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Teaching About Civil Rights: We Need to Talk About the Movement Like It's Still Happening

Jane Elliot's class when she executed on her famous "brown eyes/blues eyes" experiment

Civil rights education tends to focus on the past, but if recent events have taught us anything, it's that the work of the civil rights movement isn't finished.

Some teachers in Iowa are working to change the way that we talk about the civil rights movement, and to change the details we include about what happened. 

"Before the Civil War when Iowa was entering the union as a state, it entered as a free state. I had learned that the union states were the good guys and the confederate states are the bad guys," says Katy Swalwell, an assistant professor of education at Iowa State University.

"But when the state entered the union, one of the first debates in the legislature was how we could build in a mechanism that would discourage black settlement in Iowa." 

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Swalwell about the "white washing" of civil rights education in Iowa.

Jenice View, an associate professor at George Mason University and co-editor of the book "Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching," and Petra Lange, a special programs coordinator at Drake University, also join the conversation. 

“In 1964, 63 percent of people thought the civil rights movement was moving too fast. When we’re looking at our current civil rights movement, what's happening is actually normal. It’s easy to look at the past with rose colored glasses, and we’re trying to teach teachers not to do that," says View. 

Are you interested in learning more? There's a free event happening Friday, July 29 at the African American History Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. View will be speaking along with Iowa native and Peabody Award winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. Find more information here. 

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa