Teacher John Paola says his high school history course in southern Mississippi would be incomplete if it didn’t include an emphasis on the turbulent civil rights struggle of America’s South.
For years, the auburn-haired white man has educated students about activists in their own state who led peaceful demonstrations, and the wrath of segregationists who channeled violence to repress social change.
Soon, civil rights lessons be will required for students from kindergarten to 12th grade all across Mississippi.
A civil rights/human rights curriculum becomes mandatory in all public schools for the 2011-2012 school year, five years after Gov. Haley Barbour signed the requirement into law.
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 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,” Barbour said when asked about the curriculum during an interview with The Associated Press in December.
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.
Not everyone is pleased with the new civil rights emphasis.
Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, has filed a bill to repeal the law nearly every year since 2006. Moore, who lives in a suburb of Jackson, said he wants to know who will write the textbooks and craft the materials students will be taught.
“I want schools to be teaching my grandchildren to read, write a complete sentence and do math,” Moore said. “I just want to make sure it’s teaching the truth and facts and not being accusatory of one group of people or the other. I don’t want it to be somebody’s philosophical idea of what civil rights are.”
The state Department of Education hasn’t found another state with framework that incorporates civil rights studies in grades K-12, said Chauncey Spears, who works in the Mississippi agency’s curriculum and instruction office.