A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools
In early 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders continued plans for a Poor People’s Campaign. It would take place in the spring in Washington, D.C. The poor and those in solidarity with them would take up temporary residence and march peacefully on the Capitol and advocate for substantial anti-poverty legislation from Congress. They would demand jobs, healthcare and decent housing.
If you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, you might remember the scene in which Scout beats up Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard. It’s the first day of school and Scout’s teacher, Miss Caroline, is not from Maycomb. She doesn’t understand just how hard the Great Depression has hit the farmers of southern Alabama. So she innocently offers Walter a quarter to buy lunch in town. He refuses. As Scout explains he’s a Cunningham, and Cunninghams never take anything they can’t pay back. Every student at my school is eligible for free lunch this year, so they understand Walter’s situation. But what they don’t understand is “why other students get to go off campus for lunch and we don’t.”
Every week I write a quotation on the board and ask my students to write responses to it in their journals. One of our favorite quotes is by William Butler Yeats: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." This quote aptly captures the reason why I teach. A group of minds in a room–thinking through problems together–can generate amazing heat and ignite a fire.
There are some new labels kids have created for one another since I was in school. When I grew up, there were no skaters or noobs. No one was goth or emo. In my day, kids who wore collared shirts and madras were preppy. Kids who smoked cigarettes and listened to Led Zeppelin were burnouts. Jocks were still jocks, although the jocks of my youth were all-inclusive. Today, they separate themselves by sport.
The Spring issue of Teaching Tolerance arrives in schools this week. Here’s a sneak peak:
One Sunday morning around 6:30 a.m., I boarded the 7 train in New York City to go to Queens. Scattered throughout the car were about seven weary workers, their clothes covered in dirt. They were trying to sleep after what I imagine had been a long night of hard physical labor. I thought many were probably immigrants who had collected a day’s pay.
Before the train started its journey, two very alert guys boarded wearing hoods. One stood at one end of the subway, keeping watch outside and the other immediately started going through the pockets of one of the sleeping workers. I looked around for others to step in. Most averted their eyes from the crime.
By now, most people have heard about the new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being released next month. In it, the n-word has been slashed 219 times and replaced by “slave.” Discussions over this edition have been loud, particularly in literary and education circles. Erasing the n-word would, theoretically, free teachers to teach Huck Finn again. After all, year after year, the novel appears on the American Library Association’s list of most frequently challenged or banned books.
But what have we heard from our young people about this issue?
In classrooms all over the country, posters hang on walls bearing the face of Martin Luther King, Jr. Libraries put out displays of books about his life. Bulletin boards are decorated with phrases from famous speeches. Many will remain up throughout the school year, not just for the federal observance of King’s birthday on Monday.