Monday, January 19, 2009

Honoring MLK

When I was teaching at my urban middle school, there were always three occasions that drove me nuts: MLK day, Black History Month, and Cinco de Mayo. Here's why. Can we agree that we are all Americans? Should we agree that assigning ethnic labels to groups of Americans (like African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, etc.) does nothing in the way of improving our national pride and togetherness? I say "Yes" to both questions.

What I saw happening during these three occasions was a celebration of "look how we are different from you" mentality, further driving wedges among the varied groups within our great nation. I think Dr. King should be honored in a huge way. All celebration, however, should be about his courage and his message of non-violence. I attended assemblies at my school that were supposed to about MLK. What I heard from the black speakers brought in was a frightening message about how awful white folks are. Not "were", but "are". Once we trucked in John Wiley Price...and he refused to stand for the national anthem. I really wanted to do something, anything, at that point to change the way the message was going to come down. But I was badly out-numbered, so I kept my seat.

February is Black History Month, designed to honor significant black people and their contributions to society. The idea is to somehow make amends for the all of the history books written prior to 1970 that excluded black heroes and their amazing accomplishments. But the deal is that all the history books have not only been fixed but have become overloaded with pages honoring the contributions of minorities. What I'd like to see is a movement emphasizing our shared allegiance to our country. Aren't we all products of people who immigrated (one way or another, even forced) to this continent?

You may see where I'm headed. I'd love to replace these 3 occasions with programs that simply honor America. Bring in some wounded veterans and let them tell their stories...and try to give the kids a sense of the cost of freedom. Have a "Constitution Month", where every facet of this great document is heralded and all our wonderful freedoms are analyzed for their brilliance. And instead of treating all wars as bad, explain the terrible threats that forced us respond in wars past. Arrange field trips to cemeteries, where students can see the gravestones of those who perished so that we might be free.

Sadly, anyone brandishing ideas such as these within the educational realm is quickly branded as a racist. And trying to explain patriotism these days immediately gets shouted down. I sincerely hope that this is just a sign of the times, a cycle if you will, that the country must go through to get to a better place.

1 comment:

Lynn Leaming said...

I totally agree. Well put.