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I Have a Dream for Schools

A teacher shares his "I have a Dream" speech for schools.

By David Levine

David A. Levine’s work on teaching empathy as a social culture building strategy has been featured in the New York Times, National Public Radio, and ABC News. After teaching elementary and middle school, David became the chief trainer for the U.S. Department of Education’s Northeast Regional Center for Safe and Drug-Free Schools. It was during that time that he created a framework for social culture building he calls "A School of Belonging." This systems change process, is highlighted in his books, "Teaching Empathy" and "The School of Belonging Plan Book." He is currently on the Design and Development team for Turnaround for Children in NYC, is the founding director of The Teaching Empathy Learning Institute, and serves as an adviser to Ashoka’s Start Empathy Initiative.

February 20, 2013

At one point during President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, the image of civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis briefly appeared on the screen. This being Black History month made his image all the more meaningful, and I found myself thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King. I work with children in schools all over the country, and the mere mention of Dr. King in a classroom is always associated with his "I Have a Dream" speech.

I used to teach sixth grade, and in those years, during the month of February, I would give an assignment to my students to write a speech articulating their dreams for our class and school. These dreams ranged from wanting healthier food in the cafeteria and more recess time for play, to fairness and equal treatment for all of their peers. It was often a sweet moment when a young person in the process of moving toward adulthood gave voice to a vision, a hope…a dream.

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It’s been a long time since I gave that assignment, so I’m going to share my dream for schools right now:

I have a dream that one day all children will feel safe and secure in their classrooms.

That no one will experience the ridicule of teasing, harassment or bullying and instead experience the joy, support and love of a classroom and school community.

I have a dream that all adults will be able to focus on the child and not the test score.

That all parents will be invited to be a part of their child’s school experience.

That schools won’t have to fight to retain their mental health professionals. And that teachers will be honored for the role they play in our society.

I have a dream that empathy and compassion will be seen as critical learning standards for future success and happiness.

That social and emotional learning initiatives will not be seen as add-ons but as essential to the development of the whole child.

And that children will be seen as children, provided with the time, space, nurturance and love they richly deserve.

Yes I have a dream today that the legacy we leave our children is that we empower them to leave their own legacies, with their own gifts, talents and voices, and that in the end, we mentor them on how to make the world a better place than the one they entered on the day they were born.

Image attribution: bee wolf ray, Flickr Creative Commons

Thumbnail attribution: GoneApey, Flickr Creative Commons