Earlier this week, we celebrated both the second Inauguration of President Barack Obama and the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday.
Many years ago, a friend of mine shared that every year on MLK day, she read Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Because I respect her and appreciate her thoughts, that first year I read the letter and was struck by the simplicity, honesty, and truth in the writing. Her habit has become my own. Each year, I read Dr. King’s words and am struck by how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. I’m shamed by my own lack of action.
I think about the classrooms that I taught in, the children who have been written off by society by the color of the skin, the lack of income in their families, the absences of parents to raise them, the violence of their neighborhoods. The list of reasons is long, and there are many variations of each strike. With each child who becomes only the problems of his background rather than someone sparkling with potential, we take a step back, crafting by design a segregated and stratified society where it’s Ok for large numbers of human beings to be written off before they’re even given a chance to make a difference.
On Sunday, I listened to Condoleeza Rice talk about how education is our next great civil rights fight, that providing a quality education to all our children must be the next banner we carry. There are so many banners to carry — marriage equity, equal pay, access to healthcare. It is difficult to decide which issues are most important. How do you say to one group, you’re going to have to wait until we get this hugely intractable problem worked out. K? Thaaaaaanks.
Given my background, I think I have to focus on education, advocating for children and our future, demanding better than what we have. I have to be that person because I have the specialized knowledge to make some difference. I might be out of that game because I’m not working in public education, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have conversations, talk to people, work within my sphere of influence, focusing and concentrating there. Perhaps I also need to do more reading and writing about educational issues.
Like the State of Mississippi’s recent decisions about charter schools. Nothing is sure right this moment, but it’s pretty sure that we will have charter schools in the state. I don’t have anything against charter schools. I believe there is a place for them. But making charter schools easier to start in this state isn’t going to fix the deeply entrenched problems with education in a state that ranks 48th in the country. When you listen to our politicians talk about the beauty of charter schools, it’s like they — along with most other people — think that when we bring them in, all of our problems get solved.
But they don’t.
The problems in education, not just in Mississippi but in this entire country, is that we expect a quick fix. There is no quick fix. It doesn’t and can’t happen just in our classrooms. There’s not enough time to spend in study. Any solution has to address a slew of societal problems. The hell of it is that our children deserve a quick fix. Their lives are dependent upon it, but the problem is so big.
I’m willing to keep talking about it, to try to make some small measure of difference. Are you?