Lance Scranton: Demonstration or riot?
Students reading through Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” are confused about his jail time for not having a parade permit. How times have changed, is my real and honest explanation. Teachers extol the virtues of researching issues, being informed and settling differences peacefully through discussion and debate and I am constantly reminding students that, “just because you listen, doesn’t automatically mean that you agree.”
It is very difficult to challenge students to aspire to the greater heights of discourse that include agreeing to disagree when the culture they observe all around them shouts, screams and scraps when they disagree. Many students are turned off by what they see going on all around them — and it’s difficult not to agree. I’m also fond of explaining that it is important to stand firm for the importance of respectful discussion and understanding an issue thoroughly before taking to the streets in mob violence to bring attention to a cause.
Again, a very difficult case to make when intellectual consideration has been hijacked by emotional reactionism. An inherent understanding in education is that with youth comes a potent measure of idealism and impatience mixed with an underdeveloped temperament, which produces what we generally describe as someone with potential who is just a bit immature.
We expose students to history and the written literary record not because people were perfect and had all the answers. It’s to show students that genuine answers are available if they have the self-discipline to look and that solutions to problems aren’t usually made because of looting, rioting and violence, which is extremist behavior. But, we do have a history of all three and that’s where things get complicated: How does considering information “Socratically” make sense in the world we live in today?
Once again, Dr. King from his letter, “So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists will we be?” Will we be extremists for hate (violence, looting, destruction) or extremists for love (listen, learn, consider)? Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that discontent could be channeled through, “the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action,” and requires a firm understanding of the issues. Rioting is generally a reaction. Demonstrating is usually wrapped around a disciplined interest in making your calm voice heard. Lord knows we could use more calm voices these days!
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