Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mississippi Gets It - Why Can't Texas?!


While the Texas State Board of Education is trying to relegate Tejanos who fought at the Alamo to bit players in a drama that 'stars' Jim Bowie, William Barrett Travis and Davy Crockett, guess which state is making a laudable attempt at being progressive?

Mississippi. Yep, Mississippi...

"In Mississippi, where mention of the civil rights movement evokes images of bombings, beatings and the Ku Klux Klan, public schools are preparing to test a program that will ultimately teach students about the subject in every grade from kindergarten through high school."

"Many experts believe the effort will make Mississippi the first state to mandate civil rights instruction for all k-12 students."

"So far, four school systems have asked to be part of a pilot effort to test the curriculum in high schools. In September, the Mississippi Department of Education will name the systems that have been approved for the pilot. By the 2010-2011 school year, the program should be in place at all grade levels as part of social studies courses. "

"Advocacy groups such as the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and Washington-based Teaching for Change are preparing to train Mississippi teachers to tell the "untold story" of the civil rights struggle to the nearly half million students in the state's public schools."

""Now more than ever we are engaged in national debates about race and so much of those debates are impoverished in their understanding of history," said Susan Glissen of the Winter Institute. "We want to emphasize the grass-roots nature of civil rights and the institution of racism." "

""The Mississippi Department of Education worked with the MCREC, a group of educators, historians and community leaders who have a strong knowledge of the civil rights movement, to establish the new curriculum.""

"“The Mississippi Civil Rights Education Commission offered the Mississippi Department of Education keen insight into the history of civil rights movements in the country at large and in particular the Mississippi civil rights story from a broad based movement perspective and a grassroots, local perspective,” said MDE social studies specialist Chauncey Spears. “It is our intention that students gain the understanding from this and other courses in the framework that social change comes from people who are informed and inspired by the purest democratic ideas and traditions of our country. These people then act to empower the relatively voiceless and powerless in our community, to be full participants in and beneficiaries of our cherished democracy.”"

"Commission member Dr. Ollye Shirley drew from her own experience as a civil rights veteran in helping create the curriculum. “This is an important project because all of the children in this state, especially African-American children, need to learn about the contributions of all people,” she said. “We have all played an important role in the development of this country.” "

The effect of such a move is to teach children that history has been made and culture and society changed, by a diverse group of Americans. It's important for children to understand that both success and failures, heroes and heroines (if that word is still used anymore), are to be found across the broad spectrum of American life and culture. It's true now and it always has been true.

In Texas, the State School Board has had the temerity to suggest that the contributions of a Thurgood Marshall or Ceasar Chavez are not to be considered on par with Benjamin Franklin. Such suggestions are what happen when you allow people to plan curriculum who have little understanding of education or history, and whose ideological predilections are so pronounced that they have little regard to the damage their doing to children or society.

It is not enough to simply point to 'the leaders' whether they be Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Davy Crockett or even Martin Luther King. Children and youth should have the opportunity to know that people who looked like them - however they look, and people who don't look like them, have made valuable contributions to democracy as it has matured in this country. It is the only way they will learn that they have both the opportunity and the obligation to make their contribution as well.

And, no, I don't plan on moving to Mississippi. I plan on staying in Texas and speaking out against the narrow mindedness that suggests that only one group of people are stakeholders in the development of the country in which we live.

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