Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - Thoughts on an Inclusive Society

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "segregation is the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality."

Today, as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and as we celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama, our society's history of struggle for civil rights and equality for all citizens is heavy in my mind and heart. 

Education is the civil rights issue of our generation.  As a society, we must find a way to ensure that all children are afforded an equal right to the benefits of our educational system.  It is not enough to merely open the doors of public education to every student; it is time that we work to ensure that every student is given the fullest extent of what education means - the chance to learn, grow and progress and one day to have the tools and skills to be an independent, productive, contributing and happy member of society.

While the right to equal educational opportunity and access has come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's and 1960's, we still have a long way to go to ensure that all children - ALL children - receive meaningful educational benefit to the fullest extent possible, and that NO children are excluded or denied that benefit on the basis of race, disability, poverty, ethnicity, background, etc.

It was John F. Kennedy who said, in a speech on June 6, 1963, "Our current education programs, much as they represent a burden upon the taxpayers of this country, do not meet the responsibility...The fact of the matter is that this is a problem which faces us all, no matter where we live, no matter what our political views must be."

Whether you believe it or not, discrimination - even segregation - in public schools still exists today.  It exists in schools throughout the country that are segregated by ethnicity, poverty, and even by language.  It exists when students with disabilities are segregated from their peers and refused access to their neighborhood schools.  We have a long way yet to go. As I have said before, I continue to believe that only when we eliminate discrimination in schools and ensure truly equal access to a meaningful education will society as a whole move towards greater inclusion of all persons.

So today, as you honor MLK Day, I ask that you take the time to think about the issues of segregation and discrimination that still plague us with their immorality and injustice, and to think about what you can do to make a difference and work towards a more inclusive society.

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