For the last few years, news about civil rights—either threats to their enforcement or the need to recognize and expand them—has dominated the news more than perhaps any time since the turbulent sixties. The results have been mixed: in 2013 the United States Supreme Court, by a 5–4 vote, gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, marriage equality has become the law of the land, and issues of race and racism still make headlines. Such hot topics have currently divided Americans more than ever before.
It may sound cliché to acknowledge once again that history repeats itself and that the only way to avoid future mistakes is to understand those blunders from the past, yet it remains true. And when should we begin learning from our past? How do today’s resources measure up? Are K-12 students ready to understand the brutalities of our past? If so, what is the best and most effective method?
PBS, one of our nation’s most cherished and valued learning resources has established a civil rights portal that is effective and geared toward youth from grades three through twelve. Various episodes of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s are highlighted with a brief summary and a video clip to further explain the event or the people involved. Some are appropriate for third graders; others are recommended only for those from ninth grade and up. This method of showing and telling is designed for maximum impact, and it succeeds.
Another important site, CivilRights.org, keeps a wide variety of such issues up to date for adult readers and students, serving as both an educational text book and a news source, and creates the very best of what an e-Publishing portal can provide along these linies. One can approach topics from a historical perspective and receive an overview of any issue that can be legitimately classified as civil rights, such as problems within the criminal justice system, education, housing, poverty, race, senior citizens, voting rights, welfare, women’s rights, etc. Links to a wide variety of publications for further reading are just a click away. News on any subject is current and easily accessible. It is truly a one-stop shop and a highly educational one.
With the dedication of the African American Museum of History and Art in Washington DC on September 24, 2016, Americans are being reminded of a painful past, and by extension are asked to address difficult contemporary issues. Although civil rights vary in their scope and the way they polarize us, one commonality is that they do affect us all. Thoughtful, concise, and thorough sources are at our disposal, designed for students at all levels and all ages.
Devery S. Anderson