“Let Us Turn Our Thoughts Today To Martin Luther King”

This opening line from James Taylor’s song Shed a Little Light has been much with me this morning.  This past Saturday,  I joined about 300 colleagues from around the country for the inaugural event for an organization called School Reform Initiative (SRI).  In truth, we have been together, many of us, for more than 20 years, looking for ways to reform education so that our schools really do meet the needs of all our students.  But really, we aim for more than “meet the needs.”  Most of us really want our schools to feed the souls of all of our students.  To empassion them to rise to the challenges of their individual lives and to the challenges of the time and place into which they have been born.  As James Taylor’s song says “We are bound together by our desire to see the world become a place where our children can grow free and strong.”  And in that room in Boston, we were also bound by the deep conviction that each of our children are all of our children– every single one of them.

Our key note speaker was Linda Darling-Hammond from Stanford University.  She’s been with us on this journey too.  Traveling every week from California to Washington D.C. to talk with lawmakers and policy makers about the absolute moral and practical imperative to fund our schools equitably and to guarantee that every classroom is led by an outstanding teacher and that every teacher is given access to outstanding support and professional development throughout their career span.  Her new book, The Flat World and Education:  How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future (2010) presents a cascade of evidence (more like a Niagra Falls of evidence) about how our persistent national refusal to face the appalling inequalities in our education system are strangling our national growth, not just economically, but morally and spiritually as well.  She told us that we must, as a community of educators, stand up.  We must begin speaking out and teaching our own families, friends, communities, parents, voters, policy makers and politicians what we mean by a good quality, equitable education.

As teachers, we often fight for our students certainly, and for our individual schools.  But to argue for changing the system?  That is again a different matter for most of us.  Change it how?  To what end?  According to which agenda?  Darling-Hammond purposes “a new paradigm for national and state education policy” that has five key elements

1.    Meaningful Learning Goals
2.    Intelligent, reciprocal accountability systems
3.    Equitable and Adequate Resources
4.    Strong professional standards and supports
5.    Schools organized for student and teachers learning.

(Darling-Hammond, 2010, pp. 279-280)

There, that’s not so radical, is it?  Oh…but it is.  Just consider number three for a moment.  At least 40 U.S. States have law suits pending regarding equitable funding of education.  You know, in our country we do not all agree on whether it is appropriate or desirable to use one person’s money to educate another person’s children, especially if those children are different from us or appear to pose some threat to our sense of self, our position in society or our economic opportunities.  Number three is still very much a radical idea for many of us.  But you don’t have to start with number three (although surely number three must happen).  I bet most of you could argue passionately for numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 ☺ !

And so, as we turn our thoughts today to Dr. King,  I urge each one of you to pick an item from that list of five.  Educate yourself as best you can on the facts and figures and start talking.  Talk to your friends and families and tell them that you support accountability for teachers, but you also support paid time and resources for teacher collaboration and planning.  Tell your state departments of education that research tells us that massive, proscriptive curricula that are a mile wide and an inch deep do not help children build the depth of understanding that they need for true mastery of concepts critical to their future educational success.  Don’t just let them hand this mess down.  Talk back up to them!  Tell your federal legislator that while you support the notion of leaving no child behind, you decry the assumption that national one-size fits all assessments can do a better job of measuring student learning than locally developed, performance-based measures that serve as a means to improve a students’ understanding of their own learning process and guide them on their next steps.

At the SRI Winter Meeting we read and discussed our feelings about the Langston Hughes poem, Freedom’s plow.  It calls us now just as urgently as it did when it was written. Marion Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund has said that “education is the civil rights movement of the 21st Century.”  Thank you for being on the front lines. “KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW.  HOLD ON.”

To see James Taylor perform Shed a little light, follow this link

To see information about the organization School Reform Initiative, follow this link

To see information about Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book, follow this link

To read Freedom’s Plow, follow this link.


Author: sdreyerleon

Susan Dreyer Leon, EdD is the Chair of the Education Department at Antioch University New England and the Director of the Mindfulness for Educators Program. www.antiochne.edu

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