If you've spent a significant amount of time talking to me, you've probably heard me so that I think middle schoolers are the most underestimated people in our world. If you'v spent a significant amount of time with middle schoolers, you know that's true, but you also know that it can take a considerable amount of effort to dig them out of living in the world's expectations. It can be exhausting and disheartening, and then there's one of those moments that reminds you of why you believe in them so much.
Last week we watched Martin Luther King Junior's "I Have a Dream" speech in preparation of our reading of The Cay, which is dedicated to "Dr King's dream, which can only come true if the very young know and understand." Every year as I watch this speech, I'm inspired by Dr. King and his message for our nation. This year I find it has even more meaning to me as I hear the voices of the racially oppressed in our media every day. It's not an easy speech for my seventh graders to understand, but it's such an important one.
The next day, I asked them to write their own "I Have a Dream" speech, speaking up for an injustice that they see around them. After they wrote, they went on the soccer field outside of my classroom to practice. It didn't go as well as I hoped. There were funny voices. There were papers stuck to faces. There were students doing anything but what I hoped for. And to be honest, maybe this wasn't the best activity for 2:30 in the afternoon right before a long weekend, but I was so frustrated.
I pulled them back inside, and told them, "You guys, Dr. King was assassinated for his beliefs. Assassinated. Because he was standing up for an injustice he believes in. I hope that you see injustices too and stand up for them. I hope you have causes that you believe in enough to be willing to be assassinated for them. I'm having you write and give these speeches because I believe in you and the things that you have to say, and I hope you live into that."
And did they ever.
Yesterday we set up the podium in the auditorium, put on the stage lights, and turned on the microphone. And one by one, my seventh graders came up and shared their dreams:
I have a dream that one day there will be an end to terrorism. I hope that people can go places and not be scared about what might happen to them.
I have a dream that will change the school system for the better.
I have a dream that future generations will learn to coexist and that we can live with peace and prosperity... if we work together we can mend the wounds we have inflicted on society.
I have a dream that one day gender inequality will vanish.
I have a dream that humans will be appreciative towards animals and animals towards humans. To let man’s best friend really be man’s best friend.
I have a dream that there will be no more cancer.
I have a dream where homeless people would have a second chance
I have a dream that kids around the world will have a say in what goes on around them. I see a world where adults won’t drag kids along to places and will spend time doing something with their kids.
It was beautiful. They confidently spoke their dreams and their classmates listened. I listened. Now you're listening.
I have big dreams for my students and their dreams. I can't wait to see them work to make their dreams realities.
(Want to know more, check out this post from 2014: "Students, I Have Dreams for You.")