Ben’s off school today in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Last week, he learned about Dr. King’s legacy. He said they watched two filmstrips: Can this be possible? Are schoolchildren in 2006 still watching filmstrips? (I was always a smidgen envious of the go-getters who got to operate the filmstrip machine back when I was in grade school...)
Ben was telling me about King, but there are so many words in his full name, it’s hard for a five-year-old to get it right. I heard things like “Martin Luther Doctor King Junior” and “Martin Luther King Junior Martin,” and King Kong was mentioned more than once.
Ben was grooving on his garbled singsong rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”You know, I swear I never learned the song in school. “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” yes. “We Shall Overcome,” no. A tremendous shortcoming in my education, surely.
Anyway, I asked Ben, “What did Martin Luther King stand for? What did he say?”He replied, “That kids should be quiet so they can hear their teachers.” Ha! Yes, that’s right. Let us judge children not by the color of their skin, but by whether or not they are quiet so they can hear their teachers.
He learned about segregated bathrooms and bus seating. He learned that the civil rights movement tried to make things more fair for black people, but he didn’t really know what “black people” meant. (These people are brown, darn it! Ben, like most innocent kids, characterizes people by their shades of brown, tan, pink, and white rather than by the social construct of race.) So I had to explain that for the first time. I was hoping my mixed-race baby could get a little older before having to introduce the concepts of race and racism, but the words and lessons of Martin Luther King, Jr., are certainly an excellent starting point for that discussion.
Also? The kindergartners colored in little stapled-together coloring books about MLK. On the cover, Ben opted for the lime-green marker for Dr. King’s face: