Thursday, October 8, 2009

Got Give It Up for Mississippi

I'm not finished with the whole "lets make the Bible more conservative" issue, but I just got this in the inbox. Thought I'd share. And mind you:

White children who got the full story about historical discrimination had significantly better attitudes toward blacks than those who got the neutered version. Explicitness works.
And a sentence I think I'll try to flesh out more cause I find it interesting:

"It also made them feel some guilt," Bigler adds. "It knocked down their glorified view of white people." They couldn't justify in-group superiority.
Mississippi Mandates Civil Rights Classes in Schools

All students will study the nation's racial troubles and progress in US history

By Carmen K. Sisson
The Christian Science Monitor
October 4, 2009

McComb, Miss. - The boxwoods are perfectly trimmed to
spell out McComb. It's a warm, Mississippi welcome from
"The Camellia City of America," where streets are named
for states, and flowers spill from planters accenting
century-old architecture.

Only when you stroll beyond downtown, into older
neighborhoods, do you catch a faint whiff of another
time, a summer when the air seemed to always be filled
with smoke, the streets stained with blood - a time
when McComb had a darker moniker: "The Bombing Capital
of the World."

Most Mississippi children have never heard of Emmett
Till, the 14-year-old black child whose 1955 lynching
in Mississippi by a white mob galvanized the civil
rights movement. They haven't heard of the 1964
"Freedom Summer," when 1,000 volunteers swept into this
area to register black voters. They don't know about
ordinary citizens who faced extraordinary odds to bring

But they're going to know all about it soon. In a
groundbreaking reform - believed to be the first in the
nation - Mississippi will require civil rights as part
of its US history curriculum. McComb schools made that
move in 2006; but starting next fall, the stories of
the civil rights era will be taught - and tested - in
all public schools.

In many places, it will end a decades-old culture of
silence. People here don't like to remember the nights
of church bombings and explosions; the sound of rifles
being loaded in the dark as citizens patrolled
sidewalks and sanctuaries, trying to stem the violence.
They don't like to remember the fear and distrust -
between blacks and whites, but also among themselves.

"They just don't talk about it," says Jacquelyn Martin,
a black civil rights organizer. "People don't
understand that part of the healing begins when you
talk about it, so they just keep it to themselves."

Making it a subject in school is "a pretty drastic
change," says state curriculum specialist Chauncey
Spears. "But how can you have a strong education
program when you have high-achieving grads who have
such little understanding of their own history?"

Mississippi Senate Bill 2718, passed in 2006, mandates
all kindergartners to 12th-graders to be exposed to
civil rights education. In the younger grades, students
will read books such as "I Love My Hair!" as a way to
discuss concepts like racial differences in skin
complexion and hair texture. Later grades will delve
more deeply into how ordinary citizens shaped the civil
rights movement and the long-term effects those changes
had upon the nation.

Mr. Spears says the new curriculum is being taught this
year in 10 pilot programs. Teacher workshops begin this
month, taught by the state Department of Education in
conjunction with the Fannie Lou Hamer National
Institute on Citizenship and Democracy at Jackson State
University, Teaching for Change in Washington, and the
William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at
the University of Mississippi.

Mandating the new curriculum was the only way to ensure
it would be taught, says Spears. It's not that teachers
haven't wanted to teach civil rights, though he admits
that's probably the case in some places. It's more a
symptom of a nationwide problem, an educational
stricture some say is an unwelcome byproduct of the No
Child Left Behind Act: Teaching to the test. As the
stakes become higher, the curriculum narrows.

In some schools, Spears says, there's such intense
pressure to rectify faltering math and reading scores
that everything else is "pretty much ignored."

But how do you chart such relatively new territory in a
state where the history is still so fresh?

WHEN EDUCATORS BEGAN ASKING these questions, they
sought inspiration in the McComb High School classroom
of teacher Vickie Malone. Three years ago, when she
began teaching "Local Cultures" as an elective to
seniors, she had no idea what the course would become.
She just wanted her students to hear all the voices of
history, both black and white, taught in an open way
that promoted understanding, not fear.

"I wanted them to understand choices, and how
profoundly they can affect the rest of your life," Ms.
Malone says. "A lot of kids today are just numbed out,
but back then, the kids were the movers and the

(Indeed, in 1961, 300 students walked out of Burglund
High School to the McComb City Hall in support of
voting rights - 116 of them were jailed.)

It's painful, this exploration of history, but then,
nothing has been easy since Malone developed the class.
Because it's new, and not a critical course like math
or reading, it's often left off the master schedule by
accident, forcing her to recruit students. Even then,
it's not a quick sell. They don't need it for a
diploma. It won't get them into college.

The class is fashioned more like a college seminar than
a high school elective. There are no rigid rows of
desks, multiple-choice tests, or rote memorization.
Instead, students gather at a table to talk about
issues that even their grandparents and parents - some
of whom were participants on both sides of the civil
rights battles - may have difficulty discussing.

In one class last month, they examined dual
perspectives, and each student wrote a poem from two
angles, examining life through the eyes of another.
There were the expected combinations:
Popular/unpopular, rich/poor, white/black. But there
were surprises as well, and as they read their work to
their peers, there was occasional muffled admiration.

"Whoa," a student said, after one reading. "That's

Sometimes, discussions get heated, like the day a white
student became incensed by a black classmate's seeming
nonchalance to learn that one of McComb's top black
athletes had been recruited by an exclusive, all-white

"I thought she was going to leap across the table,"
Malone recalled. "She kept saying, 'Doesn't it make you
mad that you can't go there?' "

Some days there are tears. For Sarah Rowley, 17, the
class has been a watershed. Initially she saw it as "an
easy grade," but quickly realized she was wrong. Much
of the class centers on gathering oral narratives from
residents who grew up in a radically different McComb,
a place where inequality and violence was a part of
life. In the middle of one interview at the home of
Lillie Mae Cartstarphen, Sarah asked an innocent
question about the role of law enforcement during that

Sarah's grandfather had been a McComb policeman and,
later, chief of police during the 1960s. In her
family's eyes, he was a hero. But, says Sarah, her
voice trembling as she recounts the answer: "[Ms.
Cartstarphen] said you couldn't trust policemen, that
they were just as involved as the KKK. Even now, it
makes me want to cry. I thought, 'I have to regain my
composure. I can't let this interfere with what I'm
here to do.' But I felt like I was in a tug of war.
Here is this woman telling me this, but my family .
they're such good people. What do I do?"

She talked to Malone and to her father. She prayed.
Eventually, Sarah says, she made peace with the legacy
of a man struggling to keep his job, feed his family,
and survive in a troubled era. She's certain he'd make
different choices if he were alive today.

It's more difficult to talk about things with her
boyfriend, who attends Parklane Academy, which is 99
percent white. When Sarah reads books like "The
Mississippi Trials, 1955" she's overwhelmed by sadness.
But he doesn't want to hear about it, she says. "He
thinks it's over with and in the past. He gets up and
walks out.... He's growing up in this mind-set that's
so sheltered. It breaks my heart."

Malone's emphasis on seeing all perspectives makes it
easier for Sarah to cope. "I have to remember that if I
was in his shoes, I'd be the same way," Sarah says. "In
the South, it's a very, very touchy subject."

But Sarah believes passionately in the class - she took
it twice and returned this year as a teacher's aide:
"Stories like Emmett Till's - that should tear
everybody up. People need to know ... like they know
the Civil War.... Being in your little bubble isn't
going to help you at all."

And ultimately, say proponents of the curriculum
changes, that's the goal: Making Mississippi's future
better, even if it means dredging muddy waters.

DR. SUSAN GLISSON, director of the William Winter
Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University
of Mississippi, spends a lot of time thinking about
this, analyzing where the state has been and where it's
going. Pockets of progress are punctuated by serious

"Kids are practically being funneled from school to
prison," Ms. Glisson says. "When you throw in a failing
economy, terrorism, fears of wars abroad, and the first
African-American president, you have a potentially
dangerous situation. It requires us to be as vigilant
as ever."

The Southern Poverty Law Center cites a 50 percent
increase in hate groups and extremism in the US since
2000. As part of the Klanwatch project, the nonprofit
monitors more than 900 such currently active groups, 22
of them in Mississippi, and nearly 400 concentrated in
the remaining secession states: Texas, Louisiana,
Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida,
Virginia, and the Carolinas.

In McComb, the curriculum change has sparked a storm of
controversy. In his Aug. 29 editorial, "A Relevant
Subject," McComb Enterprise-Journal editor and
publisher Jack Ryan tried to allay fears that kids will
be force-fed a message of "white people bad, black
people good."

He says the issue "cuts too close to the bone." When
officials began talking about teaching civil rights,
they discussed omitting McComb church bombings. In
1984, when the newspaper published a 20-year
anniversary "Freedom Summer" report, a white employee
told him she wished they'd "just leave that stuff

Those feelings are echoed in public comments posted on
the paper's website below Mr. Ryan's editorial.

"I can't imagine what this course will accomplish other
than to open old wounds, some of which aren't healing
well as it is," says one poster.

But Spears says that's why Mississippi should pioneer
civil rights education: "It's not over, and that says a
lot about what this state can potentially become. We do
struggle, and out of necessity, we can't just stand pat
with the challenges we face."

Glisson agrees: "Mississippi owes this to the nation,
because so often we have led negatively. With better
understanding, we can make the state better."

That may come from the younger generation of
Mississippians like Delisa Magee, a black student in
Malone's class.

"We're not bad people; it's just our past," says
Delisa, as she puts away her notebook and heads to a
pep rally. "There's still so much racism down here on
both sides. It needs to change."

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