Separate but Innovative: MLK 2.0

If Martin Luther King Jr. returned today, would he be an achievement gaptivist? And which billionaires would fund his important work?

No one could lead a civil rights movement like Martin Luther King Jr. But let’s face it: the movement he led was old school. The civil rights issue of our time is the achievement gap, and closing it often requires doing the opposite of what Dr. King stood for. Which raises some important questions: if Dr. King returned today would he be an achievement gaptivist? Which billionaires would fund his important work? And with poverty and racism now officially regarded as excuses, what would he talk about? Meet Martin Luther King 2.0, now with more excellence.

No excuses
I have it on excellent authority that at the top of Dr. King 2.0’s itinerary is a visit to an urban No Excuses academy of excellence and innovation that has “cracked the code” and discovered the *secret sauce* for putting poor minority students on a path to college and 21st century employment. Note to welcome committee: Dr. King will likely be puzzled by hyper-segregated nature of schools and predominantly young white teaching staff so you may want to have extra brochures on hand. Also, the No Excuses culture with its emphasis on silence, compliance and punishment will likely be new to him, or uncomfortably familiar, so may want to schedule visit for after 8PM when school day wraps up.

Speaking of excuses, Dr. King 2.0 will have to come up with some new material if he is going to hit the public speaking circuit running. His old stuff with all of that talk about poverty, justice, segregation and labor rights is totally dated and not at all relevant to the civil rights issue of our time. My advice to King 2.0’s staff: do a quick search through Word docs and replace any of the above musty, irrelevant, excuse-y ideas with “the achievement gap.” Also, work in that bit about the ‘fierce urgency of now’—it will go great with the new emphasis on the achievement gap. Delivering speech after speech without mentioning the fact that 22% of American children now live in poverty is going to feel weird at first. But just wait till those hefty speaking fees start to roll in.

Rich people
We don’t know what Dr. King thought of hedge fund managers because, sadly, they did not yet exist during his day so were unable to solve the nation’s ills, including rescuing its public schools from the unions that had not yet begun to stifle them. But I think we can probably predict what these ed-vestors and edupreneurs would have made of Dr. King’s call for a “multiracial army of the poor” to demand an economic bill of rights for poor Americans—one big thumb way down. Memo to Dr. King 2.0: we don’t hate the rich anymore; they and their children are now our change agents fighting FER a better future FER at least a select group of minority children. Also, their wealthy friends will be funding your important work to close the achievement gap so best to stay away from all of that justice talk.

On the ‘not’ list: unions
The original Dr. King was a fierce supporter of labor rights and viewed unions as an essential tool for improving the wages and working conditions of everyone. Obviously things have changed a little since then, and it’s important that we bring Dr. King 2.0 up to speed on the fact that unions have officially been downgraded to ‘not’ on the hot or not list. Does he know, for example, that teachers unions have not only widened the achievement gap but also created poverty in inner city neighborhoods? That is why I am putting a viewing of “Waiting for Superman” at the top of Dr. King 2.0’s agenda, right after he visits a No Excuses school. One other thing: remember when you called right-to-work laws a fraud that had to be stopped, and a law intended to rob us of our civil rights and job rights? You might want to tone that down just a bit, and also add in a reference to putting students first, you know, before the adult interests. 

Separate but innovative
Tough news on this issue, reformers. Even Dr. King 2.0, now with more excellence, might have a problem with our apparent abandonment of the ideal of universal public education. In Detroit, for example, where he delivered his speech at the Great March in 1963, there are now dual school systems: one of charter schools and the other a public system that must accept all children and is rapidly becoming the last resort for the toughest-to-serve kids. And in Washington DC, where King dreamed of an equal future for children of all races, two separate systems, one for strivers, one for discards, compete for public resources. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that even Dr. King 2.0 would not be a fan of “separate but innovative.

Introducing the Martin Luther King Jr. 2.0 Academy for Excellence and Innovation
Scheduled to open its doors in the fall of 2015, this rigorous No Excuses style college prep academy will combine high expectations with a blended learning model in order to ignite the passion of all young people to become innovators and entrepreneurial leaders who will change the world. For a glossy brochure contact


  1. I went to prep school. Compared to the public schools in the same community, we had shorter school days and a shorter school year; spent more time spent in sports, art, and extracurricular activities rather than academics; and a far more casual environment. (For those of us who studied well with music going, the library had a listening area with an excellent rock album collection, comfy couches, and headphones for loan.)

    I don’t even believe these “discipline-and-order” folks believe themselves that a militaristic environment promotes learning.

    1. Very well said Barbara. The most well-off people in this country want to tell everyone else how their children should be educated. You can see class condescension all throughout the ed deform wave. Policies of blatant privatization are masked as giving these “poor parents” the right to “choose” their schools. A bunch of suburban overachievers are going to instill right knowledge and right decor in “those” children. “Those” children need to be civilized, not educated. Small, private, test-prep, zero-tolerance boutique schools for “those” children, a rich and full curriculum for their own children.

      Martin Luther King would be able to see through this and call it what it is.

    2. Prep schools have minimal responsibility to teach the basic academic skills that higher percentage low-income schools need to focus on because kids with advantages (and you can’t get more advantaged than prep school kids) come to school with most of those skills already and have them constantly developed at home by their hyper-educated families. I think there’s lots to be said for having lots of arts, music, athletics, etc. in urban schools but reading, writing and math don’t happen as quickly for kids who face more challenges in their lives.

      1. If you give kids reasons to actually *want* to learn reading, writing and math you’ll find they pick it up awfully quick. If kids “aren’t learning”, maybe what they’re learning is that school is boring.

        Read Brian Schultz’s SPECTACULAR THINGS HAPPEN ALONG THE WAY: LESSONS FROM AN URBAN CLASSROOM. His whole curriculum revolved around solving problems that were relevant to the kids in the school (a Chicago Public School in a Chicago Public Housing development). The kids were fiercely interested in fixing the problems within their schools – the run-down, unclean and unsafe facilities. In pursuing their goal of a new school building, they learned to read, write, develop arguments, make presentations and even do math along the way.

    1. So gratifying to see that Bill Gates has done this. After all, I read just today that money means little or nothing to him. He has money for food, clothes…
      private jets… the basics.

      1. The boycott was fmored because a girl named Rosa Parks would not give up her seat for a white person, and got arrested.So black people would no longer ride the bus because of police cars following the buses, and they were scared to ride the bus because they didn’t want to get arrested.

        1. Where did you learn history? First of all, Rosa Parks was a WOMAN, not a girl. She was in her 40’s during the bus boycott. Also, contrary to popular knowledge, her refusal was planned. Next, fear of arrest had NOTHING to do with the boycott. The boycott was to show to the nation what was going on in the Jim Crow South. It worked. The Supreme Court finally declared the law of requiring blacks to have only specific seats was unconstitutional. Finally, what does your comment have to do with the above comment, anyway?

  2. Bravo!

    Maybe King 2.0 could become an untenured part-time adjunct professor at the EduShyster Academy.

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