I have just finished watching DVD #4 in the fantastic PBS series “Slavery and the Making of America” titled “Challenge of Freedom.” If we think we have things bad today in politics, we should all do a history lesson and study the period of Reconstruction following the US Civil War. As one of the commentators noted, the era of US Reconstruction showed our nation at both its racial worst as well as best. It is amazing to realize that just eight years after 90% of American blacks were enslaved in 1860, black majorities held office in some US states, including South Carolina where the Civil War began. That era of political empowerment for black Americans was short lived, however, with the birth of the Klu Klux Klan and eventually “Rifle Brigades” which in many cases were reconstituted Confederate regiments responding with overwhelming acts of violence and political terrorism that seem almost unthinkable today. If there was a ray of hope for African-American freedom and social justice following the US Civil War, there was a long reign of darkness afterwards when the blood spilt on the battlegrounds of America during the Civil War to both restore the Union and (after the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863) free the black slaves of the American South and eventually the entire nation was betrayed by a generation of elected white, political leaders.

Unfortunately, political corruption has always been a part of life and likely will remain in all countries, although we can hope that a free press as well as responsible and activist citizens can reduce and minimize its prevalence. It is no accident that Abraham Lincoln is revered as one of the greatest Presidents in the history of our nation. What tremendous fortitude, faith, and vision it took for him to lead us through one of our darkest chapters: The US Civil War. I am so sickened to again learn (perhaps with greater understanding than when I was in school formally) how his successor following his assassination, Andrew Johnson, along with subsequent Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes, turned the south back over to whites and betrayed Lincoln’s promise that the destiny of the nation would be intertwined with the destiny of black Americans. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s and the US civil rights movement that the promises written into the US Constitution in the 14th and 15th Amendments would become political realities for many African-Americans. The political concessions, lack of integrity and lack of values of those three leaders in particular absolutely disgusts me. I rejoice not only that I did not have to live through that terribly dark age of US history (including the US Civil War), but also that we have come so far in many ways– certainly in our ACCESS TO THE TOOLS OF LITERATE COMMUNICATION, since those times.

This hour long documentary (DVD 4 of 4 in the series) briefly discusses the US Civil War, but focuses predominantly on the Reconstruction era in the US following the war and especially the remarkable story and life work of Robert Smalls. I think it is worth remembering that most often, it is THE STORIES of history and our lives that we remember best. Robert Smalls was an amazingly courageous and strong leader, who was born a slave, escaped to freedom, became a civil war hero surviving 17 battles, and eventually held elective office in his home state of South Carolina and in the US Congress for South Carolina voters.

Where are our strong, visionary and courageous national leaders like Robert Smalls and Abraham Lincoln today? Where are our leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.? What has happened to the dream of Martin and so many others who joined him in peacefully striving to end centuries of racial discrimination and segregation?

I heard a podcast recently that discussed how the political culture in the United States has shifted dramatically in the past thirty years, from an emphasis on the responsibilities of groups and communities (emphasized by leaders like Dr. King) to an emphasis on individual responsibility and political focus. This change was, in the podcast, associated with the Republican leadership of Ronald Reagan that began in the 1980s. I have purchased (on iTunes) a great collection of speeches and sermons given by Dr. King, and I have listened to about half of them to date. I am so stirred by his words and his vision! But I am struck that the changes we need in our nation today, when it comes to issues of discrimination, poverty, unequal education, and justice are less political in nature as they are societal and cultural. I was born after the 1960s (just after actually) but I perceive that many of the strongest leaders of the era felt that political changes would transform society. Of course political changes are important and even vital, but by themselves they do not change perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. They also may do little to change harsh facts of economics.

I was challenged recently by someone close to me about the fact that I sometimes blog about political issues. I have been told more than once to avoid “talking” (and blogging) about the two most often contentious issues for Americans at least: religion and politics. I did feel hesitant to continue posting things explicity focusing on Christianity and faith in this blog space– which focuses on 21st century literacy and educational technology– and that is why I started the Eyes Right blog. I wanted to write about my personal journey of faith, and encourage others to do the same, but I thought it was most appropriate to do so in a different forum. I do not want or plan to start a separate political blog, however. My blog is as much a tool of my own learning and thinking processes as it is a way to collaborate and share with others. I love to write, as you might have guessed if you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, but I think I love to write most because I love to think, to learn, and to grow in my own understandings of complex things. The causes of freedom and social justice are a case in point.

Do not misunderstand me to be a person interested in and excited about educational technologies purely because of the “wow” or “geek” factor of technology. Sure, I love laptops and iPods, and I can talk “geek speak” well enough to sometimes even scare myself– but these are not the things I’m most interested in when it comes to education and technology. I am interested most in literacy and human empowerment. It blows me away to think about the limited access to the tools of literacy which African-Americans had at the end of the Civil War when they were all freed from the legal and formal bonds of slavery. Look at the access to not only information, but PUBLISHING POTENTIAL that virtually every person in the United States has today! It is truly earth-shattering. I posted several months ago about homeless bloggers. Yes, even people without a home can share their voices and their story with a global audience today.

The cause of promoting literacy and specifically blogging for me is a wholly noble and even missional affair. Education IS the door of opportunity to not only a better economic future, but also an empowered future for generations of people living in the United States and across our planet. Let’s not miss this fact, despite the ridiculously trivial things that NCLB and other current mandates encourage us to have as teachers, administrators, parents and citizens. What we are about and should be about in the educational enterprise is nothing short of the transformation of the human condition. I am both humbled and awed by my own ability to sit here in my rented Oklahoma house on a Wednesday evening, and write these words which are likely to be read by people all over the planet in the days and weeks to come. Sure, there is an element of prideful satisfaction in this which I admit to, but I guarantee I am not just blogging and sharing my thoughts to boost my own self-esteem and feel good about myself. No, I am blogging to change the world. If that strikes you as hopelessly idealistic, that doesn’t bother me. You can stop reading at any time. Blog reading of my posts is, at least I think, an entirely voluntary affair.

No, I am blogging less for personal reasons and much more for educative ones. I love to study history and share my passion for its study with others. The study of history is VITAL. We hear a lot about how important math and science are. Yes, I know math and science are important, and I love both those topics too– admittedly science a bit more. But we are writing history this very day. Our soldiers and leaders are helping the Iraqi people to write their histories as they may never have been able to before. Whatever your feelings and politics are regarding the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, let us not lose sight of the fact that true self-determination– the right of people to collectively determine their own political futures, is a holy and UNIVERSAL right that is truly worth fighting and dying for.

Do you know that over forty women chose to run for elective offices in Kuwait recently? These elections are landmarks for multiple causes, including self-determination as well as equal treatment under the law for women. A struggle for freedom and yes, social justice, continues across the globe, and we need to help our students WAKE UP to the incredible power of the pen (or in this case, the keyboard) which lies literally at their fingertips.

In teaching people of any age how to communicate literately in our society today, the educator bestows a gift of immeasurable value whose future impact can be neither predicted with certainty nor constrained by limitations of time or geography. Open the door of literacy for yourself and your students every day. Teach digital. Read blogs, blog yourself, and teach your students to blog with both heart and passion. We write not only for ourselves, but for our posterity, for we write to change the world.

You think the political change seen in the United States between 1860 and 1868 was dramatic? It was, in fact it was beyond all comprehending for many adults in that era. The struggles over the disruptive changes which swept over the United States during the years which followed were staggering. And we still face struggles today. But the one thing that has changed FUNDAMENTALLY in the environment in which we live is our access to both read and publish information. Do not take the small word “blog” lightly. It may be a four letter word, but it is a tool of immeasurable power. Are you helping your students understand how to use this power effectively and ethically, or are you like many teachers who continue to teach like it was 1899?

The world continues to change, but the tools we have to influence the course of that change have been unrecognizably transformed in an extremely short amount of time. Yes, it is a struggle to keep pace in this dynamic environment. But that is why we have each other, and this magical place called “the edublogosphere” to learn, share, reflect and grow. I have no idea where all these discussions will lead us. But I am optimistic that if we use these tools to empower voices and champion the sorts of leaders our organizations and our nations desperately need, it will be to a better place.

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2 Responses to The causes of freedom and social justice

  1. Doug Noon says:

    Wesley, the intersection of social justice, and the fulfillment of human potential with literacy is a powerful message. It is a message that resonates with me, and I hope you continue to express your commitment to those ideals.

  2. AG says:

    You may also wish to review the Eyes on The Prize series, as it may provide a different perspective of the African-American experience and social justice context. If you’re interested I can also recommend, some great hard-copy texts 😉

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