Thinking of Dr. King

The Parent Organization asked me to talk about diversity and the journey to open ICS. I decided to pull my thoughts together, and share them in case you cannot make it tomorrow.

This year Martin Luther King’s birthday falls in the same week as the inauguration of the new President. For many this is incongruous. And while I’m troubled that Representative John Lewis called Donald Trump’s election illegitimate, I’m equally bothered that the President-elect, in his response, again missed a chance to show that he’s aware of the awesome mantle of responsibility that he is about to assume.

At ICS we follow in Dr. King’s footsteps in two ways. First we provide a firm academic foundation to all students, whether they are the sons of former slaves, or the sons of former slave owners. In this way we ensure equality of opportunity. Secondly, we attend, relentlessly, to our students’ moral formation. So that our children will … not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  Positively, I might add. Put knowledge and character together and there is hope yet for our country.

Not surprisingly, this set of values resonates with a wide range of parents, making ICS attractive to everyone from recent immigrants to long-settled families. From corporate lawyers and business founders to housekeepers and families that need public assistance

King and Charters

Dr. King did not know about charter schools, but he certainly advocated for all Americans to be free to define and act in their own best interest. And for us to come together as a country to support that goal. ICS supporter Derrell Bradford wrote that he’d come to believe the civil rights movement:

was not about whether the government would make a water fountain for me where the water was as cold and crisp and clear as the one made for a white person next to me. It was about me being able to drink at that white person’s fountain without asking. Without shame or fear or worry. Without waiting. With no more reason than to quench my own thirst. And at a time of my own choosing including right now. Education should be the same

Derrell compared opposition to charter schools and annual testing with the complaints of Birmingham religious leaders who said they supported King’s goals but not his approach. In his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King complained, Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

At least with George Wallace, you knew where you stood.

King was frustrated by progressives who said, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” King denounced their paternalistic belief that they could “set the timetable for another man’s freedom…liv[ing] by a mythical concept of time … constantly advising that [we] wait for a ‘more convenient season’.”

At ICS, our families and kids are not waiting.

Our Approach

We believe teaching systematic phonics and enveloping the children in a rich mix of literary stories, history and science will build background knowledge and cultural literacy that will serve all our students well. Not just on tests, but in life. So we’ve never complained about state testing requirements.

We know we do not have the luxury of time. A point our parents acknowledge– grudgingly – as we stress the importance of arriving at 8:00 am every day.

As a school of choice, ICS attracts families from across Brooklyn, regardless of the house they can afford. Helping, in our small way, to realize King’s dream of children growing up in a country where they are not judged by the balance of their parents’ checking account but by the content of their character.

My friend Eric Twist writes that the “people skills to get good jobs” are inextricably linked to kind of rich education we offer at ICS. They go together like love and marriage, as the old song says.

Martin Luther King had the kind of ‘people skills’ that led young Americans like John Lewis to lay their lives on the line in Selma, Oxford and Birmingham; he was also whip smart. His writings, from his earliest days, reflected not only his family’s rich scholarly tradition but also that of the African American protestant church. To fully appreciate his many references and allusions, a reader needs background knowledge and cultural awareness.

We face many challenges; ICS cannot yet claim to have solved any big problems. But we can be proud of the intellectualism our staff brings to the task. And whether they articulate it the way I do or not, I know our parents appreciate the knowledge and character we are attempting to gift to their children.

So as you ponder Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, consider the importance of high standards, high expectations, and accountability. As playwright Garson Kanin’s wrote, I want everyone to be smart. As smart as they can be. A world of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.”

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