Who was MLK?
Rev. Michael King Sr. grew up a poor, Black sharecropper in Georgia at the turn of the last century. As a young man he moved to Atlanta, fell in love with a Baptist preacher’s daughter and eventually followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps and studied to become a minister.
In 1934, Rev. Michael King, Sr., attended the World Baptist Alliance in Berlin. He was so moved by the teachings and sacrifice of sixteenth-century German church reformer Martin Luther, that he changed his name from Michael King to Michael Luther King and finally Martin Luther King. His teen aged son chose to change his name to Martin Luther King Jr, after his father.
MLK Grew up in segregated Georgia during the Great Depression, but went on to become one of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement. Now, on the third Monday in January, Americans observe the legacy of his contributions with a national holiday.
King Jr. studied sociology in college and then went to seminary to become a pastor like his father and grandfather. While serving in Alabama, Pastor King became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group of mostly Black pastors committed to achieving racial equality through non-violence.
Many people either think of Martin Luther King Jr. as just a Black hero, with nothing to offer to the rest of us. Others take him for granted as just another pop-cultural icon along with JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. For me, he is a hero of the faith. A courageous Christian leader like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who stood up to Adolf Hitler and the NAZIs.
One of my favorite books that I wish everyone on Earth would read is Dr. King’s “Strength to Love,” (1963) in which he explores the parable of the good Samaritan and what it means to love your neighbor and love your enemies, as Jesus taught. In it, he also wrote about the parables of the friend who knocked on his neighbor’s door at midnight and the rich fool who hoarded his wealth in his barns, only to have his soul required of him that night. King addresses fear and speculated on what sort of epistle the Apostle Paul might have written to America.
I think that even in mostly white, rural Iowa, it would be good to consider some of the lessons of Dr. King today in 2008. We forget that he was a Baptist minister like Mike Huckabee and a PhD who could analyze domestic and foreign and military policies just like like a Barack Obama or a Bill Clinton. We forget that King was a Nobel Peace Prize winner like Al Gore.
I recently found a speech that he made about Vietnam back in 1967 on April 4, 1967 at a meeting at Riverside Church in New York City. He was assassinated a year later on April 4, 1968 trying to help striking garbagemen in Memphis, Tennessee.
People wondered why a civil rights leader was suddenly turning into a war protester.
“I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for ‘the brotherhood of man.’…but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?”
After three decades of supply-side economics, Americans have seen the high-tech bubble burst, and the real estate bubble burst, the stock market repeatedly crash and rebound, more millionaires than ever before yet a disappearing middle class, disappearing manufacturing jobs, jobs shipped over seas, high gas prices yet record profits for oil companies and a widening gap between the super rich and the working poor. No wonder so many voters in Iowa responded to the messages of John Edwards as he railed on big corporations and unfeeling insurance companies.
King talked about our problem with consumerism in his 1967 speech too.
“…We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”
Black , White, Red, Yellow, or Brown, Dr. King’s teaching may have as much to say to us today, as it did forty years ago.
Strength to Love
Nearly every year I re-read a book of sermons by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called “Strength to Love,” from 1963. Many people would be surprised by what a Biblical teacher King was because we tend to take him for granted as a cultural icon or a Black leader or a political activist.
One chapter in particular struck me as something that we could all use these days. Let’s face it, this is a time of high anxiety and stress for many of us. Governor Culver recently tried to reassure Iowans that we’re in better shape than the nation as a whole to face the coming recession. But come on, things have been getting hard for all of us for a long time.
Wars, stagnant wages, increasing costs of living especially gas, food, heating fuel and health insurance, talk of climate change, cultural change, and global competition have all left us a little frazzled. Perhaps you’re finding that just the challenges of daily life, let alone personal tragedies and crises are wearing you down.
Rev. King talked about Jesus’ parable of the man who knocks on his neighbor’s door at midnight asking for bread found in Luke 11:5-8.
“The traveler asks for three loaves of bread,” Dr. King wrote. The three things we need most are faith, hope and love.
“In a generation of so many colossal disappointments, men have lost faith in God, faith in man, and faith in the future…in the midst of staggering disillusionment, many cry for the bread of faith.”
“There is also a deep longing for the bread of hope.” Dr. King continued, “In the early years of this century many people did not hunger for this bread. The days of the first telephones, automobiles, and airplanes gave them a radiant optimism. They worshiped at the shrine of inevitable progress. They believed that every new scientific achievement lifted man to higher levels of perfection.”
But as we all know, came WWI and WWII and the Cold War. We realized that technology won’t produce a futuristic utopia. We may have more than enough food to eradicate world hunger, but greed and corruption prevent us from ever being able to get the food to who needs it. The twentieth century left mankind wounded and disillusioned.
King lamented that “the light of hope went out, and they roamed wearily in the dark chambers of pessimism. Many concluded that life has no meaning… But even in the inevitable moments when all seems hopeless, men know that without hope they cannot really live, and in agonizing desperation they cry for the bread of hope.”
If anything, we’ve learned too well that life is not fair. Some people don’t even see the point in trying anymore.
Finally, MLK pointed out what we are most starved for.
“There is the deep longing,” King wrote, “for the bread of love. Everybody wishes to love and to be loved. He who feels that he is not loved feels that he does not count. Much has happened in the modern world to make men feel that they do not belong. Living in a world which has become oppressively impersonal, many of us have come to feel that we are little more than numbers.”
We all need to find ways to get out of bed in the middle of the night and come to our neighbor’s aid. We all need to try to feed others in anyway we can but we should also remember where to turn when times get worst.
Luke 11: 5-8 has a man asking to borrow bread from a neighbor, but in Luke 11:1-4, Jesus teaches the disciples the Lord’s Prayer and in 11:9-13, He urges us to pray and ask God’s help for anything we need. If we need faith, hope, or love, all we have to do as ask, seek, or knock.
An Open Letter to the (Future?) Secretary of Ed.
January 20, 2021
Dr. Jill Biden
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202
Dear Mrs. Secretary,
I’ve been a middle school/high school educator for nearly thirty years. I believe that we desperately need to alter the direction of our schools in the United States.
In our rush to standardize learning and testing and demand accountability from schools, we have created a hyper-competitive culture of intolerance for uncertainty, demand for comparison, and homogeneity. We rely on extrinsic, behavioral rewards and punishments, as if students were subhuman animals. These demands have exacerbated already crushing problems of inequity, inequality, discrimination and unrealistic expectations on children.
Is it any wonder that our nations’ levels of anxiety and depression are reaching unprecedented levels? The Center for Disease Control cites a 2018 article in the ‘The Journal of Pediatrics,’ as reporting that the diagnosis by primary care providers of children aged 6–17 with anxiety disorders increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and to 8.4% in 2011.
Meanwhile, a push to privatize education in America promises to increase our racial, economic and ideological divides. According to a 2015 study by Stanford University’s Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, the proliferation of charter schools in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina led to an increase in “stratification of schools and segregation of students by ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special education designation, behavioral attributes, and neighborhood.” They even found a “decline in test scores by the stratified tiers of schools in the charter system, with the overwhelming majority of white students attending the top tier schools.” They also noticed that due to a variety of admissions requirements, “exclusion methods,” and state educational policies, instead of parents or students genuinely having “school choice,” schools were selecting or choosing not to admit students.
Before the advent of No Child Left Behind in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, what made the American public school system the envy of the world was our innovation and the creativity and individuality of our graduates. We need to return to the progressive education philosophies of the early twentieth century. Our emphasis should be on nurturing and encouraging curiosity, flexibility, adaptability and a tolerance for ambiguity. Above all we have to find ways to instill intrinsic motivation in children.
The Harvard Business Review reported on a 2018 study which concluded that “self-initiated and future-focused action to change oneself or the situation, can positively benefit individuals and organizations.” Employers aren’t looking for workers who can successfully answer standardized test questions They’re looking for creative problem solvers.
Just last week, I had lunch with an attorney for a major university hospital and a regional newspaper publisher. The lawyer had been mayor of a city of about 8,400. The publisher has a circulation of about 20,000. She recently became a U.S. citizen after coming here legally from Nicaragua nearly thirty years ago. He was born to affluent white parents in central Iowa.
They both agree that a problem with both our schools is that we use nineteenth century methods to teach students how to live in the late twentieth century, when we need to be using twenty-first century methods to prepare kids for the twenty-second century.
Instead of an industrial-age, standardized, hierarchical, “assembly-line” model for schools we’ve been pursuing for decades suggested to us by political lobbyists and well intentioned billionaire philanthropists, we need to consider a community-based, organically organized model like the “agricultural” ecosystems suggested by Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D in his book ‘Creative Schools.’
Ironically our conservative, corporate, capitalist inspired model is based on command and control of administrators and governments. What we need are unique, adaptive, “climate controlled,” grass-roots systems relying on collaboration of teachers and local stakeholders, including students and their families. It’s ludicrous how teachers are untapped resources in their own schools under our current model.
Work by education psychologists and theorists as diverse as Abraham Maslow, William Glasser, Jim Fey, and Ruby Payne reinforce Robinson’s contention that we need compassionate communities which support learners and teachers while making them feel included and valued. We need to differentiate and whenever possible, individuate learning so that we stress relevance without sacrificing rigor. And we need to make sure that we open doors of opportunity for learners regardless of their background or their parent’s incomes.
Opportunity breeds hope and hope yields optimism, which has always been what truly made America “exceptional.” Striving for equality, liberty and justice for all are what have always fed America’s optimism.
We need to open doors of economic opportunity, cultural opportunity, political, social, and personal opportunity. We’ll do that if we holistically promote child development with concern for their health, recognition that all aspects of their development is interdependent and if we care for them as individual human beings rather than regarding them as statistics or mere data figures.
Two excellent concepts which we should use are Sugata Mitra’s philosophy of child-centered learning and Simon Sinek’s philosophy of servant-leadership. These should be required learning for all teacher and school administrator candidates.
Good luck to you and your husband as you repair and rehabilitate your respective offices.
Adamson, F., Cook-Harvey, C. & Darling-Hammond, L. (2015). Whose Choice? The Processes and Effects of Charter School Selection in New Orleans Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.
Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior
Vol. 6:221-248 (Volume publication date January 2019) First published as a Review in Advance on November 7, 2018 https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-012218-015302
Bitsko RH, Holbrook JR, Ghandour RM, Blumberg SJ, Visser SN, Perou R, Walkup J. Epidemiology and impact of healthcare provider diagnosed anxiety and depression among US children. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Published online before print April 24, 2018