Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts on the Promissory Note

This time of year, the time when we pause to mark the life of Martin Luther King, often finds me enmeshed in thoughts of the long arc of justice.  I'm thinking about the lead-up to the American Civil War and events 100 years later, especially the Civil Rights Act.  I'm mindful of the fulfillment of the 14th amendment's promise in the form of selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights to the states.  King is central to all of these thoughts because he led the movement to finally bring the promise of the Constitution to fruition.

These aren't accidental thoughts.  I teach U.S. History and American Government  and the Civil War and American rights and liberties are the topics we are studying about now.  That didn't happen on purpose, but the accident of the timing is not lost on me. 

We don't have classes today because of the Martin Luther King holiday.  I will see my students in the week ahead but it's in the context of midterm exams and so for the next few days we won't be discussing King.  We will do so when classes resume.  In History class, my students and I will try to wrap our minds around slavery and the war which resulted in its abolition.  In Government classes, we will consider the Supreme Court's final rejection of segregation and that same Court's consideration of policies like affirmative action and other national attempts to atone for the exclusions of our past.

Before it's all said and done, my students and I will listen to the "I Have a Dream Speech" as it was originally delivered.  We'll talk about what it meant when it was first given and what it means now.  We'll read "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" and watch some of the film footage of the events in Birmingham.  We'll talk about the promise of liberty present in the Constitution and what that  demands of us today.

Though I am sometimes disappointed in my nation, these discussions always fill me with hope about fulfillment of the same promise sought by King.  I'm lucky to spend my days with students who are eager to understand the world they've inherited.  They are young men and women who anticipate making things better, who intend to move us a few steps forward toward fulfillment of Mr. King's dream.  That's a very good thing.

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