Tag Archives: Martin Luther King Jr

Honoring MLK: A 2 Month Discussion on Social Justice and Teacher Activism

I am a member (and former Virtual Community Organizer) of the Collaboratory forum at the Center for Teaching Quality. Recently, Brianna Crowley, a teacherpreneur at CTQ, led a discussion on social justice, teacher activism, and how best to truly honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his Day. The discussion, in which I was honored to participate, led her to post a blog that, as it considers these questions, also provides a window into a vital online professional community. She has given me permission to reprint and link to her blog here, for which I thank her. 

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I’m lucky to be a part of the CTQ Collaboratory, a community of over 8,000 talented, passionate educators who use their precious time away from their classrooms and families to engage in meaningful dialogue about what it means to be a teacher and a leader.

Recently, as a CTQ Teacherpreneur, I’ve been working to foster Collaboratory discussions around themes. In observance of Human Rights Day on December 10, 2014 and MLK day on January 19, 2015, we have been discussing the theme of social justice and the role of teachers as social justice advocates.

Teachers have been not only sharing their reflections and experience, but also their deeply personal questions.

I would like to share some of that conversation and ask you to join. Leading into MLK day, we want to honestly discuss the best ways honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in our classrooms and beyond. To open the discussion, I shared two resources that help educators adopt a social justice lens in their curriculum: TeachUNICEF and Facing History and Ourselves. I challenged our community to focus on how teacher leadership promotes social justice in our education system. (…)

(read more here!)

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Filed under On Education

Taking the First Step

An address to the school delivered on Martin Luther King Day.

“When you call something the ‘New Civil Rights Movement,’ you’re implying that the ‘old’ Civil Rights Movement is over. It isn’t.”Womanist Gamer Girl

Nearly 60 years ago, on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States issued their historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education ending legal segregation in American schools. Chief Justice Earl Warren had worked for weeks to build a consensus, enabling the decision to be unanimous despite personal and legal reservations several of the justices held in the case. One of the key holdings was that, “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . .” (http://www.uscourts.gov/)

Nearly 60 years later, exactly a week ago today, U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall settled the longest-running case relative to Brown, approving a settlement between the Little Rock district and the state and surrounding districts. The original case dates back to 1956, when a class action suit was filed seeking the desegregation of the Little Rock school system. While in one sense the settlement ends an era that should never have stretched out so long, there is little to celebrate about it.

For one thing, according to history professor John Kirk, “in a city that is roughly 47 percent white and 42 percent black, the school population is two-thirds African-American.” (Kirk, quoted by Washington) As Kirk further noted, white students are choosing private or charter schools. In addition, and following patterns that were seen in districts throughout the country as schools were progressively desegregated, there was a significant amount of white flight to the suburbs. In this way, as was noted by attorney John Walker, who represented black students in the case, “the legal system of segregation has been replaced by a defacto system.” Pulaski County Superintendent Jerry Guess said, “I have had a lot of people comment about their kids going to schools where black students are and not wanting to. And I believe that’s still, unfortunately, a truth about human nature.” (Guess, quoted in Elliott)

“A truth about human nature.” Seriously? I’m not going to deny that there are prejudiced people in the world, and of course we all notice difference. But specific attitudes toward difference are not inevitable. People are not born prejudiced; this must be learned.

And if it can be learned, then it can also be unlearned. Unlearning is a long, slow process. Research suggests that it takes nine times as long to relearn something correctly as it does to learn it correctly in the first place. But when the goal is universal respect for all people regardless of the colour of their skin, we have a moral obligation to work for that goal, to keep the faith no matter the odds. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” and “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

So, if you do encounter prejudice, take that step and confront it. Start the unlearning process. Confront prejudice with love and respect, for you will never teach love and respect if you don’t model it. But confront it nonetheless. Have faith that you are doing the right thing. Have faith the next steps will become clear when the time is right.

And have faith that you are not alone. Year after year, time and time again, my students express sadness and confusion that racism ever existed and still exists, and time and time again, they say they want to do something about it. So, when I get discouraged in my own fight, I often think of you all. Because you inspire me to stay on the staircase, even when the next step isn’t visible. Yet.

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Filed under Current Events, Uncategorized

Bending the Arc

It has been one month and one week to the day since the shooting at Sandy Hook, and still many of us are depressed and in shock. In quiet moments at holiday gatherings, online in virtual discussions on bulletin boards and through Twitter, many of my friends and family have shared that they felt subdued this year compared to in normal years. This is in no way meant to diminish, share, or hope to begin to understand the grief that parents and family members of those who died must be feeling; it is simply the truth of our reality.

Over the weekend following the news, one of my online friends started a private discussion about how best to react in public. Everyone agreed that this should not be about either appropriating grief or self-promotion. Everyone agreed that whatever happened in the short term, it’s what happens in the long term that really matters. For some of us, that translated to putting our voices out there. For others, it meant maintaining a respectful silence.

Another of my online friends brought up the fact that children are dying every day of gun violence, but the media – and thus the country – pays little attention. Indeed, Children’s Defense Fund has cited statistics showing that approximately eight children a day die by gun violence. That means over 300 kids since that horrible day, more than two Sandy Hooks every week.

It seems we are indeed embarking on a serious national conversation on gun violence. Gun control itself is of necessity part of this conversation, but so are many other issues – our culture’s attitude toward mental health issues, questions of insurance, what Gloria Steinem has called the cult of masculinity and the supporting cult of femininity, and looking at root causes deeper down: poverty, sexism, racism, and other prejudices.

And meanwhile, the issue of climate change hovers over us, casting its own shadow of uncertainty and doubt. It can all get overwhelming pretty quickly….

… and then I step into my classroom. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, my Life Skills class was talking about microaggressions, those subtle moments when a person, generally oblivious and well-meaning, insults you or otherwise makes you feel marginalized – for example, asking someone who, unbeknownst to you, is lesbian if she has a boyfriend. They had a great discussion about the role of intention in such moments as well as how the comments are received regardless of intention, and quickly saw the connection to stereotypes (which they articulated) and privilege (which they didn’t articulate but understood at a gut level). Several of them said they have never really experienced microaggressions, and one of them said she wished the world were more like Stoneleigh-Burnham. I told her I was actually working on a blog on just that very topic.

Similarly, Carroll Perry, a newly retired teacher at my son’s school, said at their baccalaureate service last spring, “There has been progress, and there will be a lot more. The cynics forget that people like you are coming on to the scene, and that you view today’s challenges not as insuperable problems, but as your stewardship.” I look out at you students here, and I completely agree.

Today, for the second time in history, we hold the inauguration of a Black president. President Obama‘s re-election, as he himself has said, proves that 2008 was not an anomaly. Earlier in his career, when he was still a Senator and candidate for president, he had the opportunity to speak at a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He noted, “Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice…” (Obama, cited by Howe) When a 7th grader says “When you start to get interested in boys or girls or whatever you find interesting,” when another 7th grader says “I just don’t see what the big deal is if Black and White people go out together,” when I suggest to the drummer prior to an Upper School Rock Band performance that I wouldn’t drum in a skirt and a Senior comments without missing a beat, “But we wouldn’t think any less of you if you did,” you can feel that arc bending.

The long struggle for social justice may get overwhelming at times – of course it does! But as long as we are in it together, as long as we see steady improvement, as long as there are people like you taking your place in the world, there will always be hope.

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Filed under In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School