The March Continues: Five Essential Practices for Teaching the Civil Rights Movement

Source: Kate Shuster, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Program, 2014

In the wake of a report that found state expectations for teaching the civil rights movement remain woefully inadequate, the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project today issued a guide designed to help teachers and school leaders ensure their lessons about the movement are robust and meaningful to students. The March Continues: Five Essential Practices for Teaching the Civil Rights Movement is a best practices guide intended to provoke thought and innovation in teaching the movement. It offers guidance and resources that help teachers talk about race, tell a complicated story and connect it to the present, among other goals. … Recently, Teaching Tolerance issued Teaching the Movement 2014: The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States, a report evaluating how well each states’ standards and resources address the civil rights movement. A majority of the states received a “D” or an “F” on the importance they placed on teaching about the movement. Twenty states received grades of “F,” including five – Alaska, Iowa, Maine, Oregon and Wyoming – that neither cover the movement in their state standards nor provide resources to teach it. The report compared the requirements in state standards to a body of knowledge that reflects what civil rights historians and educators consider core information about the movement, and explored the additional support and resources that states provide to teachers. It encourages states to take a comprehensive approach to civil rights education with their K-12 history and social studies standards….

This guide has emerged from our decades of experience and research into teaching the civil rights movement. In it, we present five essential practices designed to provoke thought and innovation:
Practice 1. Educate for empowerment.
Practice 2. Know how to talk about race.
Practice 3. Capture the unseen.
Practice 4. Resist telling a simple story.
Practice 5. Connect to the present.

These practices work well for many classes and topics, but in this guide, we apply them specifically to teaching the civil rights movement. The topic opens a special window for you to use all of these practices, engaging diverse students in constructive consideration of the present in light of our past and preparing them to continue the work that the civil rights movement began. …