Change is in the HOW

As part of the #YourEduStory Challenge, we are honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. by blogging about how we can make a difference in the world. What is the difference we wish to make?

I am taking a different approach with this. I think that we as a society tend to focus too exclusively on the leaders of movements while neglecting the foot soldiers and other contributors to a cause. We easily think of George Washington and Paul Revere while we forget about innumerable poor colonists who died horrible deaths due to smallpox and gangrene. We think about Abraham Lincoln, but neglect the 600,000 soldiers who died during the Civil War, on top of the millions who served and fought bravely.

In the case of Martin Luther King, Jr., we remember his inspiration and the difference he made, which is right and just. He is one of the greatest moral leaders this world has ever seen, and he willingly paid the ultimate price for a cause he believed in. But we must not forget others who turned his vision into a reality.

One such leader was Walker Wyatt.

In 1963, the Civil Rights movement had hit a standstill, and it appeared that the movement just might fail. The movement succeeded not just because of King’s lofty rhetoric, but also because of the nuts and bolts organization of Wyatt Walker. In 1963, King and Walker went to Birmingham, where events would eventually trigger the passage of historic pieces of Civil Rights legislation. Walker’s actions in Birmingham were absolutely critical to the success of the Birmingham Campaign and the Civil Rights movement as a whole. He knew exactly how to provoke the police into overreacting through his meticulous planning of marches, sit-ins, and boycotts. His actions provoked officials to use high-pressure hoses on the protestors and to arrest hundreds of peaceful citizens. These images were then shown on newscasts throughout the nation, thereby ensuring that the civil rights movement would inspire sympathies around the nation. Within a matter of months, Walker’s actions in Birmingham and in other cities would lead to the successful passage of Civil Rights laws.

To borrow a phrase from Simon Sinek, King provided the WHY of the Civil Rights movement, and Walker provided the HOW. Both roles are essential for successful movements to take place, but we sometimes forget about the people who make the vision become reality.

As teachers, we have the unique role of having to both articulate the WHY and design the HOW. We must clarify to students exactly why the material is relevant, the larger purpose of education, and we must do our best to inspire students to learn. That being said, we cannot rely on mere inspiration. If we spend all weekend thinking about the lofty ideals of education, we will not be prepared on Monday morning for the students sitting in our classrooms. In fact, I believe that many teachers burn out or fade away not because they have never been exposed to the WHY of education, but because there is not enough training and support in how to translate those ideals into concrete lessons that live out those visions. As a result, many teachers give up on the hope and turn then to the textbooks and the resource books.

Therefore, this year, I will not pledge to follow in King’s footsteps, in part because I can not hope to live up to such a great leader. Besides, I already know what values I place in education: engaging, inspiring, and empowering students. My effort this year will center on the nitty-gritty of turning those ideals into reality for students.

If I succeed–by the grace of God–I will have contributed something to the world.

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