By State Rep. Tan Parker
With the start of a new year comes the promise of hope. While we celebrate the turning of the calendar and the spirit of awakening the opportunities for positive change, one of the most significant days in January comes later in the month.
On the third Monday each year – Martin Luther King Jr. Day is recognized across America. I recently had the great honor of joining with Mr. Anthony Jones, the Associate Provost and Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management at Howard University in writing an op-ed to share about an exciting initiative we are leading that brings the non-violent teachings of Dr. King into our school systems across Texas and our entire Nation.
I hope you enjoy reading about why Dr. King’s teachings are just as significant and powerfully moving today as they were a half century ago, and understand why America needs to listen, learn, and live such wisdom.
There is no greater American authority on the destructive nature of violence than Martin Luther King Jr. There is also no better place to go for the cure to rising levels of hatred and violence than the teachings of Dr. King. A half century after he gave his life for the cause of equality and social justice, Dr. King’s commitment to non-violent social change has been validated by decades of social science research. So why has our nation’s educational establishment apparently not taught this critically important fact to many young people? A nation that gave young people their driver licenses without teaching them to drive would see chaos on our roads and highways. Perhaps we should not be surprised then to find that so many people are not aware of the democratic truths so powerfully modelled by Dr. King as they turn to violence and destruction as a mode of political self-expression.
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
One source of Dr. King’s greatness was his understanding of the transcendent reality of human dignity. Dr. King knew that the dignity of the human person demands that we respect the humanity of those with whom we disagree; therefore, he modelled loving one’s enemies and overcoming evil with good.
This is why we are committed to supporting a national initiative to teach Dr. King’s non-violent social justice philosophy to a new generation. The time has come to recognize that Dr. King’s timeless principles are an essential educational foundation and a proven pathway for productive citizenship and change in our democratic society.
Fortunately, a great MLK curriculum has been developed for both high school and primary school students. Both of these courses have already been piloted in Tennessee with great success. The impact has proven to inspire students, increase their empathy for others, and demonstrate self-empowerment as torchbearers for Dr. King’s vision of social justice.
Additionally, the MLK curriculum is also being introduced in school systems in over a half dozen states this school year. States such as Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas are advancing this initiative to renew the teaching of MLK’s inspiring principles with pilots under development. While no significant social problem can be solved overnight, we must make a concerted effort now to reinvigorate ideas that are the best cure for the rising tide of violence and division in our nation. America cannot shine a light for freedom and human rights around the world if we have failed to teach the principles that allow for social justice, democracy and peace at home.
Since the MLK curriculum seeks to inspire a digital generation, the courses equip and encourage students to advance nonviolent civil rights principles in the digital age and within online platforms. Both versions of the MLK curricula are also best taught online – a further advantage in the context of a pandemic.
It would be a travesty to see our nation go down the path of endless cycles of political and social violence that have characterized the histories of so many countries in our world. And this is why we’re very encouraged to see the cross-section of national and state leaders coming together behind this effort to shine an educational light in the darkness of our times. And, as we move forward nationally, we believe this educational reinvigoration of unifying teachings of one of America’s greatest leaders will continue to build partnerships across all boundary lines.
Dr. King’s teachings have wide and deep resonance in the human heart and spirit. They offer hope for a world weary of hatred and violence. Let us all work together for the day when America will produce a new generation of Dr. Kings who can be a blessing to our nation and a light of hope for the entire world.