Martin Luther King Jr. Day

“Education may not be able to change the hearts of men, but it can change the habits of men.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

On March 14, 1964, Dr. King accepted the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers. A partial transcript of this speech can be found here at Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog.

An excerpt:

It is precisely because education is the road to equality and citizenship that it has been made more elusive for Negroes than many other rights. The walling off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second-class status. Therefore as Negroes have struggled to be free they have had to fight for the opportunity for a decent education….

Despite progress towards racial equality in the U.S., this is just as true today as 46 years ago. Racial segregation in K-12 schools is worse than it was in the 1960’s, and college attendance does not reflect the population at large. These facts would surely sadden Dr. King if he were still here to celebrate what would have been his 81st birthday.

Education is not a “Race to the Top” – an unfortunate name for the latest federal program designed to create winners and losers in an education “game.” The “historical design” that Dr. King points out is alive and well. In this design, when someone “wins”, someone else must lose.

It is truly unfortunate that we are pitting another generation against each other instead of building a system that offers educational opportunities that enrich every child and every community. Education is a rising tide that lifts all boats, a candle that can light others without being diminished.

Please listen to this short speech and share with others, including students. Link to an MP3 file of the whole speech on the UFT website.

Sylvia

6 Replies to “Martin Luther King Jr. Day”

  1. Thanks for the share.

    Yes, the US “race to the top”, “No Child Left Behind”, and so called “league tables” seem to formalise, dare I say institutionalise, an expectation or assumption that there will be education winners and losers – perhaps part of the baggage of an old industrial production model of education, in part perpetuated for over a century by the accepted community attitude that everyone is an expert on education as most of us spent a decade in a school and can remember our favourite teacher. No wonder schools often struggle to win community support for important reforms.

    I like the UK policy title “Every Child Matters” (a telling alternative to the title NCLB) and the work of Professor Gordon Stanley (NSW Board of Studies, Australia – Google him) a decade ago. Stanley’s statewide reforms to formalise descriptions of what children _can do_, rather than merely ranking them against one another was effective; encouraged new approaches to learning and assessment (especially a re-evaluation of the assumed quality of state tests); produced cohorts of more reflective learners and teachers; and encouraged the sort of critical thinking required to contribute to society in the admirable way in which Martin Luther King did.

    Accountability is important, so important that it should not be primarily referenced to a school or district’s performance in a state test, especially a test that that fails to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate authentic higher order thinking.

    And we wonder why it is so often that those the education system ‘fails’, or fails to recognise, go on to make outstanding contributions to society, being a light to others?

  2. Thanks Sylvia. I’m in Australia at the moment but spend most of my time in the US. Australia is dealing with all the same problems. School league tables were just launched here yesterday…

  3. I believe that Dr. King was a great man. He along with other brave men and women, transformed American society from a fake democracy into one in which all people can participate and achieve. The miraculous aspect of his great work is that he transformed an openly racist culture into one of tolerance almost overnight and led a spiritual transformation of our nation.
    I once met Dr. King when I was a teenager. He led a protest/picket campaign against a supermarket chain, in a community where I lived that refused to hire black teenagers as “Bag boys” in its stores. I was one of those teenagers. I met him after a speech he presented at a local movie theater prior to the protest campaign. I got to talk to him one on one. I relive and retell this meeting and conversation in my book, “Talking Penny.” I’ll never forget the words he said to me.

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