Monday, January 17, 2011

A New History

What I didn't want to teach them was anything at all about Martin Luther King, Jr. No celebration, no honoring this day, no mention of his name, because I didn't want them to know that there was ever a need for a person like Dr. King. In the same way that I struggle to explain the retired number 42 hanging at Wrigley, this is not the history I wanted them to learn. For five years I kept them in the dark, and then they went to kindergarten.

Along with discovering McDonalds and Barbies they learned about Martin Luther King Jr. They learned that not so many years ago their class would have looked very different, that many of their teachers and friends would have been at another school for no reason other than the color of their skin. And this, clearly, made no sense to them at all. Frequently I find that explaining things to children helps make them clearer for me but there are very few explanations that make sense when you are trying to help them understand why Rosa Parks was expected to give up her seat. They know that I stand when a pregnant woman gets on the bus, that we always make room for older people on the train, but why in the world would Ms. Parks be expected to move because her skin was brown?

More difficult, I suppose, would be trying to explicate our day to day life had it not been for Dr. King and the other brave souls who stood up and said, with the clear wisdom of a five year old, this makes no sense. That is worth celebrating, sharing and honoring. And that makes it easier to explain; Dr. King was an intelligent man who worked hard to help people get along, a brave person who spent his life helping other people. It's a lesson in changing your world, and working for what you believe to be right.

1 comment:

Dera Williams said...

What a wonderful commentary. Great post. Yes, children have a way of putting things in perspective. For them, it is what is the big deal?


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