MLK’s legacy in education today

Jacqueline Martin/AP http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/08/22/139845832/martin-luther-king-memorial-opens-to-the-public
Jacqueline Martin/AP http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/08/22/139845832/martin-luther-king-memorial-opens-to-the-public

In all of my classes this week, we have been reading and listening to a couple key speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In my Junior SAM class, I asked students to write a brief essay or make a Prezi that answers the question: How is the legacy of Dr. King relevant today?

After participating in a good discussion with my PLN on #satchat this morning about social media as a tool for professional development, I thought I would use my social media presence to answer the question I assigned to my students and focus it on education.
In King’s “Loving Your Enemy” sermon, he talks about why and how one should love one’s enemy. He delivered this in the late 1950s amidst a very different historical and social context, so I don’t mean to suggest that he was speaking about education. However, as I listened to this sermon with my B block junior English class, I couldn’t help noticing how his message applies to me in my work with students, parents and colleagues. In the first few pages of this 40-something-minute-long sermon, he states that we should never seek to defeat other individuals. Defeating people hurts the defeated and gives a false sense of superiority to the victor. Now he was talking about parties and individuals who are enemies and that’s not what’s going on in education today. We maintain good relations with all stakeholders and, thank goodness, we rarely have to deal with “enemies” who hate us. In the classroom, we sometimes feel antagonized and we sometimes feel defensive. When we negotiate grades with students, when we engage with parents to hear their concerns, when we meet with our supervisors to discuss observations, when we meet with our team to decide on action plans to address common concerns, and when we go home and try to balance our personal lives while our heads swirl with “work,” we have to choose our ground and figure out our attitude with which to take on these challenges. King instructs us to approach every individual with a kind of love, philia that helps us find the good in that person. When we are face to face with others who need our help, who need our cooperation, who need us to hear their concerns, who need us to make an adjustment to our practice, it helps to focus on what is good in the individual, the situation, the request. If we can do this, the relationship becomes constructive and proactive. If we dig in our heels, if we defend our position, if we take it personally and feel attacked, the relationship might devolve into the destructive.
This idea resonated for me when I listened to Dr. King say to his congregants, to his fellows in the civil rights movement, and even to his enemies who conspired to destroy him, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.”
This kind of sentiment that inspires us to look for the good in everybody leads us to a kind of love that King defined as agape from Greek. Agape is the love of humanity, of life itself, that is connected to an unshakable optimism and faith that good will win over evil in the world.
King’s legacy, his gift to our children and to us, is that studying him, we have a real world example of agape.

In my life as an educator, agape is the nourishing feeling of inspiration I get when collaborating honestly and without pretense or desire for self-promotion with students, parents and colleagues.
I feel it when I read the drafts of my student’s sophomore speeches and I see that each is engaging with the world thoughtfully and sincerely. I feel it when I read emails from parents, who are at once my partners, my bosses, and my supporters.  I feel it when I open my twitter feed and see a well-spring of partnership and collaboration. I feel it as I sit here in the stands of the community swimming pool at Blue Hills Regional High School and watch my kids being encouraged and coached how to swim by a team of enthusiastic instructors.

This weekend as we enjoy the holiday dedicated to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, let us try to see the good in everybody. Let us try to love unconditionally and through this love redeem our adversaries. Let us try to forge and maintain constructive, positive relationships with everyone in our public and private circles.  And, most importantly, let us never seek to defeat anybody.

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One thought on “MLK’s legacy in education today

  1. Ann Knocke

    Joe,
    Thank you again for a thoughtful and thought provoking essay, I agree with you that there is much we can apply to our every interaction to behave with integrity and kindness.
    Ann Knocke

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