Next year, Mississippi will make civil and human rights curriculum mandatory for public school students in Kindergarten through 12th grade. While civil rights is typically part of the Social Studies program, Mississippi will now be “the first state to require civil rights studies throughout all grades in its public school systems.” The subject will now be included in the assessment test students must pass to graduate. Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), who signed the requirement into law five years ago, praised the new requirement: “To learn the good things about Mississippi and America and the bad things about Mississippi and America is important for every Mississippian.” These comments, of course, came “just days” before he offered his own version of civil rights history.
While school districts and the state government are celebrating the progressive change, one state representative took up a curmudgeon’s mission to kill the measure, filing a bill to repeal the law nearly every year since it passed. Convinced that civil rights will somehow interfere with his grandchild’s ability to “write a complete sentence and do math,” Moore fears a civil rights curriculum will accuse “one group of people” and will be “somebody’s philosophical idea of what civil rights are”:
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.”
In dismissing civil rights history as “somebody’s philosophical idea” about “one group of people,” Moore is articulating exactly why such curriculum is necessary. Indeed, Moore’s derision of civil rights is not just relegated to history. In considering current policy, Moore refused to support including sexual orientation in the state’s anti-discrimination laws and expressly rebuked any type of affirmative action. Future Mississippi policymakers may have a different perspective of discrimination if they understand its history from an early age.
One Mississippi student Perry Overstreet, who studied this civil rights curriculum, traveled to the town where Emmett Till was brutally murdered in 1955. Because he had learned about Till in class, Overstreet said “he was able to seek out landmarks associated with the case that sparked outrage and fueled the movement.” “It really opened my eyes to civil rights,” he said. “Mississippi has come a long way from back then.” No thanks, unfortunately, to those like Moore.