Lessons from the King

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Submitted by:  Willie (Bill) Kent Jr., President & CEO of The Biome School

In 1970, arguably one of Flip Wilson’s most popular characters, Geraldine Jones, popularized the catchphrase, “The devil made me do it!” This catchphrase was often the character’s excuse for transgressions. Reflecting on some behaviors witnessed in today’s arenas of public debate, we have allowed our passions to lead us down a narrow and isolated path of insults, dishonesty, anger, and propaganda. This debased behavior seems evident in all areas of public discourse, including that of public education.

History often provides a void, a space calling for moral leadership, courage, and love. During the mid-1950s history created such a void and educated, passionate, and principled leaders like Dr. King and others stepped into the breach. Dr. King was not the only leader of his time to challenge America to, “Be true to what you said on paper,” however, the articulation of his message, mastery of history, and education allowed him to stand prominently and answer the call to service.

Today, history has created another void and is calling for those who have the moral leadership, courage, and love to pursue an equitable and fair educational system in America. The needs of our children require that we “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” and move towards a society in which all children, especially those from underserved communities, have the opportunity to build “Intelligence plus character.” According to Dr. King, “that is the goal of true education.”

In America, and more specifically, in Missouri, we cannot realize this vision for our children through lawsuits over public funding and dishonest feuds between Charter Public Schools and Traditional Public Schools. As a community, we should join forces on the steps and in the halls of the Missouri Capitol building to demand that our children and equity in education become priorities not only in words but also in policy and funding.

We all support child well-being; we all want children to succeed – no matter their zip code. Let us step into this moment of history and educate generations of children who “think logically and scientifically.” Our commitment to teaching children to protest should not outpace our calling to develop an educated and literate community. History is calling for leaders who will reignite the vestiges of “the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit” with “objective and unbiased truths.” Properly educated, our children can answer this call.

Geraldine’s excuse that “The devil made me do it” is no longer sufficient to explain away our bad behavior in the public square. Dr. King taught us that “If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, ‘brethren!’ Be careful, teachers!”

Dr. King elevated his conscious and thinking to create an inclusive and loving vision for America. Let us remember that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Fifty years after his assassination, we must remember the lessons that he taught us; we must not forget how he elevated his thinking and conscious. For the sake of our children, isn’t it time that we catch up?