This week, The New Yorker has an exceptional article about pioneers in the civil rights struggle, accompanied by quite a few images.
I was particularly struck by this passage:
“One thing that I think the history books,and the media, have gotten very wrong is portraying the movement as Martin Luther King’s movement, when in fact it was a people’s movement,” Diane Nash, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, said. “If people understood that it was ordinary people who did everything that needed to be done in the movement, instead of thinking, I wish we had a Martin Luther King now, they would ask, ‘What can I do?’ Idolizing just one person undermines the struggle.”
In community organizing, we often taught and discussed the long-term dangers to social change brought about by idolizing charismatic leaders.
As a teacher, though, it’s easy to lose sight of that important concept when dealing with trying to help students learn so many other things.
We’re in the middle of teaching a unit on Nelson Mandela now in our mainstream ninth-grade English classes, and this passage is prompting me to think about how I can integrate a bit of discussion on the role of others in that country’s liberation struggle.
How do you avoid just teaching the “cult of personality” or the “cult of the hero” in your class?