A Reflection from the Rosa Parks Museum

Continuing our family mission to engage in the history that surrounds us here in Montgomery, Sarah and I took Anna Elizabeth to the Rosa Parks Museum during Martin Luther King, Jr.  Weekend for her first visit there.  We know that she is really too young to comprehend much about the museum.  She was far more interested in the “time machine” robot in the Children’s Wing than she was in listening to anything that was presented in the exhibit.  However, we want make sure that she engages in the history of our country at a young age — even the parts that make us uncomfortable.  In my history classroom, I used to have a poster that stated “You cannot know where you are going until you know where you have been.”  That quotation appeared below a photograph that depicted the Jim Crow segregation signs that appeared on restroom doors throughout parts of the country during the 1950s and early 1960s.  I would always encourage my students to realize that one of the powerful reasons to study history is to understand how the events of the past impact where we are today and to process how we can respond to those events so that we might avoid repeating past injustices.

Unlike the visits to the Dexter Parsonage and the Freedom Rides Museum that I mentioned last week, I had been to the Rosa Parks Museum before.  So I thought I knew what to expect.  But I encountered several aspects of the museum that I didn’t know about.  We had a bit of a wait before entering the Children’s Wing so we went upstairs to the research room.  I discovered a beautiful presentation of the timeline of the bus boycott and all of the events and individuals connected to that time in Montgomery’s history.  If you have a chance to go to the Rosa Parks museum, be sure to check out the research center.

Furthermore, I learned that the museum also hosts traveling art exhibits that are connected to the mission of the museum.  Right now, that space is occupied by a powerful exhibit titled “Cash Crop” by artist Stephen Hayes.  The art installation occupies the full exhibit room and it is designed to force the viewer to confront the horrors of the international slave trade.  It includes 15 life-size sculptures of slaves in chains. On their backs are depictions of a crowded slave ship that carried slaves from Africa to the Americas.  To simply say that it was impactful doesn’t really do the exhibit justice.  You have to enter the room and see it for yourself.  We often confront images of slavery in history books, but to encounter these life-size models reminds you that enslaved peoples were fully human even though they were subjected to an institution that denied their basic identity as a human.  Moving through the room was uncomfortable (and I’ll admit..especially uncomfortable with a three year old tagging along), but I think that the exhibit was a powerful reminder how we must lean into the discomfort rather than shy away from it if we are truly going to be able to move forward.

“Cash Crop” is on display at the Rosa Parks Museum until March 8, 2017.  

Remember to Not Forget

Each day at the Montgomery Academy, I write a morning message to the faculty as a part of my responsibilities as Associate Head of School.  I recognized that several portions of my morning messages would also be worth sharing as blog entries.  Here is a recent post from January 12, 2017:

As you know…on Monday..we will have a holiday for Martin Luther King Day.  Here are some resources from Edutopia that may be helpful in thinking about how you could address MLK Day in your classes:

Resources for MLK Day

During the winter break, my wife and I decided to spend one day focused on Montgomery history — going to places or museums that we hadn’t visited in the city.

One of the places we visited was the Dexter Baptist Church Parsonage, where Dr. and Mrs. King lived when they were here in Montgomery.  The front porch still bears the scars of when the house was bombed during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  I’m fairly embarrassed to admit that, while I had visited the church before, this was my first visit to the parsonage.  It’s a really powerful place to visit.  Many pieces of the furniture are the same pieces that were in the house when the King family lived there. They know that because, unlike some of the pastors who lived in the house, the King family did not bring their own furniture as they had just married two months before arriving in Montgomery.  Therefore, the church-owned furniture was placed in storage after their departure. The most powerful moment was when we were in the kitchen, and the tour guide plays a portion of a sermon in which Dr. King describes getting up in the middle of the night and sitting in his kitchen as he struggled with how to respond to the challenges of the day.  To be in that same room as he described his struggles and his commitment to civil rights change was incredibly powerful.

Later in the day, we visited the Freedom Rides Museum — also a new experience for both of us. That museum focuses on the history of the Freedom Riders that challenged ongoing segregation in 1961.  That museum, while quite small, packs a tremendous amount of history (and artistic reflection on that history) into a tiny space.

It was really an important day for Sarah and for me as we connected with the history of our home.  I taught AP US History for 11 years here at MA and I wrote my master’s thesis on the nature of resistance to civil rights change, but I hadn’t visited these important sites right here in my home town.

I share my experience this morning because I think that it highlights how we often take for granted the significant historical events that took place right here in Montgomery, Alabama.  People travel from all over the country and the world to visit the sites here in Montgomery.  But I worry that those of us who live in Montgomery don’t often think of that history, and I worry that if we don’t think about it, our students won’t ever appreciate it either.  I used to teach a poem called “Of History and Hope” by Miller Williams in my history class, and one of my favorite lines is “If we can truly remember, they will not forget.”  I hope that we can help our students learn about this global significance of where we live!


Shall we dance? A blog introduction.

When I was in Middle School, I was an awkward “wall hugger” at school dances.  I could always be found standing on the side, watching others dance and have fun.  Deep down, I really wanted to dance, but somehow, I couldn’t muster the courage to ask anyone to dance with me.  I would “hover” on the side of the room walking periodically to the refreshment table to grab a handful of peanuts, pretzels or M&Ms.

At one dance, several classmates finally conspired to get me to dance. They came up to me and literally pushed me towards one of the girls in my class who had apparently agreed to dance with me.   I protested vigorously and tried to resist, but deep down, I was actually excited to dance.  I remember that the song was mostly over by the time my dance partner and I began the typical “frankenstein” sway that Middle Schoolers call “dancing.”  Nevertheless, I felt a combination of satisfaction and embarrassment after the whole ordeal was over. When the song was over, I retreated back to the margins of the room.

Well…fast forward over twenty years, and thankfully, I have outgrown my fear of dancing.  I am happily married, and my wife and I LOVE to dance.  Sarah is a wonderful dancer, and although we don’t have the opportunity to dance as much as we would like, we really enjoy dancing whenever we can.

Now, as a Middle School Director, I often chaperone the dances that have a very similar feel to the same dances that I attended back “in the day.”  I always get a kick out of watching the nervous young boys who stand on the sides of the school cafeteria as the dances begin.  While much has changed in schools since my days in Middle School (including much of the music played during the dances), some things never change.

If you have read this far, you might be wondering what this story has to do with the introduction to my new blog, “Musings from Montgomery.”  Over the past four years, I have read many articles, blogs, tweets, links that relate to the state of education at the beginning of the 21st century.  But I have been very slow to contribute my own thoughts to the mix of what I have been reading.  In some ways, I’ve had that same feeling of being on the outside of the dance.  I’ve really wanted to participate, but I didn’t feel like I had much to contribute.  What perspective could I offer that hasn’t already been offered?  Who would want to read what I might have to say?

Well…I’ve decided that it is time to stop hanging out by the “cafeteria walls,” and actually join the “dance.” While I think that all of the time reading and researching is important, it’s time for me to engage actively in the discourse by putting some of my thoughts out there for others to peruse.  I hope in the posts to follow to share some of my thoughts on what I have learned as an independent school educator over the past fourteen years.  I hope that I can make a positive contribution to the vast amount of material that is out there.  The dance floor is crowded these days, but it is certainly an exciting time to be an educator.

Please enjoy the posts that follow.  I look forward to the opportunity to “dance.”