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Florida receives A in civil rights history

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Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011 12:31 am

Do you know what Brown v. Board of Education is? Did you know that Miami once was the most segregated city in the United States?

Most grade-school students in the United States don't, according to a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The report evaluated how extensively states' grade schools taught the civil rights movement.

Thirty-five states received F's. Alabama, Florida and New York were the only states to receive A's.

The state's grade doesn't mean Florida students know enough about the movement, said Jack Davis, a UF history professor.

Davis teaches the civil rights movement to both undergraduate and graduate students and said their knowledge about the movement mostly is limited to famous activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr., and famous sites, including Birmingham, Ala., and Selma, Ala.

"They know something went on in these places," Davis said, "but they don't know the historical significance of individual events."

Paul Ortiz, a UF professor who teaches African-American history, asked his students on the first day of class how much they knew about the civil rights movement and learned that most of his students had minimal knowledge.

Both Ortiz and Davis said students' lack of knowledge about the civil rights movement is partially due to standardized testing.

"With the emphasis on standardized testing, history is always a loser," Ortiz said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also reported that states with less diverse populations were less likely to teach the civil rights movement.

"The problem is that too often school districts and states take the approach that civil rights history is for black people," Ortiz said.

All students, regardless of race, need to learn how they are connected to the civil rights movement, he said.

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