I said to my children, “I’m going to work and do everything that I can do to see that you get a good education. I don’t ever want you to forget that there are millions of God’s children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don’t want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be."I only found those words from Dr. King a month ago, but I feel like I've known them forever. If any of my middle-school teachers reminded me that they were assigned reading on this day in 1971 or 1972, I'd believe them. If either of my Georgia-born parents told me they had whispered them over my crib as a nightly ritual, I'd believe that, too.
If I had to explain how I chose my life's work, I'd use those words as my starting point.
Most of all, that last sentence captures why our schools, uniquely among our civic undertakings, are the places where we can and must lift our children--all our children--into the larger life they were created to enjoy:
You will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.
(The quote comes from The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson (New York: Warner Books, 1998), 352, and was used by Linda Darling-Hammond at the start of “Soaring Systems: High Flyers All Have Equitable Funding, Shared Curriculum, and Quality Teaching” in American Educator, Winter 2010-2011)