Saturday, March 31, 2018

Martin Luther King’s influence on me as a teacher


From the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance: On April 4,  2018 we will observe the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. As we approach this milestone, we'd like to know how his life influenced you and your teaching. Tell us what Dr. King's legacy means to you.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy can be seen at every positive turning point in our nation over the last year.

The thousands of courageous young people standing up today and demanding safer American schools reveals the brand of energy and organization Dr. King displayed during the Civil Rights Movement. By refusing to cave to the NRA and ridiculous critics, Parkland High School students have drawn awareness to our longstanding national failure on gun policy in the United States. These inspiring activists have a vision for our nation that their older counterparts gave up on after political inaction following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. The creativity and passion modeled by these young activists is motivating people young and old to take action. It is refreshing and there’s no doubt that Dr. King would be proud.

Art work by Eric Patrick Kelly, a friend of my brother. 
We all grew up in Ionia, Michigan together. Eric created 
this marker drawing on MLK Day. He said, "I drew his fist 
a lot larger than the photo - for some reason I imagined 
him shaking it at the current administration.”
   We have also witnessed Dr. King’s lessons about standing up to injustice as teachers continue calling people to action to improve education for the millions of children left behind in American schools. First in Detroit, then West Virginia and now in Oklahoma teachers continue to organize on behalf of students who face poor learning conditions and inadequate funding. Just as Dr. King spoke out against awful policies that harmed the poor, American teachers have led the fight for equity by speaking out against inept leadership and dreadful education policies plaguing our children.

   And we also feel King’s legacy in the tears of parents crying out when their black and brown children are gunned down by police in American streets. When we call out injustice and seek to understand the legacy of the darkest parts of our history (slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, etc.) and how those truths connect to our problems today, we honor Dr. King and American heroes who continue to shine a light on the truth.

From Ferguson to Charlottesville and every stop in between and after, Martin Luther King, Jr. marches with us today just as he did in Selma, Birmingham and Washington, DC.

Our March Continues at Rallies, on Twitter and in Classrooms

We see the resemblance of Dr. King in our new leaders as they inspire us and hold us accountable for who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation.

Young activists have taken to Twitter to organize and they use Instagram to influence the hearts and minds of followers. They are using the same social media tools that have helped divide our country and flipped the script. American corporations whose advertising supported hateful commentary have been called out through social media channels and have since chosen to change course. Social media helps people mobilize to action as town hall meetings, walkouts and rallies are planned on a global scale.     

I try to channel King's remarkable persistence when we tackle topics like privilege and bigotry in our classroom. Dr. King’s ability to nudge, pull and prod people away from the comfort of their own indifference remains his legacy for thousands of teachers coast to coast.

My teaching philosophy and my ability to keep my own light shining is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. He taught a nation how to come together and take action and make the positive change we desire. I make it a priority to do my best to help students find their own meaning and appreciation for diversity and equality. We read, we watch, we listen, we discuss and we try to understand what is happening in our world by digging deeper. I try my best to emulate Dr. King’s intentional and honest approach in my own efforts to eliminate prejudice from my heart and the world.

Dr. King had the capacity to convince people that indifference toward oppression was part of our American DNA and he also showed us that it doesn’t have to remain that way. He was uniquely qualified to help hundreds of thousands of people understand why we needed to change by articulating and devising strategies that revealed a real-life honest account of America’s failures that could no longer be denied. Simultaneously, King showed a nation how to change as he skillfully unified people from every race, creed and background in a fight for equality, love and justice.

Whether we look to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Me Too movement or the Parkland students demanding change, we see Dr. King’s blueprint that requires we use the tools at our disposal to make the truth inescapable to the masses. Sometimes that involves video and the use of social media to shine a light on realities that only some people know first-hand. King was no stranger to the fact that it is messy and difficult to open people’s eyes to ugly truths that require collective action to address. He was a master at helping people dig deeper into the weighty issues of prejudice, poverty and policy. These topics still deserve the attention and commitment of every educator, spanning every single school in America.

We want our students to feel the gravity of our greatest challenges today just as Dr. King taught us more than fifty years ago. He reminded us there is incredible value in recognizing and facing the the complexity and nuances of racism. Standing up for what is right and fighting for causes that advance progress will always be a part of who we are as Americans. That is his legacy and we should try to honor that legacy in our classrooms and beyond. Dr. King had the persistence and patience to teach us to never give up on people who seem, at the moment, unwilling to confront their own intolerance.

Building Our Empathy Muscles

Dr. King taught an entire generation the value of empathy and in classrooms across the nation we continue to honor him with meaningful conversations about American history and our responsibility to keep striving to do better. We build our empathy muscles every time we try to walk in the shoes of others and there’s no better leader to guide us than Martin Luther King, Jr.

As an educator, I try to confront my own biases and lead by example for my students. Dr. King taught us that we can not afford to shut the door on important conversations and listening is one of our greatest assets when confronting bigotry. If we seek first to understand then we can slowly let go of the need to be right and turn our attention to taking action to make our communities better for everyone. Dr. King helps me and my students to work toward measured words and persistent action in hopes we can make America whole.
Dr. King reminds us that when we try to feel the pain of others, we can grasp an inescapable truth: we will always have our humanity in common. He taught us to embrace an empathetic approach to understanding the world and we honor Dr. King when we choose love over hate. We can feel Dr. King's legacy in the embrace of someone whose ideology, background or views may be different than our own. King reminded all of us, "Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

As teachers, we need to show our children that our desire to do better and to be better requires that we maintain the courage to speak out against intolerance and demonstrate a personal ambition to understand others.

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. can be seen by today’s leaders - ordinary men, women and children - who are taking action to fulfill our dream for a better America.  

Note: Dr. King creatively weaved his lessons about fellowship and resistance into a sermon (1956) in which he read a letter from the Apostle Paul to Americans and that sermon inspired this blog entry. His teachings are just as relevant today as as they were more than 60 years ago.  I strongly encourage you to check it out HERE.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.                                     - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

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