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August 23, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Lessons 50 years after the March on Washington

If you have not seen “The Butler,” you’re missing out on a movie that offers a timely resonance with ongoing efforts to commemorate the 50th Anniversary March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Cinematic context for real life is sorely needed.

As I wrote in my most recent column, requirements in most states for teaching about the civil-rights movement are grossly inadequate to nonexistent. Indeed, according to this New York Times article, just 2% percent of high-school seniors in 2010 taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the test commonly called “The Nation’s Report Card, could answer a simple question about the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center scrutinized academic standards in all 50 states and gave Washington state a D grade for anemic civil rights curricula lacking breadth and depth.

“Washington requires no study of groups, no study of the history indicators and no study of white resistance or opposition to the movement,” authors of  “Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011.”

“This latter omission misses an opportunity to educate students about racism and its manifestations while making it seem that the civil rights movement was somehow inevitable or easy.”

I’m not suggesting we pile more work on teachers. One strategy seems obvious. The Common Core federal standards’ mandate for increased rigor and higher-level analysis seems to scream for reaching beyond the typical narrow civil rights focus that leaps from slavery to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech to the present. (Makes the last 150 or so years seem like a rollercoaster ride.)

Parents can help. Books are an obvious choice. I’m not just talking about non-fiction and historical tomes. Fictionalized accounts that rely on accurate depictions of history broaden our vision. That’s why I recommend “The Butler” and “Fruitvale Station.” Both are cinematic works reflecting on history.

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