Mississippi students in kindergarten through 12th grade soon will have the opportunity to learn about the rocky and often violent struggles for civil rights in and beyond their state as part of their history lessons.
Last week, Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, signed into law a bill that helps school districts to cover civil rights and human rights as part of the regular curriculum.
The law, which passed easily and will take effect July 1, sets up a 15-member Civil Rights Education Commission to help districts develop the curriculum and find money to cover implementation.
Schools will not be required to teach the lessons, however.
Still, Susan Glisson, the director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, based at the University of Mississippi, said she’s excited that children will be learning about that era of U.S. and state history. Founded in 1999, the institute distributes information on models of cooperation, and conducts outreach projects focusing on civil rights in local communities.
“We’re delighted that the leadership of the state recognizes the importance of expanding understanding of civil rights history for Mississippi children,” said Ms. Glisson, who spearheaded the legislation. “The examples of grassroots leadership and courage offer models for the work of democracy that we all need to do today.”
One purpose of the lessons, Ms. Glisson said, will be to take children’s understanding of the civil rights movement beyond well-known figures such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and show them that ordinary people can also make changes.
The bill, patterned after those covering lessons on the Holocaust, was inspired by Ms. Glisson’s conversations with Mississippi history teachers who attended workshops on civil rights sponsored by the institute.
“It grew from local teachers, who wanted to make it a priority in schools, but who were having difficulty in the midst of ‘teaching to the test,’ ” Ms. Glisson said.
Joy Milam, a senior assistant to state schools Superintendent Hank M. Bounds, said the state education agency would “work quickly” to make resources available to schools, such as names of volunteers who can speak to students about their experiences and lists of memorials and exhibits.
A version of this article appeared in the April 05, 2006 edition of Education Week