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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Can Educators Learn from Martyrs?: An Example of Four and the Lessons They Taught Us

My summer-reading list included the autobiographies of Mohandas Gandhi and Malcolm X, as well as a book about John F. and Robert Kennedy called Brothers, by David Talbot. Part of my motivation for reading these books came from a desire to understand the process of social change and how, perhaps, that process can help us change schools.

It is clear from reading these books that all these men had the remarkable ability, motivation, and energy to bring about change. Each had a clear vision of what they wanted to do, and each was skilled in getting others to follow.

Each used distinct methods to move toward his goal. Gandhi's methods were unorthodox and required passive resistance. The Kennedy brothers tried to work from within the system. Malcolm X clearly advocated action but did not have the same access to tools within the system as the others.

Not one of these men was completely successful in bringing about the changes he desired -- but each achieved some level of success. I would have to argue that Gandhi was the most successful in his efforts. He played a key role in India's struggle to break the bonds of colonialism. Malcolm X and the Kennedys were less successful in part because they had a shorter time frame in which to make an impact -- each man was destroyed by resistant forces before he could fully implement his changes.

What can we learn from the lives of these men and their methods for changing the thought process of society? Can we apply their methods to bring forth changes in our schools? I'm interested in your thoughts on this topic.

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Gloria Allegri's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I was a teenager when John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King were making history. Gandhi was before my time but I have read the works of these great men and used their lives as an example to my students. I think that they made a difference because society was ready for a change. They came along at the right time.

In education many people believe that there is no need for a change. As educators we see first hand what is needed to help our students. In a perfect world every child would have a computer. Teachers would all be NBPTS certified and every child's needs would be examined and individually planned for but our world is not perfect.

I use the example of each of these men when I teach my students. I tell them about the impact of each of these great men and I stress how important the students' contributions will be to society but until society becomes aware of the need for change it will be slow to happen.

Connie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Many educators do not see a need to change themselves, much less society. I have been out of the classroom for 20+ years and have recently begun teaching again. Many of my colleagues are astounded that I am beginning a Master's degree in Literacy and Reading at my age (53). I feel it is my obligation to my students to continue my education and find new and better ways of teaching. It is imperative that teachers change as their students and society change.

Our world certainly is not perfect, nor are we as teachers; however, doing nothing differently will produce no change at all.

Patti's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am responding to Connie. Connie! I am 60 years old and I am getting my 6th year online! I was out of the classroom for 21 years and came back at the same age you did. I will be doing this forever. So I agree with you that we should keep learning and changing with the world.
Good for you !

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that is excellent that you care enough about your students success to continue your education to in turn, better them.
I have only been teaching for 4 years, but I've noticed that some of my older collegues continue to teach the same way they did 30 years ago, and whether we like it or not, we are not dealing with the same breed of students that one may have had 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago for that matter!
There are certain moral values that I believe should never change, but as times change people change, and part of being an effective teacher is recognizing such.

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