American students do not know the basic history of the nation’s civil rights movement, and most of the blame for this lack of knowledge falls on states’ academic standards for public schools, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The report gave letter grades to states based on how well their state curriculum included the civil rights movement; in all, 35 states received an F. Alabama, Florida, and New York received an A, and eight of the 12 states that received an A, B, or C are southern states. “Generally speaking, the farther away from the South — and the smaller the African-American population — the less attention paid to the civil rights movement,” the report says.
But according to the New York Times, the SPLC report is just one of many that continue to show how few students are considered to be proficient in history:
Over the past decade, students have performed worse on federal history tests administered by the Department of Education than on tests in any other subject. On the history test last year, only 12 percent of high school seniors showed proficiency.
The law center’s report noted that on that federal test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, seniors were asked to read a brief excerpt from the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, including the phrase, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Only 2 percent of the seniors were able to state that the ruling had been prompted by a school segregation case.
While presidential candidate former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) has blamed these weak history scores on a left-wing conspiracy, ThinkProgress has documented how conservatives are manipulating history textbooks and state curriculum in order to push their ideological agenda — especially in Texas. The state’s Board of Education rewrote the requirements to remove Thomas Jefferson, take out mentions of civil rights leaders, and prevent “gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions” in its textbooks.
Sadly, Texas’ slanted curriculum could easily spread to infect other states. Because of the state’s size, textbook manufacturers gear their textbooks to match Texas’ requirements rather than have to produce multiple copies to match multiple curricula for all of the states. And if students across the nation are learning about just what the right-wing wants them to know, then the large number of states failing to teach students about the civil rights movement is not likely to improve.