The Southern Poverty Law Center says Utah is about average among other states in how well it covers the civil rights movement in the classroom. But the organization’s latest report from the Teaching Tolerance Project shows the average grade is pretty poor.
Teaching Tolerance Project Director Maureen Costello says Utah provides great resources for teachers, but the state received a “D” in civil rights education because it doesn’t require teachers to cover much of the movement beyond school desegregation. She says that’s a disservice to students because it’s a model lesson in citizenship.
“It’s really important to teach it because otherwise, too often we see people who think that they can have no impact on events,” Costello says. “And we don’t want students to graduate from school thinking that they are ineffective citizens, that there is no point to voting, that there’s no point to try and change anything because everything has already been said or what good can I do anyway.”
Robert Austin, the Social Studies Specialist for the Utah State Office of Education says it’s a fair criticism, but he also notes Utah is in the midst of revising its social studies standards.
“What we hope is that they will make the choices, based on their students and based on their own professional expertise to decide just how deeply to go into some of the standards in more depth,” Austin says.
The report shows states with especially deep roots in the civil rights movement, like the Carolinas, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama have some of the highest standards for teaching students about the movement.