Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching: A Resource Guide for the K-12 Classroom

By Deborah Menkart, Alana D. Murray and Jenice L. View (Teaching for Change and Poverty & Race Research Action Council, 576 pages, $29.99) BUY NOW!
Reviewed by Jill Davidson

A teacher friend recently groused about the soulless way civil rights movement was being taught at her school. “How people can manage to make the most fundamental social battle of the twentieth century boring is beyond me. The kids are not connecting. I just can’t understand it.” I sympathized with her, and once I immersed myself in Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching, I emailed her, suggesting that she make it her mission to get this resource into the hands of her colleagues.

This anthology is a gift to educators and students. Using vivid design and thoughtful organization, the editors intersperse hundreds of essays, book excerpts, historical analyses, poems, examples of student work, illustrations, graphic organizers, artifacts and photographs with elementary, middle, and high school curriculum and lessons. An accompanying website, www.civilrightsteaching.org, contains a resource guide, lesson handouts, information about the content’s alignment with national history/social studies standards, and more. The result is a powerful resource that conveys the energy, life force, faces, beliefs, complexities, personalities, aims, achievements and struggles of the civil rights movement. Icons such as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King are treated with respect and treated to new analysis, and scores more civil rights activists come alive. There’s so much material that to list one or several examples feels like the proverbial drop in the bucket.

In six sections – reflections on teaching about the movement, citizenship and self-determination, education, economic justice, culture, and “Looking Forward,” a final category on the struggle for universal human rights now and in the future – Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching immediately engages, breaking down perceptions that the civil rights movement was ancient history, someone else’s fight, or otherwise irrelevant. While much of the material concentrates on the richness of the twentieth century civil rights work by and on behalf of African Americans, the book weaves stories from El Salvador, South Africa, Mexico and elsewhere, and examples from women’s struggles for equality, the fight for rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning community, the American Indian Movement and other native American moments of challenge and change, the Asian Movement, and the Farm Worker and other labor and union efforts.

I can’t image a school that wouldn’t benefit from this book. Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching is riveting, with its multiple entry points, multimedia presentation, student-centered focus, and formidable respect for and grasp of the civil rights movement as it evolved and moves forward.