“Democracy is not a state. It is not some high plateau that we struggle to reach so we can finally settle down to rest. Democracy is an act. It is an act that requires participation, organization and dedication to the highest principles. It is an act, and a series of actions that require us to continuously verify our commitment to civil rights and social justice at every challenge.”—Rep. John Lewis Reflections on a Dream Deferred
It is 2018, and seemingly now more than ever, our nation is rediscovering the true meaning of our fragile democracy. It is the American classroom perhaps, that now finds itself at the center of the fight for social justice, for it is there that teachers find themselves inundated daily with the need to undo the social damage caused by the ignorant words and deeds of our current politicians. Our classrooms are at the front lines as our students try to make sense of things our political leaders say, and it is our collective responsibility to help our youth learn how to come to their own understandings, find the truth through research, and articulate their own political and social views. As Rep. John Lewis writes, “Democracy is an act…that requires participation, organization and dedication to the highest principles.”
Not just on Martin Luther King day, but everyday, our classrooms need to teach and model the connection between democracy and social justice. We must ask the essential question: How is standing up against racism and injustice a democratic obligation? And we must model this connection through our own actions, our treatment of those in our school-wide communities, and also in the curriculum we design for our youth.
“Now I realize that there are those all over who are telling us that we must slow up. … But we cannot afford to slow up. We have a moral obligation to press on. We have our self-respect to maintain. But even more we can’t afford to slow up because of our love for America and our love for the democratic way of life. … We must keep moving. We must keep going.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From “The Montgomery Story,” an address to the 47th annual NAACP Convention, San Francisco, June 27, 1956
For resources on Martin Luther King, Jr. visit the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, where you can find papers, documents and video, a liberation curriculum, as well as a collection of lesson plans for teachers of all grade levels.
Or try one of the 8 extension activities from this lesson: Dr King and the Movement from Teaching Tolerance for a unique way to explore, celebrate and question the progress made since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.