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Dr. King Spanks Obama: Part 5

By       Message David Kendall     Permalink
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In his recent interview with Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell asked a key question: "Every year, you watch as Martin Luther King is commemorated in the media and otherwise, is there something that we habitually miss in the way we frame this every year when we come back to examining his legacy and what he means to us today?"
Melissa's response was as simple as it was profound: "Yeah. The short answer is we miss everything after 1965. In other words, the King that turned to issues of economic justice, of housing, of a push against the war; we have to remember that King. It was not just segregation. It was a full notion of justice." [1]
Her 'short answer' effectively summarizes the overall intent of this article series; the 'Dr. King' that most of us will never know. A 'longer answer' involves continued analysis of the man and his values. It has been said that when a man is murdered, it's not just the man himself who dies, but also everything that he could have been. In the special case of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our mourning should be for the loss of so many things that we, as a nation, might have become had he not been assissinated by his own government. [2] A famous community in the Basque region of Spain sets the stage. But, as we'll see, even the most noble aspirations can be 'compromised' by a conflicting set of 'values'.

"What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say to Barack Obama?" was the question asked of people who attended the 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday Celebration in San Francisco shortly after Barack Obama was elected President. [3] This is the underlying research question of this article series, with answers derived primarily from Dr. King's last book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" In chapter 4 of that book, Dr. King says: 

"There is a need for a radical restructuring of the architecture of American society. For its very survival's sake, America must re-examine old presuppositions and release itself from many things that for centuries have been held sacred. For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property- and profit-centered. Our government must depend more on its moral power than on its military power." [4]
In contrast, it is perhaps redundant to suggest Barack Obama's Presidency has been a great disappointment from this and many other perspectives. Rarely have we seen such clear opposition between the interests of extreme wealth and the interests of every other life on the planet. According to historian, Alan Brinkley, "the level of partisan division is enormous. It's been a very long time since we've seen that; probably not since prior to the Civil War." [5] Nearly all of Mr. Obama's most essential campaign promises have been severely 'compromised', if not abandoned altogether. He and his constituents strain to declare 'victory' for the Democratic Party, as most of the American population is left out in the cold, millions of them in a very literal sense.
For example, 'universal healthcare' became a universal obligation to private insurance corporations. 'Out of Iraq' became into Afghanistan and potentially Iran, while thousands of American soldiers return to the United States damaged, homeless and suicidal. 'Campaign finance reform' became unlimited campaign spending for wealthy anonymous investors. 'Wall Street reform' became tinkering around the edges of a financial system that needs fundamental restructure. Instead of creating new jobs to renew dilapidated American infrastructures, ten-percent unemployment in the United States has become 'the new five'. Promised repeal of tax-cuts for the rich became a ransom, borrowed from China, to extend unemployment compensation to millions of Americans held hostage by congressional conservatives, who now want to balance the budget with drastic cuts in programs that help the poor.
To facilitate study of more viable alternatives, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. included some challenging proposals in an appendix to his last book, 'Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?' "A multitude of civil rights programs have been elicited from specialists and scholars", he said. "To enhance their value and increase support for them, it is necessary that they be discussed and debated among the ordinary people affected by them." Dr. King's views seem perhaps more applicable now, than ever before, as the first black President of the United States leaves Americans of every color to fend for themselves in a deep national crisis of education, employment, rights and housing. In stark contrast, here are some examples of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to say about the most pressing issues of our time:


Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Appendix: Programs And Prospects


American society has emphasized education more than European society. The purpose is to use education to make a break between the occupation of the parents and those of their children. The schools have been the historic routes of social mobility. But when Negroes and others of the underclass now ask that schools play the same function for them, many within and outside the school system answer that the schools cannot do the job. They would impose on the family the whole task of preparing and leading youngsters into educational advance. And this reluctance to engage with the great issue of our day -- the full emancipation and equality of Negroes and poor -- comes at a time when education is more than ever the passport to decent economic positions.

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Whatever pathology may exist in Negro families is far exceeded by this social pathology in the school system that refuses to accept a responsibility that no one else can bear and then scapegoats Negro families for failing to do the job. The scattered evidence suggesting that family life is important in educational progress provides only partial support for the rationalizations of educators; for family life explains only a small portion of learning difficulties. The job of the school is to teach so well that family background is no longer an issue.

The sad truth is that American schools, by and large, do not know how to teach -- nor frequently what to teach. The ineffectiveness in teaching reading skills to many young people, whether white or black, poor or rich, strongly indicts foundations and government for not spending funds effectively to find out what different kinds of reading experiences are needed by youth with various learning styles at various points in their life. While we aim for the moon, we putter around in academic gardens without even a relief map.

We have been timid in trying to improve schools. Operation Headstart has shown that a little work before school cannot insulate children from the impact of poor teaching and poor schools. Programs that throw a little money into a school for counseling or remedial reading instruction cannot prepare youth for the educational needs of today.

The task is considerable; it is not merely to bring Negroes up to higher educational levels, but to close the gap between their educational levels and those of whites. If this does not happen, as Negroes advance educationally, whites will be moving ahead even more rapidly.

Despite the despair and regret over past educational failures, we have not seriously begun to approach the needs of Negro and poor youngsters. The data of a Carnegie-sponsored study show that the differences in educational expenditures between center cities and suburbs have widened since the late fifties. Instead of spending relatively more on the disadvantaged of the big cities, we are spending less -- another tragic example of the inversion of priorities which plagues American society.

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Much more money has to be spent on education of the children of the poor; the rate of increase in expenditures for the poor has to be much greater than for the well-off if the children of the poor are to catch up.

The road to effective education requires helping teachers to teach more effectively. The use of nonprofessional aides would reduce class size and provide needed assistance to teachers. More direct training and aid in teaching youngsters from low-income families is needed. Parents should be involved in the schools to a much greater extent, breaking down the barriers between professionals and the community that they serve. Education is too important today to be left to professional fads and needs. This is not to assert that professional competence is unnecessary, but that there must be a greater evidence of competence and a new and creative link between parents and schools.

Schools have to be infused with a mission if they are to be successful. The mission is clear: the rapid improvement of the school performance of Negroes and other poor children. If this does not happen, America will suffer for decades to come. Where a missionary zeal has been demonstrated by school administrators and teachers, and where this dedication has been backed by competence, funds and a desire to involve parents, much has been accomplished. But by and large American educators, despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary, have not dedicated themselves to the rapid improvement of the education of the poor.

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David Kendall lives in WA and is concerned about the future of our world.

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