Each of Us Has a Place in the New Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King Jr. was fearless in calling attention to the persistent disconnect between our nation’s highest ideals and the stark reality for Black Americans. His forceful voice chastised the powerful and championed the powerless.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Dr. King

Dr. King and the activists of the Civil Rights Movement inspired Americans to do more than dream of equal opportunity. Their righteous anger, unyielding voices, and moral authority became a demand – a demand that was impossible to ignore. Momentum for change grew with every sit-in, rally, and march. The movement gathered strength in spite of, and often because of, the intimidation and violent tactics that challenged it.

The movement was about equal rights in the voting place, on the job, in the school – in all places and all civic institutions. It was about being granted full citizenship regardless of gender, race, nationality, or cultural background.109844_Martin Luther King2

“Somewhere I read that the greatness of America was the right to protest for rights.” – Dr. King

The achievements and aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement were not the work of one man. Yet, the celebration of Martin Luther King Day gives us the opportunity to appreciate the life of a great leader who was a “drum major for justice,” and to acknowledge that each of us has a place in the new Civil Rights Movement.

Now, there are some who wonder why we need a movement for justice and opportunity today. They become defensive and testy when they hear talk of the escalating wealth of the ultra-rich, the stubborn poverty in many urban centers and rural areas, the lack of classroom resources for students who live on the wrong side of town.

They don’t necessarily deny these problems; they either attribute them to the lack of individual effort, or they simply don’t think they are the defining issues of our time. They believe we are dissing American exceptionalism when we point out that although we’ve climbed many mountains, others remain in our path.

But I believe, as Dr. King did, that the true measure of one’s love of country is the willingness to look honestly at what we must do, roll up our sleeves, take a deep breath, and get to it.

It’s in that spirit that educators came together across the nation to support the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), envisioning it as a new frontier in the march toward social justice and equal opportunity. Education is a civil right.

On December 10, I was at the White House when President Obama signed the ESSA. He echoed Dr. King’s philosophy when he said, “There’s nothing more essential to living up to the ideals of this nation than making sure every child is able to achieve their God-given potential.”

But the most moving words that day may have come from Antonio Martin, an 8th-grader at Kenmore Middle School in Alexandria, Va. who wants to be an engineer someday.

Antonio had the privilege of introducing the president. Before he did, he talked a little about Kenmore. “I love science and math and my teachers have enriched my love of learning,” Antonio said. “I have the option of being in drama and orchestra. …Art is integrated into all subjects. In my world geography class, we integrate color to help emphasize important ideas. …The minds of the future are in school with me, and the future will blossom from our minds.”

I am so proud of Antonio and I’m thrilled that he and his classmates are getting the kind of rich experience that will prepare them well for whatever is ahead. Antonio, I’m sure, will become an engineer or whatever he chooses to be.You and I must be the activists in a new movement for public education. In Dr. King’s memory and for our nation’s future, we must demand the best for our students.

I want more of our nation’s students to have what Antonio has. But in America, your ZIP code often determines the quality of your education. An article in NEA Today, “The Rising Toll of Inequitable School Funding,” points out that the way we fund public schools does not “reflect the idea that a K-12 education should give all children an equal shot at being college and career ready.”

An Education Trust report found that our nation’s highest-poverty school districts receive $1,200 less per student on average than districts with the lowest poverty. And districts with the largest number of students of color receive about $2,000 less per student than districts with the fewest.

What are we telling these students? We are saying: We don’t believe they are the “minds of the future.” We don’t expect much of them. They are not precious enough to merit our investment.

We are telling them that, despite the sacrifices and achievements for which we celebrate Dr. King, they are not worthy of our best.

All our students are precious. Our top priority as educators must be doing whatever is necessary to ensure that regardless of where they live, they all have caring, committed teachers and a rich, challenging educational experience. You and I must be the activists in a new movement for public education. In Dr. King’s memory and for our nation’s future, we must demand the best for our students. They deserve it.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Dr. King

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One Response to “Each of Us Has a Place in the New Civil Rights Movement”

  1. Andy Goldstein

    “The bus debacle as a description of how our District operates on an every day basis.” A talk given by Andy Goldstein to the School Board of Palm Beach County, FL. February 17, 2018.

    https://youtu.be/DpKbCnFi7R8

    Transcript:

    Good evening. My name is Andy Goldstein. I’m a teacher at Omni Middle School and the proud parent of a seven-year-old daughter who attends second grade at one of our public elementary schools.

    I read with great interest the article by Palm Beach Post reporter Andrew Marra titled “Collision course: Inside Palm Beach County’s school bus crisis.” The article detailed our school district’s bus debacle at the beginning of this year, in which a rushed implementation of a new technology program for bus routes resulted in many of our students being late for classes and many of our disabled students not being picked up at all.

    As I started to read the article, I thought to myself, “Surely this is an aberration, a one time-event.” But as I read on about how the collective experience of our own bus drivers was ignored in favor of a rushed policy to implement computer-generated bus routes that made no sense, apparently to please a higher authority, I started thinking, “This is a very accurate description of how our school district functions on an every day basis.”

    There is always someone or some higher policy that is pointed to as the reason we are doing things in the classroom, regardless of whether they make sense. And many times they do not make sense. The judgment of our own teachers, is not even in the equation. We teachers have been deluged with a plethora of nonsensical policies flowing through our classrooms, and we and our students have suffered.

    John King, the acting Secretary of Education, recently in his first major speech, apologized to the nation’s teachers. saying “teachers and principals at times have felt attacked and unfairly blamed for the challenges our nation faces.”

    But it hasn’t been “at times,” it’s been continuous, as part of an agenda to privatize our schools and make as much money off of our children as possible.

    And a recent article in the New Yorker was titled, “Stop Humiliating Teachers.”

    And we, and our students have been subject to much humiliation. A year-round standardized testing schedule and diagnostic schedule that has cheated our children of authentic learning opportunities. The important thing, apparently is not to have an opportunity to teach and learn but to test. It doesn’t even matter if the tests make sense. as long as they are given. And some times, they don’t make any sense.

    I’ve started going around asking teachers an open ended question: “Do you find the diagnostic testing helpful.” So far no teacher I have asked has said that they find it helpful.

    Our school district is obsessed with policies that don’t help our kids learn.

    For example:

    • The “We’re building the plane while we’re flying it Marzano teacher evaluation system.”
    • Teachers stripped of their Step increments and relegated to a career at or near a beginning teacher salary.
    • Teachers put on relegated to an annual contract which disempowers them, strips their educator’s voice to stand for what’s right.
    • Students subject to dry test prep instead of authentic project based learning, cheating them of the joy of falling in love with the process of learning.

    Our school district says, “Blame Tallahassee for these policies!”

    Our principals say the nonsensical directives come from School District headquarters.

    In our school district, there is always someone pointing to a higher authority as to why we are implementing nonsensical policies.

    And our teachers strive to create an environment of teaching and learning despite the constant disruption of these nonsensical policies.

    This evening, at your Board workshop, you discussed involving stakeholders in striving to achieve the goal of having all of our children read at grade level by third grade. I was very inspired.

    Perhaps you could include our teachers among the stakeholders to achieve this goal, instead of leaving us out of the equation, as is usually the case.

    Thank you.

    Reply

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