Will Teaching Civil Rights Affect Mississippi’s Future?
Positive news from the Magnolia State!
The AP reports that in the 2011-12 school year, Mississippi will become the first state to require that a civil rights/human rights curriculum be taught throughout all grades in its public school systems:
Civil rights is typically a part of social studies programs in the nation’s public schools. State officials believe Mississippi is the first state to require civil rights studies throughout all grades in its public school systems. To ensure civil rights are taught in the schools, the state has made the subject part of an assessment test students must pass for graduation.
“To not know history is to repeat it. And to learn the good things about Mississippi and America and the bad things about Mississippi and America is important for every Mississippian,” [Gov. Haley] Barbour said when asked about the curriculum during an interview with The Associated Press in December.
This is particularly good news coming from a state with a notorious legacy of brutal racism, and the highest proportion of African Americans in the nation.
According to the Jackson Free Press, Susan Glisson, Chair of the Mississippi Civil Rights Education Commission, says the curriculum is designed to be more empowering for students:
“So much of the way civil-rights history has been taught before is based on the “savior” narrative, the idea that some amazing charismatic leader has to come in and help you save your community,” Glisson said.
“That’s just not accurate civil-rights history. The Civil Rights Movement was accomplished by ordinary citizens…we can learn from them how to accomplish social change on our own. That’s what this kind of good teaching will do: show students how they can change their communities for the better.”
Whether the curriculum content connects the dots between other struggles for human rights remains to be seen, but some civil rights leaders are hopeful:
Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, said the curriculum will help students better understand current political issues.
“In many cases, what we see today concerning the treatment of undocumented workers is very reminiscent of the treatment of African Americans during and before the Civil Rights Movement,” Johnson said.
Undoubtedly, the curriculum will be a positive step in helping students understand the history of oppression of African Americans, and the birth of civil rights movements. The curriculum could borrow a lesson or two from the UUA’s anti-racism programs, which dig deep into the power dynamics of racism, and the various ways racism manifests itself.
If the dialogue spurred by the new curriculum promotes understanding of other anti-oppression movements, all the better for immigrants and LGBT people.
Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a network of business groups that favors more legal immigration, has listed Mississippi as one of the states that could pass an Arizona/SB 1070 style law in the coming year.
For LGBT individuals, a friendlier climate is also sorely needed. In 2004, Mississippi voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by a vote of 86% to 14% — the largest margin in any state. The state’s sodomy law had to be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, and there is still no state law banning discrimination against LGBT people. In 2010, the whole country took notice when a Mississippi federal court intervened and ruled that school officials violated a lesbian student’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend.
Regardless of how Mississippi’s new civil rights curriculum affects the socio-political climate for immigrants, LGBT people and others in the coming years, Mississippi has taken a tremendous step. Mississippians should be proud of the state’s new educational model, which will hopefully be adopted by other states across the country.