Dr. King & the Labor of Public Education

MLK1 In March 1968, DR. Martin Luther King spoke to Local 1199 and spoke his famous words, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” This quote is widely used, and if pulled out of context there is an optimism and openness that brings hope.   This speech also outlined, however, the “two Americas” and the similarities to what all working people want and need. He spoke of  “conditions in which families that can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community.” Today is not just a day to post a meme or a quote about Dr. King’s life and legacy, although I have enjoyed the mighty words coming through my social media feed. For me, this day is about examining the labor I am doing and how it can be uplifting or oppressive to others. As a public school teacher, I am fortunate to feel at this point in my career supported by colleagues and administration, able to creatively engage my students in a variety of ways, and to pursue my passion of teaching history and language arts with the needs of all students in mind. I can work to make sure this is the case in all schools across our state and in our nation, and I have committed to honoring Dr. King’s legacy by :

  • Supporting emphasis on civics, economics, history and geography in all public schools across the nation. Children need to be prepared for civic life, understand economic advantages and disadvantages, and understand the world and their place in it.  The danger of marginalizing the social sciences is not just missing out on dates and facts. In Connecticut, I was fortunate to work with a group of educators who have responded to this with a policy statement on social studies instruction and a frameworks document that allows for local control but encourages a more multi-faceted look of the history of the country and our world.
  • Listening to the stories of people. I am trying to seek out opportunities for myself and my children to extend their view of the world and what “is”. We move beyond our neighborhood sometimes, taste different flavors. I am working hard to “try on” another opinion for a few hours and decide why someone might think that way. I am learning to honor others’ truths & encouraging my children and students to do the same.
  • Learning more about my own racial and cultural identity and how it shapes my world view. This is in the hope that I can identify when others might have a different viewpoint. Students are in the most difficult position in this scenario, but being open to understanding where my students are coming from is imperative. I have found the work of Dr. Bill Howe on Multicultural Education to be particularly helpful with this work. Understanding culturally responsive teaching is a great place to begin.
  • Not just “being a voice” for students living in poverty and students of color but teaching with high expectations for all and fostering a safe classroom environment and a responsive school culture that will ensure when they leave my classroom and our district they will be able to speak for themselves.

I am not sure if I am going about this the right way. I do know that I want the work that I do to help rather than hinder. I want to excite a child, light a spark, and be part of a solution rather than the problem. How do you honor the legacy of Dr. King in your classroom?


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