Islands of Decency


Horton, Myles




Tennessee-native Myles Horton was a social activist who co-founded the Highlander Research and Education Center whose faculty and student community included Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and other civil rights leaders. “Islands of Decency” is chapter 11 of Horton’s autobiography, The Long Haul. In this chapter, Horton explores a holistic education model that educates in order to empower students to make their own decisions. This piece raises questions regarding the goals of education, best models of teaching, ways of achieving personal growth, the nurturing of a democratic society, and how to make our own decisions.

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Horton’s autobiography, The Long Haul (1990), chapter 11.




Citizenship and DemocracyLeadership and ResponsibilityOrganizing and ActivismTeaching and Learning

Big Questions

What makes a "good" citizen?How does a person become a leader?What do we expect from the people we lead? What do we expect from our own leaders?How do communities have a voice?What are the best ways to organize people and spur them to action?What does good teaching look like?Where does the best learning happen – in the classroom or elsewhere?


Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What is the speaker’s view of education? What does he mean by “holistic”?
  2. According to the speaker, what is the difference between practice and theory?
  3. What do you think of the speaker’s farming and seed metaphor for education?
  4. What does a “conscious decision” look like? What role does education play in helping us make them?
  5. The speaker does not “believe in neutrality.” What does he mean by that? Do you agree?
  6. Do you think that it is more important for an educator to understand where their students are or for them to have a vision of what they can become?
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