With Dr. Benjamin Spock (left) and Father Frederick Reed, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated against the U.S. war in Vietnam, March 16, 1967, in New York City. (via Rethnking Schools)The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom this past summer produced some brilliant commentary about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. One of the sharpest of these was a short essay that Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, posted to her Facebook page. We want to quote at length from this essay because we think that it holds valuable—even essential—lessons for those of us working to defend and improve public schools.
Alexander urges us to look at King’s trajectory following the march:
Five years after the march, Dr. King was speaking out against the Vietnam War, condemning America’s militarism and imperialism—famously stating that our nation was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He saw the connections between the wars we wage abroad, and the utter indifference we have for poor people and people of color at home. He saw the necessity of openly critiquing an economic system that will fund war and will reward greed hand over fist, but will not pay workers a living wage. Five years after the March on Washington, Dr. King was ignoring all those who told him to just stay in his lane, just stick to talking about civil rights.
Rethinking Schools began as a local effort to address problems such as basal readers, standardized testing, and textbook-dominated curriculum. Since its founding, it has grown into a nationally prominent publisher of educational materials, with subscribers in all 50 states, all 10 Canadian provinces, and many other countries.