supported or failed to support civil rights.
The EALR requires students to understand and apply knowledge of history. The associated GLE requires students to understand how six themes help to define eras in U.S. history. One theme is “Movements and domestic issues (1945-1991).”
Students are required to understand that there are multiple perspectives and interpretations of historical events. One GLE suggests, in part, that this requirement could be filled if students develop “a position after examining competing historical interpretations of the effect Malcolm X had on the civil rights movement.”
The Unit Outlines adds additional suggested examples of student performance related to the civil rights movement in 11th and 12th grades:
- Explains how the United Farm Workers, civil rights movement, and feminist movement help to define U.S. history after World War II as a time of social movements.
- Examines the way that African Americans used the court system to influence civil rights legislation.
- Examines the way that migrant workers impacted agricultural labor.
- Examines how the use of boycotts and demonstrations led by various ethnic groups has resulted in social change in the United States.
- Examines cultural interactions between residents in Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood and members of the Los Angeles Police Department before and after the 1965 riots.
In 2011, the Washington State Legislature approved a resolution (RCW 28A.230.178) supporting teaching and learning about the civil rights movement:
School districts are encouraged to prepare and conduct a program at least once a year to commemorate the history of civil rights in our nation, including providing an opportunity for students to learn about the personalities and convictions of heroes of the civil rights movement and the importance of the fundamental principle and promise of equality under our nation’s Constitution.
In support of this resolution, Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has produced civil rights education resources. This page links to a small number of well-selected websites, including many that heavily promote the use of original historical documents. Although these websites are not annotated in a way that would direct teachers quickly to relevant information, they contain many outstanding materials. There are no lesson or unit plans on this part of the OSPI’s site.
Washington’s standards lack breadth and depth. The state’s low score in all rubric categories is indicative of how much work it has left to do to set meaningful standards for learning about the civil rights movement. There are no requirements for learning about diverse leaders, other than the classic Malcolm X-Martin Luther King Jr. pairing. This requirement is not a substitute for content requirements that explore meaningful differences among diverse tactics and strategies that both make the movement come alive for today’s students but also open up new possibilities for civic engagement.
Washington requires no study of groups, and no study of white resistance or opposition to the movement. This latter omission misses an opportunity to educate students about racism and its manifestations while making it seem that the civil rights movement was somehow inevitable or easy.
To help schools and teachers fulfill the ambition of the Washington legislature, the OSPI should consider dramatically expanding its offerings to teachers working to help students understand this essential era in American history.
The Major Documents
West Virginia’s Next Generation Content Standards came into effect in July 2012. It links standards with more specific learning objectives.
Elementary and Middle School
Students “give examples of symbols, icons and traditions of the United States, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and participate in national celebrations (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day and Flag Day.”
The Standards mentions the Ku Klux Klan in the context of Reconstruction.
Students “examine and analyze various acts of patriotism and civil discourse in response to events throughout United States history (e.g., support of American military during wartime, Vietnam protests, civil rights, respect for the flag and response of Americans to 9/11).”
The 10th-grade objectives require students to learn about civil disobedience, though it is not linked to the civil rights movement. Jim Crow laws are mentioned in the Reconstruction era, also in 10th grade. Brown makes an appearance in the 11th-grade objectives as one in a list of “court cases essential to fundamental democratic principles and values.” Several 11th-grade objectives contain more specific content:
- Students will examine and identify the foundations of the civil rights movement through the documents (e.g., Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, etc.) and Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. BOE Topeka).
- Students will investigate and cite examples of intolerance, prejudice, persecution, discrimination and segregation (e.g., Black Codes and Jim Crow laws).
- Students will debate the role of activists for and against the civil rights movement (e.g., KKK, Black Panthers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., SCLC, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, AIM, Chicano movement and UFWOC).
- Students will design a timeline of the civil rights movement in the United States that includes key people, places and events.
West Virginia’s Department of Education shares lessons and instructional materials through the state’s Teach 21 portal. This site is easy to navigate and indexes a number of resources for teaching about the civil rights movement. The Department of Education has combed through the resources here and placed them in sequenced units by grade for ease of access. This list contains many units by West Virginia teachers, including the curiously named “Civil Rights—Achievement or Disaster?” The civil rights units in the Teach 21 portal are well-constructed, using many original historical documents and employing best practices in lesson planning, including journaling, specifically identified academic vocabulary and diverse culminating activities. Unlike many states, the material for early grades (especially sixth grade) outshines high school content.
West Virginia’s coverage of the civil rights movement has improved since our 2011 report, but the state still has some distance to cover before it offers a coherent and comprehensive treatment of one of the most important eras in American history. The objectives have wording that is at times confusing or confounding. For example, it is odd to find the KKK in the same list as SNCC described as “activists” related to the civil rights movement. Overall, the standards and objectives hit some key ideas but fail to place the movement in a rich context that facilitates student understanding not just of the civil rights movement but of the larger trajectory of American history.
West Virginia’s supporting materials are above average. The Teach 21 portal shows considerable promise in helping teachers reach beyond the limited and sometimes confusingly sequenced content in the state standards and objectives.
The Major Documents
Wisconsin is a local-control state. The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for Social Studies introduction (2009) does not require students to learn about the civil rights movement.
Elementary and Middle School
The fourth-grade standards include Martin Luther King Jr. in a section on national holidays: “Explain the significance of national and state holidays, such as Independence Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and national and state symbols, such as the United States flag and the state flags.”
The high school political science and citizenship standards stop short of mentioning the civil rights movement specifically, but do require the following: “Describe the evolution of movements to assert rights by people with disabilities, ethnic and racial groups, minorities, and women.”
Wisconsin’s Department of Education offers Planning Curriculum in Social Studies (2001), a guide to implementing the state standards, for purchase from its publications office. The book can be shipped with a CD-ROM for an additional price. This outstanding document is a uniquely useful resource for social studies teachers, regardless of their grade level or specialty. The guide takes care to educate teachers about the evolving nature of history as an academic discipline, as the following passage shows:
Over the years history as a discipline has traditionally focused on descriptive narrative based on political actions, presidential eras, military battles, and economic history, including the rise of industry and the growth of business, with an emphasis on Western civilization (Europe and the United States). More recently, however, this focus has changed as historians have begun to use methodologies from behavioral science—probing the beliefs and studying the actions of political leaders, taking polls, analyzing institutional policies, and incorporating statistical analysis (social mathematics) into their research. They have extended their research and enlarged their perspectives to include study of the historical role of women, patterns of family structure, children, common people, and minorities; movements such as class conflict, immigration, and civil rights; and relationships between groups and institutions.
Reading the guide can feel at times like taking a master class in social studies instruction. Its meditations on student assessment and effective instruction are extremely insightful and informed. A handful of activities in the guide refer to civil rights movement topics, but these are not elaborated. To be fair, the document is not designed to support teaching specific social studies topics.
Wisconsin’s standards are broad and general. Their lack of detail covering the civil rights movement is part of an overall lack of depth. This represents a missed opportunity to set high expectations for learning about one of American history’s most important events. The state’s major social studies resource, Planning Curriculum in Social Studies, is a very useful document for social studies teachers despite its lack of coverage of the civil rights movement (or other specific eras). Unfortunately, it is expensive and difficult to access.
The Major Documents
Wyoming’s 2008 Social Studies Content and Performance Standards does not include requirements for students to learn about the civil rights movement. The state is currently considering new social studies standards. The draft standards contain one mention of a civil rights movement figure, as students are asked to “[i]dentify and describe the tensions between cultural groups, social classes and/or individuals in Wyoming and the United States. (e.g. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Sacagawea, Chief Washakie).
The Wyoming Department of Education’s website does not contain resources to support teaching and learning about the civil rights movement.
Wyoming does not require students to learn about the civil rights movement. This represents a missed opportunity to set high expectations for learning about one of American history’s most important events.