Much of this week was spent preparing for our Martin Luther King Jr. assembly, which was today. For the assembly all JK-5 students were going to sing “Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” and “We Shall Overcome.”
In the context of everything that was going on leading up to the inauguration, it seemed more necessary than ever to ask challenging questions and have difficult discussions with my students.
I opened my lesson asking students to list all of the Federal Holidays. Then I pointed out of the ten Holidays there are only two that honor individuals: George Washington’s Birthday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We as a country don’t really do that much for Washington’s Birthday but as a county we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with pride.
I posed this question to my students, “Out of the millions of Americans citizens throughout American history we have only two designated days to honor individuals. One is our first president and the other is Martin Luther King Jr. He was not an athlete, a general, a politician, or an artist. That is incredible when you think about it, why is he honored out of the millions with his own holiday?”
I gave students time to raise their hands and they came up slowly. Then I told them to put their hands down. “If you have an answer, that’s great, if you don’t, you need to search for one, you need to open up your eyes and ears and figure out an answer for yourself.”
Later I showed them this amazing performance of “We Shall Overcome,” by The Morehouse College Glee Club.
I gave them a brief history of the college and explained how Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from this school. Almost every class asked about why The Morehouse College Glee Club is all African American men, even now in a time when racial discrimination is gone (For the classes that didn’t bring it up, I just posed the question).
I explained first that racial discrimination in college entry is less of an issue that is has been in the past however, it is still a problem in our society. Then I talked about Moana. I explained how if you have seen Moana and you are sitting at a lunch table with a bunch of other people who have seen it, it feels very different than if you are the only person at the table who has seen that film. I also used the examples of interest in soccer and video games. Then I pivoted into talking about family, and how we feel different when family surrounds us. We talk about different things that we don’t feel comfortable talking about with friends. I continued:
Racial identity is a similar feeling. It’s part of our identity and sometimes we feel like being around family, or other soccer fans, we need to have sometimes we need to be around people who we identify with racially. It’s not about excluding others or making people feel bad. It’s about finding places where we can feel comfortable expressing parts of our identity.I told them that this was a difficult thing to understand but I encouraged them to ask questions and think about what race means to themselves and the people around them.
This was a challenging lesson for me to teach, and it was hard but it was worth it. Now more than ever we have to do the important work, not of teaching a subject, but teaching what it really means to be American.
We are looking at a secretary education who is the most under-qualified in American history and a president (not going to capitalize that title when referring to that guy, and I refuse to refer to him as a “man." Man connotes maturity and respect, "guy" is more than sufficient) who thinks American schools are “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” If you don't understand what is so wrong about this statement, please ask a teacher and don't be surprised if they think you are being sarcastic.
We can’t save the world by ourselves but by doing the work, we can inspire our students to vote, embrace all facets of their identity and have the empathy and intelligence to make the world a better place. The next President Obama is one of our students and all the citizens who will do the work to bring forward this next great leader fill our classrooms every day.
Let’s get to it.