The Entrance Band – M.L.K.
A shout out to my friend and colleague, Tyler, whose alma mater, Chapman University, hosted Rev. Martin Luther King in 1961. While the text of Dr. King’s address, found here, speaks specifically to the progress of race relations, both Tyler and I couldn’t help but notice that his characterization of the current status of race relations runs parallel to the current philosophical bifurcation that is plaguing the education reform debates today (particularly as it relates to the hot-button issues of evaluation, and “value-added”).
In short, Dr. King’s call for a realist, progressive, and (most importantly) actionable attitude and commitment speaks volumes. In this analogy, it seems Dr. King can also teach us something about the dangers of extremism and polarization. Simply put, for Dr. King, the biggest problem of opposite and extreme viewpoints is not that they are wrong, but that they lead toward inaction.
Below, I’ll quote a bit of a lengthy portion from the address, but it is well worth it. Dr. King’s words of wisdom continue to speak not only across generations, but in all walks of life.
There are three basic attitudes that can be taken toward the whole question in the area of race relations. The first attitude that can be taken is that of extreme optimism. The extreme optimist in the area of race relations could contend that we have made tremendous strides in the struggle for racial justice. He would point proudly to the progress that has been made in the area of civil rights over the last few decades. From this he would conclude that the problem is just about solved now and that we can sit down comfortably by the wayside and wait on the coming of the inevitable.
The second position that can be taken is that of extreme pessimism. The extreme pessimist in the area of race relations would contend that we have made only minor strides. He would argue that the deep rumblings of discontent from the South, the presence of federal troops in Little Rock, Arkansas, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the birth of White Citizens Councils are all indicative of the fact that we are going backwards instead of forwards and that we are creating many more problems than we are solving. And from this the extreme pessimist would conclude that there could be no real progress in the area of race relations.
Now it is interesting to notice that the extreme optimist and the extreme pessimist agree on at least one point. They both feel that we must sit down and do nothing in the area of race relations. The extreme optimist says do nothing because integration is inevitable. The extreme pessimist says do nothing because integration is impossible.
But there is a third position that can be taken, namely the realistic position. The realist in the area of race relations seeks to combine the truths of two opposites, while avoiding the extremes of both. So he would agree with the optimist that we have come a long, long way. But he would seek to balance this by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a long, long way to go.