I took my all-time favorite non-violent protest speech from my all-time favorite courageous and inspirational civil right leader and changed the words.
Dr. Martin Luther King?s ?I Have A Dream? speech was delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr: The Peaceful Warrior, Pocket Books,1968.
Five score years ago, a great American, John Dewey, wrote Democracy in Education. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of school children who had been seared in the flames of withering intellectual challenges. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of inauthentic factory-model schooling. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the children are still not getting their learning needs met.
One hundred years later, the life of the American school child is still sadly crippled by the manacles of disconnected bits of knowledge and the chains of overused and misused standardized tests. One hundred years later, the school child lives on a lonely island of limitations and boredom in the midst of a vast ocean of possibility. One hundred years later, the school child is still languishing in the corners of American classrooms and finds himself an exile from knowing his own proclivities.
So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of school age are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the children a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient learning." But we refuse to believe that the bank of knowledge is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of cognitive theory of this nation.
So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of competence and the security of honoring individual differences. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of standardization to the sunlit path of differentiated curriculum and instruction. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of grade point averages to the solid rock of honoring each child?s strengths.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of teachers. This sweltering summer of the educators? legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of respect and validation. Two thousand four is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that teachers and parents needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation?s schools return to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the children are granted their full learning potential rights.
The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of parents opting their children out of standardized testing emerges. But there is something that I must say to the people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of what kids know and are able to do. In the process of gaining useable information about students we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for understanding by drinking from the cup of mass media and misinformation.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of research and experience. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into media sound bites. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting the ?Standardisto? forces with cognitive science forces.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the teaching and parenting communities must not lead us to distrust of all politicians, for many of our school board brothers, as evidenced by their desire to make a difference, have come to realize that their children?s destiny is tied up with our children?s destiny and their roads to success are inextricably bound to our roads to success.
We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of learning access, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our children, heavy with the fatigue of carrying backpacks and filling out worksheets, cannot gain rest in the sanctuary of their own homes. We cannot be satisfied as long as the children?s basic mobility is only from one stanine to the next. We can never be satisfied as long as a child in Mississippi cannot read and a child in New York believes there is nothing good to be read. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until connections roll down like waters and understanding like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow local assessments. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for authentic learning left you battered by the storms of ?one-size-fits-all? thinking and staggered by the winds of ?it was like this when I was in school too? attitudes. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to language arts, go back to math, go back to science, go back to art, go back to the gyms and ball fields of our schools, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of No Child Left Behind. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a 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." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the students labeled ?gifted? and the students labeled ?special ed? will be able to sit down together at a label-less table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the legislatures, sweltering with the heat of designing controls and ?raising the bar,? will be transformed into an oasis of developing capacity and differentiation. I have a dream that my two children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the rankings of their test scores, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the United States, whose president?s lips are dripping with the words of yearly testing for every child in reading and math, will be transformed into a community where little ?low testing? boys and girls will be able to join hands with little ?high testing? boys and girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every child shall be exalted, every Terra Nova and ISAT shall be made low, the rough school funding formulas will be made plain, and the crooked ?benchmarks for learning? will be made straight, and the glory of knowledge and understanding shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the classroom. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of paperwork a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our student population into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to class together, to stand up for differences together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the high socio-economic status of Wheaton. Let freedom ring from the prosperous county of DuPage. Let freedom ring from the ?gifted? classrooms across our nation! But not only that; let freedom ring from the urban schools of our inner cities! Let freedom ring from the ?special education? classrooms! Let freedom ring from every rural and every suburban district across our great land. From every classroom, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every pre-school and every elementary, from every middle school and every high school, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, ?gifted? and ?special ed?, poor kids and rich kids, minorities and the disillusioned, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Authentic teaching and learning for everyone, we are free at last!"
Weird, huh? Was there an odd tension as you read this? Kinda funny at parts, but knowing this was NOT at all a funny speech in any way. What does that say?
I propose that the ease with which I changed the words in this speech about the abuses targeting blacks in the 50?s and 60?s is telling. We may not have jails, fire hoses, and segregating signs in our schools, but I ask you to consider - do those threats exist in other forms for our children while they are in school? Is it less important because it ?ends? when they leave school?