On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we celebrate the life of a Civil Rights hero who believed in ordinary people’s ability to do extraordinary things. It’s an important day to reflect on his legacy, but too often Martin Luther King Jr. Day is tokenized in schools. When we fail to engage students in meaningful conversations about Dr. King’s legacy and the Civil Rights Movement, we fail to help students understand their own place in the ongoing struggle for racial justice.
Last week I gave a talk at Lakota Middle School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly, and I asked students to consider five lessons from Dr. King. I also asked students to share their own ideas about how to bring people together to fight for racial justice, both in the world and in their own middle school.
Here are the five lessons from Dr. King that I asked students to consider.
Lesson one: The importance of recognizing our collective humanity
In the United States, race and class remain the most reliable predictors of students’ academic achievement. Despite increasing investments, raising academic standards, focusing on teacher quality, and expanding charter schools the post-secondary completion gap between students of color and their white peers has increased in the last few decades. Our public school system and our nation are becoming more diverse while inequities remain entrenched. We must reimagine an education system that is finally responsive to the needs and experiences of students of color and those from low-income backgrounds and allow these young people to fulfill their potential.