George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Can Educators Learn from Martyrs?: An Example of Four and the Lessons They Taught Us

August 23, 2007

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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