In the fall of 2010, Mississippi will introduce its school children to the civil rights movement. When the new curriculum received its first round of media attention in August, anxiety in the white community was palpable. The comments section at the end of an article in the Jackson Free Press evolved into a lively debate between readers on both sides of the ideological divide. Many white readers talked about “revisionist history” and feared the new curriculum was a thinly veiled attempt to get black children to hate whitey. Others, white and black, disagreed vigorously. You can’t promote healthy race relations, they argued, by burying the truth.
This perception gap is also evident in a recent article in the Greenwood Commonwealth which I have pasted below (Commonwealth articles disappear from the web after a couple of weeks). It’s hard to say what percentage of white Greenwood residents resist the simple lessons of history but the comments below aren’t encouraging.
One reader questioned the wisdom of teaching civil rights history to students who can’t read properly:
There is nothing wrong with learning about your history, but you should also be taught to live in the present, and not forever dwell on the past. The students leaving school today can’t speak the english language. People need to give civil rights a rest and move on with their lives.There is more to life than something that happened fifty years ago. It’s almost 2010. Whats the point of learning something if you don’t have the intelligence to talk about it ?
You hear a variant of this complaint in some portions of the black community as well; it goes something like this: “We didn’t put our lives on the line for justice so our grandkids could hang around on the corners and ask their parents and grandparents to raise their illegitimate children.”
The full truth needs to be spoken. Too many white Americans, especially in southern states like Mississippi, have never reckoned with the sins of their fathers or considered how the past impacts the present. Too many young black Americans know virtually nothing about the horrors of segregation or the heroic struggle required to break the back of Jim Crow. True, when black students learn the full truth they will be angry; but they will also feel their debt to generations past and their obligation to take up the struggle. White America needs to be called to account; but accountability begins at home. Black students, in Mississippi and throughout the nation, cheat themselves if they use the horrors of history to justify indifference and fatalism.
By TAYLOR KUYKENDALL
Published: Saturday, December 5, 2009 10:13 PM CST
Greenwood High School is adding a civil and human rights element to its curriculum as part of a statewide pilot program.
Under a 2007 law, the state Board of Education must provide school districts with more opportunities for such education. This year, 28 districts statewide, including Greenwood, are implementing the pilot program.
Next year, it will be a mandatory part of the U.S. history curriculum for all public schools.
“It’s important that all of our students have a greater awareness of civil rights,” said Jennifer Wilson, Greenwood’s assistant superintendent. “This program will put a greater emphasis on that.”
Two Greenwood High history instructors, Thomas Young and Larry McCluney, have been trained at workshops on teaching the new curriculum.
“One of the things they did was give us a list of people in different areas we could contact to speak to the class,” Young said. “A lot of people who were active in the civil rights movement are here in this area.”
McCluney said many children today know little about the civil rights movement. He said it was important to be able to do more than identify key historical figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.
“Today’s children really don’t thoroughly appreciate nor understand what others went through to get where we are today,” McCluney said. “It would be a good thing to get them back into it.”
McCluney and Young said the new curriculum extends beyond blacks’ struggles in the 1960s. The program explores the pursuit for equal rights of all people, including women’s suffrage, Native American suffrage, immigration and more.
“The true purpose of a public school is to produce a citizen,” McCluney said. “This curriculum emphasizes the nation as a community and the direction that it is going.”
The material will be tested as a part of the U.S. History section of the statewide assessment. In addition to training teachers how to deliver the coursework, those participating in the pilot program are given resources to help them deliver the material to students.
“The training has been more about integrating the material into the rest of the classwork,” McCluney said.
He said he was excited about the new curriculum.
“It’s just important that we don’t lose sight of teaching American history in general,” he said.
Some of the things Greenwood Schools outlined as possible extensions of the history curriculum include:
- Creating a student-led documentary with interviews with civil rights pioneers.
- Using program resources such as DVDs, guest speakers and other teaching aids.
Be sure to teach this too wrote on Dec 7, 2009 11:26 AM:
” Instead of just teaching black children how bad their ancestors were treated, you absolutely have to teach them that hating white people causes even more problems. I’m a white male, age 35. I have never owned a slave and I have never owned a business that didn’t allow blacks inside my building. I have done nothing to the black people. Therefore, if a black person is racist against me (or any other person like me), I’d like to know WHY. So, if you’re going to teach them how bad they were treated, how are you going to keep them from growing up, hating white people? ”
Truth wrote on Dec 6, 2009 1:05 PM:
” Just be sure the truth is taught in regard to this subject. I am a white female who was a young adult in the 60’s. I assure you it was not a good or pleasant time for anybody. I also am a true southerner and have many, many black friends whom I love dearly. Please don’t teach hate to our children. Make them understand the nature of love and growth, understanding, and acceptance. ”
Great Idea wrote on Dec 6, 2009 10:50 AM:
” Students from this area definitely need to be educated on how much sacrifice was made in order for them to receive basic freedoms such as a right to an equal education, especially here in the Delta. I also think it’s important to recognize those civil rights legends from the Delta area to drive the point home. They need to be recognized and their stories need to be heard by those they affected the most and that’s the children of this community today. Finally, I can say a another great step forward to rectify the wrongs of the past that this state help perpetrate. Maybe our children will appreciate what they have more, at least that’s my hope and should be everyone’s hope. ”
Rev. CivilWrongs burnett blackmon wrote on Dec 6, 2009 9:38 AM:
” HateWhitey 101. Whatta deal. Next. ”
Lee wrote on Dec 6, 2009 8:00 AM:
” It’s important for our students to gain intelligence, first and foremost, before teaching them to hate other races, and blame other people for all thats wrong in their lives. there will be plenty of time later in life for that. Teaching people to live in the past is whats wrong with Greenwood today. There is nothing wrong with learning about your history, but you should also be taught to live in the present, and not forever dwell on the past. The students leaving school today can’t speak the english language. People need to give civil rights a rest and move on with their lives.There is more to life than something that happened fifty years ago. It’s almost 2010. Whats the point of learning something if you don’t have the intelligence to talk about it ? “