Few authors, activists, intellectuals or teachers move me like Jonathan Kozol. For nearly a half century, Kozol has given voice to the optimistic, playful, scared, sad and hungry children in our society. He spends time with the children most of us never think about and confronts us with our spiritual beliefs and the policies that most acutely affect the least of us in society. To meet a man with the greatness, humility, decency and literary genius of Kozol would be a miracle. To be able to work with him is a rare gift. To have him introduce me at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011 as “one of my oldest friends in education” was a blessing I will never forget. Watch his CMK11 talk.

After far too long of a hiatus, Jonathan’s latest book, “Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America,” is out today! I have read the galleys and the book is riveting, profound, tragic, hopeful and beautifully written. You should read it AND buy a copy for a friend or colleague. Click to buy from Amazon.com.


Jonathan Kozol & Gary Stager at CMK 2011

This school year, Constructing Modern Knowledge will expand beyond its unique summer institute (July 9-12, 2013 – Manchester, NH) to offer some exciting new learning opportunities for learners and parents. The first event by Constructing Modern Knowledge Productions is in collaboration with my colleagues at the Willows Community School in Culver City, California.

On September 10th at 7:00 PM, The Willows Community School will host An Evening with Jonathan Kozol, Acclaimed Author and Educational Activist. Due to the generosity and public mindedness of the school, the event is free and open to the public! Reservations are required via the web site.

At this event, Kozol will speak and sign his new book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America. I hope you will join us for this very special evening!

I originally wrote a version of this article in 2007, but the topic is even more timely during today’s period of introspection regarding violence, civility, gun control, widening wealth disparities and education reform. Our daily discourse is filled with reckless nostalgia for the good ol’ days of the White Citizens Councils and the preposterous claims that Dr. King would love charter schools, the destruction of unions, the demonization of public school teachers and having poor children do the work of school janitors.

It is unconscionable to reduce Dr. King’s life, work and sacrifice to the few paltry sentences fed to us by the textbook industry or Republican politicians cherry-picking happy talk rather than confront the societal demons King identified and that are still with us.

This epidemic of ignorance can only be cured by educators! (also read: The Help: A Teacher’s Guide for more resources)


This Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday and February is African American History Month. Both occasions were created as a way of honoring the sacrifice of Dr. King and the contributions of millions of African Americans before him. It is a somber occasion in which to confront the hideous crimes of institutionalized racism and to celebrate the achievements of people who overcame insurmountable odds to enjoy the unfulfilled promises of the United States Constitution.Schools are the natural setting to inform students of our history, warts and all. Yet we tell so few historical stories and most of those narratives are watered down until they become fairy tales and meaningless happy talk. Face it, ______ (Black, Women’s, Latino…) History Months are necessary because the information presented to students is so biased, simplistic, incomplete and often times just plain wrong.

Please take a moment to answer the following questions. Think of it as a quiz if you wish.

  1. What do you know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?
  2. What do your school social studies texts say about his life and work?
  3. How much class time is dedicated to the life and times of Dr. King?
  4. Have you done any independent reading or research into the life of Dr. King?
  5. Why did Dr. King speak in Washington that day in August 1963?
  6. What was the event called?*
  7. Was Dr. King the only speaker?
  8. Why wasn’t’ President Kennedy at the speech? Wasn’t he Dr. King’s friend?
  9. Who was A. Phillip Randolph?
  10. Who is John Lewis?
  11. Who was Bayard Rustin?
  12. Where was Malcolm X that day in 1963?
  13. Why was Dr. King in Memphis before he was assassinated?
  14. Bonus question: Are there serving members of Congress who voted against the federal law establishing the King holiday?

Many teachers use the King holiday as an opportunity to tell students “all about” Dr. King. “He had a dream…” They use resources like these fabulous materials recommended for teachers on the web.

  1. http://abcteach.com/peace/martin__king1.htm
  2. http://www.windmillworks.com/games/dream.htm

Note: I highly recommend you click the links to see the garbage used to honor one of the greatest men who ever lived.You can’t teach about Dr. King without the “I Have a Dream Speech,” right? Textbooks and various multimedia products have sliced, diced and filleted a 30-second perky excerpt from Dr. King’s speech.

Since students will be unlikely to be introduced to any of Dr. King’s other rhetorical output, might I suggest that you play the entire speech for your students. Of course you should listen to it yourself beforehand. The entire speech runs approximately 17 minutes. If the Internet has educational value, it begins with the access to primary sources.

You may find a COMPLETE video clip of the ENTIRE “Dream” speech, alongside the unabridged transcription of the speech at the following sites:

So, what do you think? Do the content, intent and emotion of the whole speech paint a different picture than the one portrayed by the one-paragraph textbook version recited by politicians?In an age when educators profess profound concern about information literacy why not discuss why the entire message of the speech has been hidden by curricular omission. That and the substance of Dr. King’s actual speech should generate a few year’s worth of curriculum alone.

Schools are the natural setting to inform students of our history, warts and all. Yet we tell so few historical stories and most of those narratives are watered down until they become fairy tales and meaningless happy talk.

Even Google got in the business of infantilizing the life of Dr. King with today’s logo.

On this Martin Luther King Birthday National Holiday, I give thanks to the World Wide Web and YouTube for ensuring that future generations of children will be free to learn history aside from the standardized content being currently delivered to them.


Supplemental Resources:Educators serious about sharing the heroic ongoing American struggle for civil rights should read Herbert Kohl’s brilliant book, “She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.” The first half of the book demonstrates how the Rosa Parks story has been turned into a fantasy taught to children and offers the facts children are denied. The second half of the book discusses how teachers can fairly teach complex or controversial issues to children of all ages. I also recommend, Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History by James Loewen.


*The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963.

Why do you suppose “jobs” gets left out of the classroom discussion?

Watch the following clip and see how Dr. King might have responded to the magical thinking on race being advanced by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or Governor Walker or Governor Kasich or Governor Daniels or Governor Christie.


Follow Gary Stager on Twitter: www.twitter.com/garystager

I just posted the following a comment on Will Richardson’s blog post, How Can You Not Be Angry?

Dear Will,

I salute you. Stay angry!

You may remember that my New Year’s resolution was to swear more. That resolution was only partially tongue-in-cheek. We need to scream, swear, pull our pants down, wear costumes and whatever else it takes to save our public treasure (schools) from becoming the plaything of Gates, Murdoch and Broad. We are in deep trouble (kids are in worse trouble) if we don’t drop teacher civility and continue to be victimized.

As for swearing, Bill Gates called constructivism – a scientific theory as valid as gravity or evolution – bullshit IN PUBLIC AND IN PRINT. The quote appears within a few sentences of my comments in a recent Wired article. If Bill Gates calls the work of me and my colleagues, mentors and friends bullshit, how should I respond? Set up a VoiceThread? Make an Animoto? Decorate my bulletin boards with orange construction paper?

I always cite Abbie Hoffman as one of my heroes. Satire, mockery, outrageous behavior, civil disobedience and the courage of patriots helped end segregation and the War in Vietnam.

Teachers have changed the world, occasionally even in the United States. In 1964-65,  African Americans in Alabama considered voting rights the folly of young people. It wasn’t until the TEACHERS of the Selma area refused to accept second-class status and joined the movement that African American adults across the state not only took the issue seriously, but were mobilized to take action. This led to Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettis Bridge and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Some people, like Congressman John Lewis, had their skulls bashed in so that the rest of us may live up to the promise of America.

Watch http://amzn.to/pSXLZQ and learn how fearless college students changed America, jeopardizing their degrees and risking their lives. Buy the DVD and show it everybody you know.

Apartheid began to unravel in South Africa when thousands of students walked out of school because they were being miseducated (taught Afrikans instead of English). Some children were killed but Apartheid ended less than twenty years later. When countless American urban schools are entirely segregated and the students are fed a steady diet of test-prep, it may be time to end Apartheid education in this country as well.

Frankly, I didn’t give much thought to Saturday’s March on Washington because progressive educators can’t normally organize a softball game, but I plan on being there Saturday. I also signed-on as an endorser.

I will travel cross-country because of the unequivocal DEMANDS listed at http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/about/guiding-principles/ It is so refreshing to see educators start demanding what is right, not looking for compromises when none are warranted, ala Barack Obama.

If children cannot count on each and every one of their educators to stand between them and the madness, who can they count on?

Okily Dokily,

Gary

Author’s note – Monday, January 21, 2008.

I originally published this in The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate in January 2007, but alas it is even more appropriate this years when Senators Obama and Clinton are dissing each other over Dr. King’s legacy. Each candidate is part of Dr. King’s “dream,” but the divisiveness of the issue proves how poorly educated most Americans are about modern history. Just today, an African American Huffington Post columnist carelessly reduced Dr. King’s life, work and sacrifice to the few paltry sentences fed to us by the textbook industry.

This epidemic of ignorance can only be cured by educators!


This Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday and February is African American History Month. Both occasions were Dr. Kingcreated as a way of honoring the sacrifice of Dr. King and the contributions of millions of African Americans before him. It is a somber occasion in which to confront the hideous crimes of institutionalized racism and to celebrate the achievements of people who overcame insurmountable odds to enjoy the unfulfilled promises of the United States Constitution.

Schools are the natural setting to inform students of our history, warts and all. Yet we tell so few historical stories and most of those narratives are watered down until they become fairy tales and meaningless happy talk. Face it, ______ (Black, Women’s, Latino…) History Months are necessary because the information presented to students is so biased, simplistic, incomplete and often times just plain wrong.

Please take a moment to answer the following questions:

What do you know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?

What do your school social studies texts say about his life and work?

How much class time is dedicated to the life and times of Dr. King?

Have you done any independent reading or research into the life of Dr. King?

Why did Dr. King speak in Washington that day in August 1963?

What was the event called?*

Was Dr. King the only speaker?

Why wasn’t’ President Kennedy at the speech? Wasn’t he Dr. King’s friend?

Who was A. Phillip Randolph?

Who is John Lewis?

Who was Bayard Rustin?

Where was Malcolm X that day?

Many teachers use the King holiday as an opportunity to tell students “all about” Dr. King. “He had a dream…” They use resources like these fabulous materials recommended for teachers on the web.

http://abcteach.com/peace/martin__king1.htm

http://www.windmillworks.com/games/dream.htm

Note: I highly recommend you click the links to see the garbage used to honor one of the greatest men who ever lived.

You can’t teach about Dr. King without the “I Have a Dream Speech,” right? Textbooks and various multimedia products have sliced, diced and filleted a 30-second perky excerpt from Dr. King’s speech.

Since students will be unlikely to be introduced to any of Dr. King’s other rhetorical output, might I suggest that you play the entire speech for your students. Of course you should listen to it yourself beforehand. The entire speech runs approximately 17 minutes.

You may find a COMPLETE video clip of the ENTIRE “Dream” speech, alongside the unabridged transcription of the speech at the following sites:

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

http://www.holidays.net/mlk/speech.htm

So, what do you think? Do the content, intent and emotion of the whole speech feel differently from the one-paragraph textbook version?

In an age when educators profess profound concern about information literacy why not discuss why the entire message of the speech has been hidden by curricular omission. That and the substance of Dr. King’s actual speech should generate a few year’s worth of curriculum alone.

Schools are the natural setting to inform students of our history, warts and all. Yet we tell so few historical stories and most of those narratives are watered down until they become fairy tales and meaningless happy talk.

On this Martin Luther King Birthday National Holiday, I give thanks to the World Wide Web and YouTube for ensuring that future generations of children will be free to learn history aside from the standardized content being currently delivered to them.


Supplemental Resources:

Factual background information on the 1963 March

Information about that day in Washington D.C. (including entertainers in attendance)

NPR Audio, including first-person accounts of that day in Washington.

Additional NPR resources – Behind the scenes of the march

NPR Part two

Wikipedia entry

The United States government’s biography of MLK

The US government’s web page about the 40th anniversary of the march

Taylor Branch’s definitive trilogy of books on the life of Dr. King

I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr by Michael Eric Dyson

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death and How it Changed America by Michael Eric Dyson

A comprehensive book about the event, Like a Mighty Stream: The March on Washington August 28,1963, by Patrik Henry Bass


*The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963.

Why do you suppose “jobs” gets left out of the classroom discussion?

CMK 2010