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

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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 am 54 years old. I have been teaching for 31 years and last year I went out for the National Boards. I took college courses to prepare me for one incredible year of professional growth and my colleagues were proud but amazed. Most are looking forward to retirement and I am looking forward to a masters in reading (I have a masters in special ed.) and a doctorate in the future. I believe there are teachers and their are people who teach. I am a professional and so are you. We have to let our colleagues work towards retirement.

Daniel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was interested in the title of this discussion so I decided to check it out. While all these people were well before my time, I believe it is important to teach the students of America that they are the future of the world and that they can in fact make a difference. I too have used examples of strong leaders both political as well as business leaders who have made a world of difference in the world around them.

My list consist of U-2, Bill Gates, Princess Diana, Mother Theresa, and even the works of former presidents Clinton and Bush following the horrific Tsunami that hit Asia. In addition to that I have used shows such as Extreme Makeover.

While I use these examples in my school, I tell my student that they too can make a difference in the world in around them, as long as they become involved.

Holly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love your reading list. I do a Hero project with my tenth graders every year that is similar. It is a research paper based on an international hero. The list changes but at least twenty of the same people are always on it. The students really figure out what are the character traits that heros have in common and come up with a defination for a hero. This is a research paper and oral presentation so they research their assigned hero and share this information with the class.
I have found that my students learn a lot form this project and I always do.

holly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Connie, I am inspired by you. I recently encouraged one of my friends who was certain that she was too old to go back to school for her Master's to do so. Guess what? she just started her Master's in Literacy and Reading like you. I don't think it is over until we are all pushing up the dasies. I don't think we ever stop learning.

Michelle Cahoon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been inspired by the works of the people mentioned in your article as well as the Dali Lama and the Tibetan culture as a whole. I was hooked as soon as I found out that Tibet was once a fierce warring culture and then, almost overnight, became peaceful.
What I would like to add to this conversation is a practical, down to earth perspective. There are people who do great things on a grand scale and do them in the public eye and then there are people who quietly do great things on a small scale. I believe teachers do great things on a small scale. Maybe no one will notice except for the people directly affected by the great thing that was done for them. I am fine with that. That really works for me! I do not want to be in the public eye. But maybe I am doing great things in the life of a person who will grow up to do great things on a grand scale!

Melanie G.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Although the individuals mentioned in your reading list lived and died before I was born, I know a little about the impact they had in the world. What we can learn from these individuals is that no matter what or where you come from, you can make a difference. As we compare the times of those individuals to current times, its very hard to say whether their methods would be appropriate now. Since change is constant, we must constantly find new ways to make changes in our schools, that will benefit the students, staff, and administration. Social changes affects us all in some shape or form. Although Malcolm, Mohandas, John and Robert had their separate views on the world, their views on social change and equality were the same.

Chrissy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think it's important for our students to learn about people from the past and present that truly make a difference. I love how you include modern people to the list. Students can relate better to people of their own time. Getting involved and speaking your mind are two of the most important lessons we can teach our classes. The average person can make a big difference.

kim cheek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, like several others who have posted, am also working on a Masters in reading and literacy at an older age (55). It is refreshing to read that there are others like me, and it is so very interesting to get on sites such as this and read about all of the people who are looking for different ways to teach. When you can reach every student and they are all reaching every state standard and beyond, is the only time when we can stop learning and striving for excellence. Educational trends change so quickly that one must always be in a state of learning. You can never stop for there are always new techniques and programs to learn and differing ways to engage students in learning.

Brenda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Connie,
I returned to school in 2000 and received a BA in Deaf Edcation. I started teaching in 2004. Now, I am working on my Master's in Reading and Literacy. I am 54 years old. I am SO grateful that I am a part of this incredible community of teachers. I love to say "I am a teacher". What took me so long? I can't really say but I am just SO glad that I am here now. I only want to do the best for my students. Not just "one", but as many as I can. I am BLESSED!

JB's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i realy enjoyed this article. the title just caught my eye. i could relate personally because i was one of those learners who needed to be hands on.
having teachers who allowed me to be myself, and who respected what i had to say, really enspired me, and probably assisted my decision into becoming a teacher.

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