There I was, standing in the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center staring in awe at the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting while listening to the story of Pickett’s Charge with my students. Hearing the story of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, with more than 51,000 casualties, immediately made my head spin.
Events of this magnitude are hard for us to fathom. At one point, I turned to my students and we started to discuss how people were willing to take such a hard stand and fight and die for the freedom of people. Imagine seeing the oppression and abuse from slavery and finally deciding that this was not acceptable. What goes through the minds of people upon realizing that they may die to obtain liberty for a group of people that they do not identify with?
While there were people ready to make the ultimate sacrifice to change the lives of others, surely there were others who were not willing to get involved. What were these people doing during these times of struggles? Were they sitting home nestled in the safety of their carefully crafted reality ignoring what was unfolding around them? Did they lean toward one side or did their opinions reflect a more ambiguous mindset? What did their silence say about them?
Here we are in 2016, over 153 years removed from the Battle of Gettysburg and the looming end of the Civil War and slavery. We are still witnessing acts of violence and intolerance directed towards people who are minorities in our country. We have a president-elect who continues to stoke the flames of hatred and inequality by appointing a self-proclaimed racist as his chief strategist, who owns stock and has financial interests in a company trying to push our indigenous brothers and sisters off their land, and who continues to appoint individuals to positions of power that have histories of standing against what America stands for.
Whether it is in times of civil unrest and strife or any kind of innovation and breaking from societal or industry norms, we accomplish change by having the courage and audacity to stand up. The most basic of civil rights for individuals would not have been possible (we are still working for equality and equity) if people did not stand up and challenge the established system. We would not have major technological advancements (think Steve Jobs & Elon Musk) without those who bucked the status quo and thought and acted outside of the box. There are countless educators who go against the grain in their schools and in the educational world to foster genuine learning opportunities while creating life-long learners.
When it comes to standing up and fighting for the greater good, we must identify and embrace the problems. If we choose to embrace, we are acknowledging that there are issues that need our attention and work. This is not the easy choice and is in no way pretty. It challenges us to think differently and question the norms of our own thinking. It requires us to not scroll by the items in our social media news feeds that make us uncomfortable or that question our own privileged realities. It means we must actively seek opportunities to confront our mindsets (like here, here, and here) and embrace chances for growth and progress.
This is about the realities and threats facing our nation as a whole, but it also applies to everything that we do in our daily lives. Will you stand up against the things in your schools and jobs that are illogical and impede progress? Will you support your students and colleagues unconditionally? Are you okay with being labeled as difficult, divisive, a dreamer, or whatever other perceived insult that you will receive for demanding progress? Change happens when people step away from their comfort zone and face the limitations of their realities.
Or will you do the opposite? Will you see the inequalities, inequities, and issues in your schools, jobs, communities, and nation and actively choose to ignore them? Will you preach tolerance and chalk things up to a difference of opinions? Will you remain silent and refuse to discuss the inequities that others face every single day? Will you be able to look those affected and marginalized people in the eyes and say that you did your best to help? Will that statement be true?
This is gut-check time. This is the time to look in the mirror and genuinely think about how you will bring change to your world. You can begin to have difficult conversations with your students, colleagues, and family members. You can read, share, and increase awareness about the travesties of justice that you see showing up in your news feeds. You can use your voice to join movements everywhere to better our world. You have the power to enact change, but that difference first starts with you and in the way that you approach and see the world around you.
So I ask you, will you get up? Will you stand up and support your fellow Americans? Are you ready to say enough is enough and stand side-by-side with those who need it the most? What will you sacrifice to ensure that you are a part of progress and change? Countless people have given the ultimate sacrifice to stand up for rights and freedoms while trying to better our world. Will history remember you as someone working to bring positive change or as an individual who tolerated and embraced the status quo?