For its importance in American history, the civil rights movement is not covered with great depth in many k-12 curricula. Case in point: “Bloody Sunday”—during which Martin Luther King, Jr. and scores of nonviolent protesters were violently attacked by police during their march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.—is frequently omitted from social studies lessons in many public schools.
Thanks to a collective effort from private groups and educators, Selma Online is now available to bridge that gap. As the Associated Press reports, the free, online teaching platform “seeks to transform how the civil rights movement is taught in middle and high schools across the country.”
Created by Harvard scholar (and co-founder of The Root) Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program and Left Field Labs, the lessons incorporate archival footage and clips from the Ava Duvernay-helmed film, Selma, and connect how the events leading up to the 1965 march impacted modern voting rights. In total, there are nine “chapters” to the project, including an introduction and conclusion.
It’s being released just as parents and teachers nationwide prepare for extended closures of their schools’ campuses. Without having on-campus instruction, instructors (parents or teachers conducting lessons remotely) are increasingly reliant on online materials to keep homebound children engaged and learning.
“It’s perfect timing, unfortunately, because of the crisis we are in,” Gates told the AP earlier this week. “Not only is the timing optimal for teachers who are developing online lesson plans but also for families.”
According to Gates, the site can be broken up into short, individual lessons, or be taught continuously over the course of a semester. The documentarian and educator adds that the Selma Online project is a test run for other projects centering African American history—a topic that has historically been given short shrift in the nation’s classrooms. That dearth of attention has consequences; many have argued that until American students receive a comprehensive education on race, an insistence that racial issues can just be ignored or pushed to the side will continue.
Gates seemed to echo that sentiment in his remarks to the AP: “You change the curriculum, you change civic behavior.”