Dear MCS Community,
Happy New Year! Our January launches each new calendar year with tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and work. “What tools did Dr. King use?” Wondering as adults how seemingly out of sync those tools seem to be, it’s striking to be getting so many inquiries from the press, alumni, and educators seeking to replicate our long-term traditions. “Love,” “words,” “peace,” “marches,” are familiar answers to even the youngest students at MCS. “What would Dr. King be speaking or marching about today if he were still alive?” Connections between then and now bring up sometimes difficult conversations about his assassination. They also provide clarity to bold aspirations for the future and a reality check on what enduring change requires. MCS merits every bit of attention it gets when the world is paying attention to Dr. King. And even closer attention when it is not.
On Friday, January 18, two annual Martin Luther King, Jr. assemblies will accommodate family and friends of younger and older classes, please click here for assembly times. Songs and recorded voices of the Civil Rights Movement are a standard part of these assemblies, as familiar to alumni as the newest members of the 4-5s. Sixth graders remind us to remember unsung heroes of civil rights movements whose stories we should remember too.
Our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March will celebrate 31 years of MCS’ out-loud, grassroots activism and generations of young people and students whose ideals and impatience inspire collective action to make the world more fair in myriad ways. The route of the March takes us place largely in Upper Manhattan, beginning at Fredrick Douglass Circle and ending on 85th Street in our gym – click here for full route details. Eighth graders in groups of three or four deliver speeches at six symbolic stops, including the historically significant steps of Low Library at Columbia University and inside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Dr. King’s influence dates back to the origins of MCS, as an inspiration for our founders Gus and Marty Trowbridge. Today, the MCS community embodies the vision that “began with a dream.” Revisiting that history, students appreciate that the diversity in their classrooms was not always the norm. Debates within the Movement and challenges amid the resilient leadership of Dr. King are part of MCS curriculum. As eighth graders reflect on their evolving understanding of how the past informs the present, they also remind us of the origin and effects of the laws and provisions that continue to have an effect on American life today. During the school day, after school, and at home we debate individual and community responsibility. Multiple perspectives, contemporary challenges, and a search for allies coalesce around a shared common purpose -- dedication to all humankind.
“This isn’t a day off, this is a day on!” is a slogan activists associate with the national celebration of Dr. King’s birthday. MCS’ March in honor of Dr. King this year is proof the slogan is more than words. The class of 2019 march focuses on the need for continued civil rights protections. Rights preservation has inspired the March theme of protesting the "governmental trend of chipping away at the rights people have been fighting for." We’ll hear speeches on climate justice, voting access, LGBTQ rights and more. Tom Grattan, English Teacher and Coordinator of the March, explains, “This is one piece of writing they edit five or six times. They are very proud of what they have to say, and very proud of having reached consensus on a theme that unites them all.”
Carol O'Donnell, the former MCS English teacher who began the tradition of upper school students planning the march, has connected the rally to our identity as a progressive school: "On a pedagogical level, the idea of a student-led march embodies four classic dimensions of progressive education: the importance of student-centered, inquiry-based learning; the teaching of meaningful, hands-on skills, respect for each student's own ways of learning, and the centrality of community.”
We look forward to continuing to work together to provide our students and the student-communities around us with an educational experience that strives to meet our vision - students as future leaders whose shared experiences in learning and activism inspire them to champion justice, compassion and peace, and the rights of all people to racial, economic, environmental and educational equity.
Last week at Manhattan Country School, the seventh- and eighth-graders led a community activism teach-in as part of their “Shatter the Silence, Stop Domestic Violence” campaign. Before the event, the activism committee brainstormed ways to talk to students and parents about how to fight domestic violence.
They focused their campaign on three demands: Keep guns out of the hands of abusers, teach healthy relationships and increase funding for domestic violence shelters. They prepared to address challenging questions such as:
- Why do we want to lobby?
- What does abuse look like?
- How common is domestic violence?
- How does domestic violence happen?
The assembly started with students introducing basic facts about domestic violence in America. “One in four women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence,” said an activism committee representative. They played a short video about abusive relationships titled “That’s Not Love”
Afterwards, an activism representative asked, “How can you build relationships that are respectful and healthy in the digital world?” Parents and students in the audience shared their responses, including:
- “You should try to be respectful about what you are sending to each other”
- “Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say to them. Sometimes when you text, you are emotional and might be forgetting there is a real person on the other side.”
- “It made me think about how powerless the other person must feel, the one who needs to control so much.”
Then the students shared a short part of the film “The Mask You Live In,” which focused on male roles in the media.
Following the film, an activism committee rep asked the audience, “What are these examples teaching?” Adults raised their hands to share responses, including:
- “That they [men] are supposed to be superhuman.”
- “The idea that if you want something, take it.”
- “They are teaching that the correct response to pain is violence.”
- “In the video, it seems like men respond with anger.”
The assembly ended with the students sharing examples of what they plan to do to address this issue. They are running a drive to support Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization that supports domestic violence survivors. They held an assembly with the entire Upper School, and are planning to present workshops about healthy relationships to younger people. They have a social media campaign and are starting a podcast centered on this campaign, and they are organizing and fundraising for their lobbying trip to Albany.
We are writing to update you on our activism work and to ask for your help and support in our campaign to end domestic violence.
WE CHOSE THIS TOPIC BECAUSE
People are being hurt and killed, one in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. There are even some families in our community that this may affect and we don’t want this to affect us or anyone else. Our government is not doing enough to end this problem. When we look more deeply at this issue, we realize that it connects to other uprising movements such as #metoo and the movement to end gun violence.
SO FAR WE HAVE LEARNED
So far we have learned about how women turned the tide on domestic violence, the relationship between mass shootings and domestic violence and the loopholes in our laws that allow abusers to have guns such as the boyfriend loophole. In our healthy relationships workshop we learned about teen dating and communication. We also learned about the impact of domestic violence on children. By creating our own problem trees we learned about the role of gender norms, sexism or male supremacy, and entitlement as root causes of domestic violence. In other words we learn to behave like this and we can learn to behave differently. We also learned why this is a men’s issue and the important role men and boys have in solving it.
BASED ON WHAT WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR, OUR DEMANDS ARE
- More funding and awareness for domestic violence shelters and services
- Keep guns out of the hands of abusers
- Teach young people about healthy relationships
WHAT ELSE HAVE WE BEEN UP TO?
We have been lucky to have some exciting guest speakers.
- Ana Raquel and her colleague from Sanctuary for Families came to present on Domestic Violence 101 and on healthy relationships. They had us watch a documentary that everyone loved called The Mask You Live In (available on Netflix).
- The boundary-breaking photographer Donna Ferrato, who took some of the first major photos about domestic violence and has been working on the issue for decades, visited us. Her book Living With the Enemy covers this topic and she launched the “I am Unbeatable” campaign that features and supports people who have left their abusers.
- Christina Swarns, former litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, spoke to us about how she argued in front of the Supreme Court about a domestic violence case in which the man, who was guilty, was given the death penalty because the prosecutor argued that he was more likely to re-offend because he was black.
SOME FACTS AND IDEAS THAT STAND OUT TO US ARE:
- Someone is five times more likely to be murdered by their abusive spouse if there is a gun in the house
- One in 10 teenagers in New York City schools reports experiencing physical or sexual violence in a dating relationship within the past year.
- One in three teens report experiencing some kind of abuse in their romantic relationships, including verbal and emotional abuse.
- Every three months there are as many people killed in domestic violence as died in 9/11
- It’s not about blaming men but understanding and changing toxic gender roles
- As of 2014, males were four times more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts, representing 79 percent of all U.S. suicides. Firearms are the most common suicide method amongst men, while females commonly use poisoning. (Outdated gender roles harm men as well as women.)
- Hurt people hurt people—people who have been abused are more likely to
- One-tenth of men admitted to raping a woman or girl in one UNDP study
- One-third of women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime
As young people take the lead in changing our gun laws to end school shootings, let’s also remember that most of the people who committed mass shootings have also committed domestic violence. Keeping guns out of the hands of abusers will keep everyone safer and preventing domestic abuse will help prevent other forms of violence. That’s why we are so excited to change our gun laws in New York State. However, most of these forms of violence are committed by men, and so much violence happens in relationships. We have to think about how boys are raised, what ideas we pass on about masculinity and help young people develop healthy relationships. That’s why we’re excited to teach our peers and make sure other schools do so too.
Thank you in advance for your help as we work to change our laws, our culture, and our society. Let’s Shatter the Silence and Stop Domestic Violence.
Manhattan Country School's seventh- and eighth-graders voted for climate change as their activism topic this year. Racism came in second, followed by mental illness and LGBTQ+ issues. The students are now thinking about what to focus their campaign on in a rapidly changing and unpredictable landscape.
They are excited about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, environmental justice and climate solutions. We are looking for ongoing struggles that we can join, organizations and groups we can work with and efforts that recognize the centrality of racial and economic justice in the fight to transition from fossil fuels to a more just and sustainable future.
I was impressed by some of the materials shared, especially a simple yet powerful video about how conflict can turn upside-down the life of young Syrian girl. As parents asked questions and students and teachers answered them, we learned that unlike many immigrants fleeing poverty around the world, the Syrian refugees are a more educated and financially comfortable group forced to flee because of the civil war. The U.S. has offered to accept only 10,000 Syrians this year, a figure roundly criticized as ridiculously small. Nassim, MCS’ history teacher and activism coordinator, happily reported that his native Canada has been far more generous, but one MCS parent said our neighbor to the north has the benefit of not having been the target of terrorist attacks. In perhaps the night’s most poignant moment, a parent who hails from Turkey recognized that he has not always been sympathetic to immigrants in the area. But on a recent trip home he saw a group of fleeing refugees reaching land on a raft and the sight moved him to tears.
The MCS students are now finalizing a plan to raise awareness about the Syrian crisis and the Islamophobia that it feeds. We will surely hear about it when it’s finalized. Among their ideas? Traveling to Washington, D.C. or Albany to lobby, shooting a video to share via social media and talking with community groups already doing work on these issues to see how they can help. Kudos to the students and teachers for an interesting and thought-provoking presentation!