This past weekend I was in Memphis with the America Achieves Fellowship and was unprepared for the power of visiting the Lorraine Hotel – the site of Dr. King’s assassination. When I walked on the grounds and saw the hotel, all of the images I have seen in history books and in documentaries sprang up. I was overwhelmed with the senselessness of killing and the seeming power of hate.
I had to awkwardly shuffle over to the side of the group and collect myself before moving on. Upon entering the museum, I had a really hard time looking at the in-depth displays about the killer and various conspiracy theories. I passed quickly through that area down to a room honoring others the museum has recognized for achievement in civil rights. One of the honorees is holocaust survivor and the author of Night Eli Wiesel and at the museum there was an exhibit showing a clip from one of his more famous speeches. “The opposite of love is not hate,” said Wiesel, “it is indifference.” This quote made me think about the educational struggle playing out in Memphis today.
At the conference we spent a large chunk of our time learning about and reflecting on the forthcoming merger of two school districts in the Memphis area. Essentially the economically and prevalently black Memphis City Schools is now set to merge with the more well-off, predominately white suburban school district Shelby County Schools. As you might imagine, this modern-day desegregation effort is complex and fraught with tension. Even where people seem to truly be trying to do what is “best for kids” they are also eleminating jobs, schools and benefits in some of the most economically fragile areas of the city.
I was struck by how easy it is to have good intentions and yet wreck havoc on a historically marginalized community. But, if we are believe Wiesel, is it actually better to try to act in the face of injustice and fail miserably than to stand by and do nothing? Unfortunately, the ramifications of failure at the district or state level – even when well intentioned – can be staggering, and are often most hurtful to those who were completely de-vested of power. At the same time, those who made the harmful decisions are unaffected; their children go to great schools and they receive awards for their leadership.
So what to do? Much of the danger of inadvertent harm is removed when we act along side of others as opposed to over them or outside of them. One of the most engaged and caring actions people can do is to teach. Transferring knowledge from one person to another is such an empathetic, personal action that, using a reverse of Wiesels definition, teaching is truly an act of love. Add active love into the protective empathy of living with in a community and really knowing your students, their families, and their interests and you are less likely to inflict unintended harm. How much more likely are you to truly “do the right thing” if the student you are making decisions for is your own child? or your niece? or your best friend’s daughter?
Memphis was a good reminder that life is short, we must love (not simply live) to the best of our ability each day. Each Sunday, my minister always ends each sermon with a benediction that includes the reminder that “the world is too dangerous for anything but love.”
OK now that the touchy-feely post of the week is done, watch for more practical posts and ideas in the remainder of the week. And a classroom tour! Seriously! It is coming . . .