Today is a day this great nation has set aside to remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We know of his unflinching yet unrequited desire for equality. We know of his soaring words and his uncompromising leadership. “I have a dream” shares the same reverence in the annals of American heritage with “Four score and seven years ago”. Standing at the precipice of history, Dr. King chose a path that led millions of people to a better life, even at the cost of his own.
Dr. King talked and marched and acted out of a burning desire to see all people recognized and treated as equal. His main emphasis was on the plight of minority standing but make no mistake that Dr. King did not want equality to be a race issue. He wanted it to be a human issue. He wanted equality to be for all and he knew that the only way that could ever be achieved would be when all life and all people are valued.
There will always be racial tensions in certain places and amongst certain people, but I truly believe that the vast majority of Americans can and do look past skin color as the determinant of capacity and worth. I hope that racism is no longer the front and center issue of our time. As my west Texas Papa used to say, “It takes a special kind of stupid to dislike a man because of the color of his skin”.
My words could never match those of Dr. King’s so instead I am going to use some of his words to talk about the group of people who now need our attention. We have a subset of our society that is languishing in mediocrity. This nation’s children are nowhere near their potential because we have made the collective decision to value convenience over work ethic, congratulatory trophies over accountability, and acceptance over expectation. Let’s look at some of Dr. King’s words and apply them to the class of our country who is now at the greatest risk – our kids.
"But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."
"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism."
Dr. King put his faith in a nation that had given little in return except the hope of something better and the expectation of change. That change required action. He knew that life would not improve without effort and he knew that effort would not improve without intent. We must re-approach our children in education, expectation, and social standing with the “fierce urgency of Now”. Now is the time to turn off the television and get involved. Now is the time to hold kids accountable for being a contributing member of their family. And now is the time that educators must realize that tested materials will never change a child’s fate as will the self-confidence that leads to social growth. We cannot accept the gradualism of truancy nor illiteracy nor classrooms where learning cannot occur because the behaviors of the students are bankrupting the will of our teachers.
"But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline."
Dr. King knew in his heart that the only way he would achieve equality would be with his head held high and standing firmly on the high ground of expectation. We should accept no less from our educators nor our students. Gone are the days when we can afford to point to excuses in regards to our slide in world standing. Gone are the days when we worry more about appearances than actuality. Instead we must set aside excuses and set aside inconveniences and stand firmly on the high ground of expectation. Today we must expect excellence from our educators and nothing less than full complicity from our students. Not every child should win the trophy and not every child will be the superstar. But every child should be pushed to be their best and should be guided to the find their greatest ability. Every teacher is busy and every teacher is preparing kids for testing but every teacher must still shepherd students to learn life’s lessons as well as book’s knowledge. Time cannot be an excuse. Instead it should be our motivator.
"With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."
Dr. King’s words soared because he called upon the human spirit to drive action. He called upon will to drive deed. And then he did it himself. Dr. King never called for a handout or special consideration. Instead he spoke of hewing a mountain and working together and becoming united through effort. We must approach our children with this same intent. We must expect them to work, we must expect them to try and we must hold them accountable when they do not. In our lust for political correctness we have confused compassion with unchallenged acceptance. We cannot foster a message to our children that the world will make special consideration for them because of a challenge or a difference. Instead, we have to challenge them to work for their place in this world, not in spite of, but because of their challenges. Some kids have learning challenges but that does not diminish how hard they will have to work to live. We have to remove entitlement as a fallback for inconvenience. We have to instead expect and work and lead our children to learn to work. Compassion is expecting our children to excel and then teaching them how and holding them accountable to excellence. And when we set aside excuses and inconveniences and instead hone in on the work necessary for building the foundation of this great country in the lives of our children we will come to know that the greatest gift we can give is opportunity and expectation. Compassion and freedom will be realized when our children learn the value of work, are prepared to work, and learn that contributing is more important that just being. Dr. King dreamed of freedom. He dreamed of opportunity.
"And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"