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Message From Michèle: The Importance of Child-Centered Activism

Friday, December 9, 2016

Student activistsIn 20 years as director of Manhattan Country School, there have been many memorable moments when I recalled the words included in the Ben Shahn lithograph of Martin Luther King, Jr. that hangs in the school’s entryway. The text, an excerpt of King’s last speech, read, “I don’t know what will happen now. We have got difficult days ahead….”

Events transpiring close by and far away, with impact quite local or global, bring the values around which our community was built into sharp relief and draw us together. Inevitably, differences reflective of the diversity in our community make discussions richer as we make decisions about how to engage in community activism.

Over the years, President George W. Bush’s intent to declare war against Iraq, the World Climate Change March and the Black Lives Matter movement have been among the subjects of adult conversations. Elevating student voices always becomes a priority for curriculum, MLK March themes and activism projects. Sometimes, there are compelling reasons to go beyond our usual student-focus. Then we have to make decisions about organizing school-wide initiatives or encouraging participation in initiatives organized by others.

Dr. King’s quote came back to me recently in discussions with a faculty activism committee and the Parents’ Association. The recent presidential election and impending changes in policy and personnel have mobilized all kinds of proposed actions. I am glad that MCS families are taking part in the Kids Speak Out March on Sunday and will be present at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21. It is gratifying to see the PA co-presidents put together a "Channels of Engagement" Google group where MCS parents can share resources and news of events, and support each other in answering children’s innumerable questions.

As an eighth-grader pointed out to me, Mother Jones lost as many battles as she won, but still she got results. The models of Mother Jones, Dr. King and other leaders are always at our side through the difficult days. The greatest hope for the future is a strong community, robust discussions and collective action with children at the center.