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Why is learning about the American civil rights movement more important than ever?

George Floyd. State Voting Laws. Two seemingly disparate topics but both are intimately interwoven into the nexus of race, civil rights and history. The American civil rights movement which reached its zenith from 1954-68, is unfortunately, still “unfinished business” as evidenced by the two examples cited above.

However, these examples are perfect teachable moments about the importance of civil rights and how the price of freedom is constant vigilance. I am in the fortunate in my position as a history teacher, to be able to guide my Year 9 pupils in studying the American civil rights movement and highlighting the struggles and achievements of the past, and how continued activism and advocacy for the rights of others can bend the arc of history in a positive direction.

Recently our school held a week-long exploration of racism and discrimination with its “Show Racism the Red Card” theme, and I have carried this over into this topic, with my pupils learning about the struggles faced by African-Americans and also how their collective action in the 1950s and 60s changed both the USA and the wider world.

One of the key ways in which we have explored this topic is through the use of empathy. My class wrote diary entries as African-Americans living at the time, which allowed pupils to make an emotional connection to the topic. It also allowed them to deepen their appreciation of the overwhelming nature of the prejudice and discrimination faced by this group at the time, which also deepened their admiration at the bravery shown by this movement in combating and improving their situation.

At the British School of Nanjing, we are deeply committed to inclusivity and diversity among our pupils and staff and teaching topics such as the American civil rights movement is a key link in ensuring that we can learn from history and make the present, and the future much brighter and tolerant as a result.

Mr. David Geary

History Teacher