From the Directors MCS Activism
Friday, January 11, 2019
By Michèle Solá
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.