Posted: January 15, 2021
As we approach Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I wanted to push this HOPE & JOY out a little early. We welcome MLK day during this chaotic time of transition in our democracy. It provides a moment to pause and reflect on Dr. King’s leadership.
Dr. King helped create benchmarks in progress for equality and human rights. Perhaps in Dr. King’s time, some Americans did not understand the oppression and violence that people of color experienced every day. There wasn’t the same access to the world like there is now where we all saw symbols of racism and hate besiege our Capitol. Dr. King’s leadership forced our country to confront the reality of racism, making visible to a larger audience what people of color and others who experienced discrimination knew every day of their lives.
Sometimes when we have events such as the attack on the Capitol, we collectively say “that’s not us, it’s not America”. Unfortunately, a history of slavery, a trail of tears, a long list of one group after another having to fight for rights bestowed to white males at the birth of our country tells us that it is. We have people, including our students, who every day feel like they are on the outside looking in. We have students who see symbols of hate, a noose on the Capitol grounds, a confederate flag in the Capitol, shirts glorifying the holocaust, and are scared.
What we really should be saying, what I hope we can unite in saying is “that’s not who we want to be.”
We want to be better. We want everyone to truly feel welcome in our schools and communities. We want to be honest about power, privilege, and opportunity and be willing to consider a different way forward, and that takes a lot of honest, difficult work.
As educators, we have great responsibility.
- We have the responsibility of helping our students see that there is a place for them; they are welcome, and they are loved for who they are.
- We have the responsibility to help build community so our students can learn more about each other, can learn what it means to listen with empathy, and engage in discourse.
- “We have a responsibility… to contextualize this for them. To let them share what they are feeling, to provide a space for discussion, and to offer hope that our country will find unity again.” OSPI Superintendent Reykdal Remarks
I imagine next week will be difficult. We all see the warnings of violence. Our students see those warnings too. Thank you teachers for creating space for our students. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues, your administrative team, or me if you need support.
As I prepared this HOPE JOY, I looked back to what I wrote in years past. I’ve included the 2020 message below. I’m challenging myself to do everything I can to be able to write something different next year, to be able to share the progress we’ve made towards who I hope we all want to be.
January 20, 2020
In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I’m focusing this week’s HOPE and JOY on the dream he so eloquently described, and on a still-relevant quote about education. I’ve often thought about all the “purposes” that have been added to our public school plates. Alone, each of the responsibilities is important, and I worry sometimes that our plates are so full that we’re not able to get to the main course Dr. King described, critical thinking and character.
In researching Dr. King’s thoughts on education, I discovered that the quote came from an article he wrote for the Morehouse College newspaper in 1947 called The Purpose of Education Other lines in the short article connect to some of the things our country is talking about today.
- “To save man from the morass of propaganda is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”
- “The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.”
I often wonder what kind of an impact a leader like Dr. King would have on our world if he was still with us. I reflect on the imperative for each of us to pick up that mantle of leadership in the spaces where we serve.
There is work to be done to realize the dream across our communities. In Camas, as we have pressed more into our work of seeing and serving EACH student, I’ve been asked, “Why is that our focus? Is it really necessary to have conversations about race, ability, gender…?” Some suggest that instead, we keep our focus on respecting everyone or living by the “golden rule.” I agree; we should focus on those suggestions. We try to live and model them every day. I also believe that to truly realize the dream requires more from us individually and collectively.
In 2018 more than 7,000 hate crimes were reported through the FBI. We continue to experience a persistent racial wealth gap (Federal Reserve). And, a quick google search reveals we continue to have disparities in educational experiences and outcomes for students. In order to compete in the global economy, our country needs EACH student to graduate as an inspired learner, ready to contribute to their community. We have a moral responsibility to serve each student. And from an economic standpoint, each student is critical. So what do we do about disparity? How do we make progress towards the dream?
Considering disparities is complicated. Questions naturally come up when presented with data that shows disparity. How did it happen? Why does it persist? What factors contribute to it? How do we change? Do we really want to change?
Those kinds of questions have been difficult for our country to talk about. The questions themselves can seem divisive to some, leading to deeper questions about responsibility and appropriate action. The questions can challenge our identity. Honest conversations about who benefits from the current system, and who does not, can feel very personal. For educators, there can be this strange tension between the possible and impossible. On some days, it can feel like we are making a difference; we’re changing the trajectory of students’ lives. On other days, we may feel unsure or unsteady in the steps toward progress. It is both inevitable and uncomfortable to feel this kind of tension when doing this kind of complex work.
We are called to be agents of hope. Hope helps us to see in each of our students the human they are and can become. Hope helps us to recognize barriers that have unfairly burdened some students more than others – and to know that we can marshal both will and power to create change. Hope can lift us when we listen to each of our students and reflect on how we can help each one of them graduate as an inspired learner.
Hope is hard, and it means that we will grow. This focus on growth is not a judgment on what “is,” but a wild affirmation of what can be – especially when we work together in service of our students.
Each day we have the potential to make progress towards Dr. King’s dream. Even though our plates are full, we can focus on developing not just the critical thinking and character of our students, but also ourselves. We can give ourselves permission to take time to listen. We can give ourselves permission to try new things and the grace to know those new things are not always going to work. We can rally around our students and each other when it gets tough. We can celebrate our students and each other when we make progress. Just take a step each day.
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” MLK
I am so grateful to do this important work with you. I hope you all have a great week.