Are All Students Learning about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in School?

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By Natasha Coleman

I remember a time when there as a huge emphasis on teaching students about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in schools. As an educator, I have found teaching valuable lessons about the life and legacy of Dr. King is not mandatory.  It is up to the sole discretion of the teacher or school. Teaching students about Martin Luther King Jr. can be very valuable. It was a very pivotal time in our history and students should learn what helped shaped our world today. All grades can learn about Martin Luther King Jr. because it has some value at every grade level.

There are valuable lessons to be taught by using Dr. King’s life, work, and impact as a civil rights leader. In the world that we live in today I believe it is important to teach children about equality. We still live in a world where we can be judged by the color of our skin or what we believe in. Dr. King did not want that for our country.  We should not want that for our country or even the world.

But let’s ask ourselves what would a world of equality look like? In my opinion, glass ceilings in the work place would be forever broken. Educational systems would provide all children high-quality educations regardless of income, zip code, or type of education – traditional public, charter, private, etc. Everyone would have the same opportunities and resources to learn. Being judged because of the color of your skin would no longer be a barrier for people of color to have access to resources that could help equalize the playing fields. There would be universal healthcare, housing, and food programs available to anyone who needed them. The separation between the haves and the have-not’s would no longer exist. Respect for one another would return and we would work together in kinship and not in trial in order to make our world a better place.

I believe teaching students about Dr. King teaches them that it doesn’t matter what people look like on the outside; what matters is what’s on the inside. I recently read a book about the nontraditional friendship between two girls – one white named Betty and one black named Alma. The story was set in the 1960’s in Alabama. The Betty’s father was the rising head of the Ku Klux Klan and the Alma’s mother was a teacher. The story was told through the voice of Betty. She talked about how despite how much her community wanted to keep whites and blacks separate, she knew in her soul that God wanted all of His children to get along. She loved Alma and her family and they loved her back.

Reading that story over the weekend created a sense of renewal in me. My work as an educator has allowed me to teach in a variety of settings including diverse and not-so-diverse. And although I always find ways to teach students how to be kind to one another and how to uplift one another, I want to be more intentional about that work. I will talk about the life and lessons Dr. King and others have left for us to learn and grow from throughout the year.  I will encourage my fellow educators to do so as well.

We must teach our children how to be great citizens and human beings because they are our future.