Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the 3rd Monday of January as a Federal Holiday in the United States. The day is observed in celebration of Dr. King’s birthday, January 15, 1929. In 2023 the date of MLK Day is January 16.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the leading figure of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s in the USA. In life Dr. King was at the forefront of the fight against segregation, discrimination and other forms of racism, especially as entrenched in state and federal law. Tragically assassinated in 1967, the legacy of King has continued to inspire those who fight against racism and other forms of social injustice.
Martin Luther King Jr. was committed to the principles of non-violence. King was convinced that the only way to fight against the hate and violence and injustice of racsim was to counter it with peaceful resistance and non-violent protest. Perhaps more than anything else, this is why Dr. King is a hero to millions of people in the US, in Canada, and around the world.
Madeleine Albright was born in 1937 in Prague ( in what is now Czechia). Her family fled from both the Nazis and the Communists. The family first left the country after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, returned after the end of the Second World War, only to flee again, this time from the Communists in 1948. Albright was a brilliant student who would go on to earn her PhD from Columbia University. She then served in both academic and government positions, providing expertise as a foreign policy advisor. In 1993 she became U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In 1997 she became Secretary of State, the first female to be appointed to that prestigious position in the U.S. Cabinet.
Madeleine Albright leaves many legacies from her life of academics and public service, including the book Fascism: A Warning.
While this is always an important week on the calendar, this year it seems more vital than ever that we understand and celebrate our freedom to read. South of the border books are being banned at an alarming rate. Throughout the world, the freedom of journalists continues to be threatened. As authoritarian and fascist movements rise around the globe, they attack such things as libraries, a free press, and other cornerstones of democracy and human rights.
Look for more to come on this vital topic, as we prepare for Freedom to Read Week.
The School Library is a polling station for Student Vote Canada. While registered voters go to the polls in the 2021 Federal Election, all over our nation students are participating in a parallel mock election.
The rights and freedoms of Canadians include the right to read what you want to read. Such rights and freedoms are fundamental to democracy. Yet there are forces at work in our society that seek power by attaching your rights, including attempts to censor or limit your freedom to read.
Authoritarian forces and totalitarian states know that uneducated and illiterate citizens are easier to control and oppress. Such forces can only celebrate that the work is much simpler when significant portions of the population choose not to read. Censorship becomes less pressing when “aliteracy” becomes prevalent.
A true democracy guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms to its citizens. But to work effectively, indeed, to survive, democracy requires that citizens exercise those rights. In particular, democracy breaks down if citizens aren’t educated, informed and active.
The rise of powerful new information technology in the last few decades has made it more important than ever that citizens are highly “information literate.” Citizens must not only have access to information, they must have the tools required to wade through increasingly destructive levels of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies. Citizens need to have access to information that is credible, accurate and trustworthy.
The rise of anti-intellectualism and anti-science movements, perhaps most recently represented by anti-vax conspiracies, are part of the wider breakdown of democratic institutions. There is little doubt that attacks on public education over many years have reaped some these results and are integral to the rise of authoritarianism.
It is not enough to celebrate the Freedom to Read. As citizens of democratic societies, we have an obligation to exercise our Freedom to Read, in part so that we are equipped to defend our democratic rights and freedoms.
It is clear that democracy is under attack, throughout the world, and in our back yard. We must act.
Note* The above quote, or variations on it, are often popularly attributed to Mark Twain. However the original source of this quote, or its variations, remains unclear.
February 21 to 27 is Freedom to Read Week in Canada in 2021. Come down to the School Library to find out more. We have a display of books and other resources related to our freedom to read, our right to have access to information, and our responsibility to exercise those rights and freedoms as informed, free-thinking citizens.
Along with our in person display of books, magazines, audiobooks, playaways and more, we will will also feature online resources, such as ebooks, digital audiobooks, online databases, and more, so be sure to check out our site, tweedsmuirlibrary.ca.
Our students will leave our school and soon become the adults who will hold the future of democracy in their hands. We must educate and equip our students to recognize the rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship. We must help them see the precious nature of the democratic traditions that have been handed to them by previous generations. We must help them see the fragile nature of those institutions and the peril that is represented by those forces that are at work to undermine democracy.
Most pressingly, we must help our students to recognize the rise of fascism, both in the world and in our own backyard. We must equip our students to denounce fascist ideology and to defeat fascist attempts to destroy our democracy.
The politics of fear, division, and hate will fight for the souls of our students. We must counter those dark forces with hope, unity and love. Forces are at work undermining the foundations of democracy, including the rule of law, freedom of the press, public education, respect for science and reason, confidence in free and fair elections, and peaceful transitions of power. We must build up faith in those ideals in our kids, and equip them to demand them as their rightful expectation for a civil society.
Polarizing forces are at work which divide us, resulting in extreme “othering” to the point of dehumanization. We must find ways to help the next generation to reconcile that which divides us, or at least to find respectful and peaceful ways to engage with those divisions. Somehow we must find common ground with our beliefs about truth. We must find some way to agree on “the facts” even if we don’t agree on what do with those facts.
Please check out our display of items related to the struggle between democracy and fascism.
May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day, as established by UNESCO / United Nations. The freedom of the press is essential to the establishment and health of democracy. In our world of social media, misinformation, disinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories, we need a free, independent, professional and ethical press more than ever.
As the [COVID-19] pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.