“Our ultimate aim is not desegregation from a legal aspect. We seek the kind of integration where men come together willingly, not because there is a law.”
Dr. King spoke this idea in June 1958 in the midst of the early Civil Rights Movement and not long after the court-ordered desegregation of Little Rock’s public schools. I think the powerful idea behind this quote is one of self-ownership, demanding every person to want integration because that is what they want, not because someone said they had to do it. Today, fifty years after King spoke these words at a convention in Omaha, they ring true. Unfortunately, it often seems like we live in an America that seems largely without the moral compass that guided King and his army of nonviolence. Luckily, today I was reminded that is just not true.
I spent several hours this morning with about 30 high schools students and adults from schools across Washington State talking about a different type of discrimination than what King was addressing. However, I believe the lessons were the same. The participants at the Puget Sound ESD Student Diversity Summit were talking about racism, discrimination and the realities of changing schools. It was that last note where I was invited to chime in: How students and adults can work together to change schools.
I led several groups through a process of recalling, sharing, reflecting, and critically examining their educational experiences. We then collectively brainstormed the barriers to student/adult partnerships in schools, and identified many places throughout the learning experience where they’d be useful, if not critical, to every student’s success. After that participants called out what they thought were the most important ways students and adults could work together – tomorrow – to create safer, healthier, more effective learning opportunities for all students and adults in schools. What did they name, you ask? Respect. Communication. Trust. Hopefulness. Connectedness.
These words get at the core of meaningful student involvement: Rather than relying on a few token activities or a sweeping strucultural change in schools to signify and represent student voice, these students saw the core of meaningfulness as a culture. They saw that the values and traits people have in schools today is what needs to change. And for me, that’s the point of Dr. King’s speech that day in June in Omaha. Let’s move past hoping somebody will change something, and get to the core of what we can change in ourselves and in the immediate world around us. Waiting for the system to *poof* change isn’t the right path. We must take personal responsibility for creating and sustaining the new learning environments we want to succeed in. We must start having the hard conversations it takes to actually go there. Only then are we truly living the dream.