We are living through a deeply fractured moment in the history of our nation. The recent chaos in our nation’s capital is the latest flash point in this disturbing story of increasing national division. Americans witnessed a long, distressing summer of violent protests in many major cities. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is watching developments in our country and wondering how we, as Americans, will resolve the divisions that we face today. As an antidote to the rising tension, wisdom suggests that we look to strategies that worked in the past. Among other benefits, studying history contributes to our moral understanding and guides good citizenship.
On the matters we face today, studying the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and his effort to help our nation overcome an earlier era of division and violence is relevant. At a time when African Americans endured harsh segregation and second-rate citizenship in the South, Dr. King convinced his followers to protest in a peaceful manner. Why? As Dr. King explained in his moving and profound Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written in April of 1963, it was his intention to use large scale, non-violent protest to force changes in laws and status, in order to attain the equality promised by our Constitution. He argued that displaying dignity would make it more likely for Americans to see African Americans in the South as dignified human beings, fully deserving of the basic respect our culture affords all people.
The peaceful protests worked. The sight of men, women, and even children marching with dignity and conviction, sitting together at lunch counters, and demanding respect, did what violence could never do: hearts, minds, and eventually laws, changed. Dr. King's dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” was the basis for our nation’s move towards justice and peace. Perhaps if we return to that simple but profound truth, we will find a similar path forward? Regarding each other as individuals endowed with dignity is what makes it possible for people of different backgrounds to have meaningful interaction. It forces us to see character, intellect, heart, and actions – not race or politics.
Treating every child as created in the image of God and giving them equal value is foundational to our policies and practices at JH Classical Academy, and something we celebrate daily. Charlotte Mason in her book Towards a Philosophy of Education explains the teacher’s role as this: “Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, and science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and we must leave the child to deal with these as he or she chooses.” We are to respect the personhood of each child right from the start. Of course, we have to set reasonable expectations for children’s academics, behavior, and moral growth, but we have to trust them, listen to them, and respect them during their growth. In worrying about what a child will become, we can’t forget who they are today. What beautiful work we are entrusted with at JH Classical Academy each day!
Let us look to Dr. King’s ideas as a repository of wisdom for troubled times and pray for our nation as we celebrate the historic event of another Presidential Inauguration this week.
Polly J. Friess
Head of School