The whitewashing of Dr. King

When I die, I hope nobody mistakes my kindness for niceness. I am not a nice man.
Dr. King’s life profoundly affected mine.

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice….Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr., from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was loving, and kind, and powerful. His words still resonate, should you choose to hear them.

Do not confuse non-violence with passivity.

Do not confuse kindness with niceness.

During school announcements yesterday, our students were told that Dr. King pushed “cooperation.” Rania Jones, a 3rd grade winner of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ “People Must Work Together” King contest wrote “That’s what we must do today – demonstrate cooperation.” This is the Dr. King lite version of a complex story. This is the version that gives so many of us the day off on Monday.

“Love” is a complex word, and one not easily used in public settings. “Cooperation” is much safer, more sanitary.

And it’s the wrong message.


My Dad joined  the 1963 March on Washington, dressed in full uniform, a proud US Marine officer. He flew A4 Phantom Skyhawks off carriers, in love with a country that let poor first generation children fly.

My dad was pulled to the front of the parade, or so the story goes. If you see a full-dressed USMC officer in photos from the parade, it may well be Bill Doyle. Dr. King later went on to oppose the Viet Nam War as unjust, and my father, a die-hard leatherneck, resigned his commission for the same reason.

I grew up in an Irish Catholic home, but Dr. King held as much influence as the Pope, maybe more, years before he was assassinated. My Dad loved the man, not the cartoon he has become.

Read “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

Take a walk outside and watch the grace and agony of life around us.

Yes, it’s complicated. Life is complex,

You want to learn about Dr. King? Go read his words, listen to his speeches, learn everything you can about him. But don’t “cooperate” with those who would steal his image without his words, the Mike Pences, the innumerable talking heads that will piously bow today.

Take a walk, a walk outside, away from noise. Carry a copy of King’s letter and read it under the January sunlight.

Share it. Live it.

Don’t let the dream die.

The photo of Dr. King (D.C., August, 1963)  is from the National Archives and is the public domain.

The connected child

An essential quality of technology, from the spear to Skype, is action at a distance. Technology enables us to have an effect on people and things far away. In general, the more advanced the technology, the further away it is able to impose an effect. 

Our lives cost the lives of others. That’s always been true, and will be so long as we breathe. Technology allows us to forget this.

As technophiles spew on about a global community, where your value is measured by the number of hits your words register, their hands never touch the blood and feces of the life around them.

You want every child “connected”? So do I. It’s what’s at the other end of the connection that matters.

All children, every child, should know where the stuff that makes up their bodies comes from, all the way back to the living organisms that fill up, unrecognizable, wrapped in plastic.

All children, every child, should know where their waste goes, through hidden pipes and trucks that rumble before dawn through the neighborhood once or twice a week.

We can do both, I suppose–just make sure you cover up the machines when I bring in a calf (or whatever the cafeteria is serving this week) to slaughter in the classroom.

I could live without my computer a lot easier than living without my knife.

Trumped up pedagogy

“No, no, no, I am not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.” 

45, January 14, 2018

President Trump gets under my skin; if you’re here, he probably gets under yours, too.

Many teachers mumble to themselves, and occasionally to each other, how gullible “those” people must be to support him. How can anyone believe what the man says when the evidence screams otherwise?

And then we shuffle off to our classrooms, arms full of papers and books, pockets full of markers, and do what we do. We teach using the best, the very best research education has to offer. And we do it wrong.

We cater to learning styles, we worship the learning pyramid, we tell kids to go figure out this world on their own.

All of it nonsense, but belief (or pretending to believe) is part of the American cult of pedagogy.

Every week or so I immerse myself in the Trump radio universe–I listen to the hosts, I listen to the callers, listen to the myths and the closed loops of reasoning, and it starts to generate an internal rhythm that makes sense. Throw the sense of community in it (and make no mistake, the nationalist/racist movement deep in our bowels depends on this) and this stuff is like cocaine to caged rats.

We do the same thing in education.

A little self awareness goes a long way.

Of course he’s a racist….but you might be, too.