Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Obligatory MLK Day Post

Of course there's going to be an MLK Day post. Just a little bit late. I wanted to have completed my program and since we wrapped up on Tuesday, I figured I'd save it for today.

So here's the deal. I am not a fan of "I Have a Dream." I mean, it's fine, the man knew how to deliver a speech, whatever. But the fact that it was seemingly tailor written for lesson plans has done a lot to diminish the impact for me over the years. And it seems like every single time MLK day rolls around another teacher in another school has their students draw pictures of their own dreams and telling them that if they work hard, just like Martin, they too can achieve their dreams and isn't the world great now that segregation doesn't exist and everyone gets equal chances and opportunities not based on the color of their skin? Bam! Activity for the day: done.

I think that's a load of bullshit. But that's a different rant for a different day. This is about why I didn't want to try and come up with a program around "I Have a Dream" regardless of how easy it would be. Angie, the other person who works in the children's room, did a trivia program for the older kids and I was left with figuring something out for the story time and early elementary set.

My favorite King piece of writing is "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" It's fiery, passionate and contains this most righteous excerpt that I really wish I could make the older kids here read every single time they drop the n-word.
...when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
Anyway. The letter is a bit much for the super young kids, maybe that's another reason "I Have a Dream" is so ubiquitous, it's family friendly! But as I was re-reading the letter, looking for ideas, I kept getting stuck on another one of King's most famous quotes. Here's the slightly longer version.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
An inescapable network of mutuality. I could do something with that. A spiderweb of yarn and then remove one kid? A puzzle missing one piece? The problem with designing programs here is getting kids to come. Or to turn off their computers for long enough to participate. They have a limited time with the internet every day and asking them to cut into it for visual demonstrations of "an inescapable network of mutuality" is unfair.

I ended up going with a puzzle. A gigantic puzzle of King's face that I glued together from 16 sheets of paper and then re-cut up into puzzle pieces.

The puzzle pieces sat out on our craft table and every day last week the craft activity of the day was to help color in the pieces. The text went something like this:

Dr. King's vision was for everyone to work
together to solve problems.

Help us solve this puzzle!

For the rest of the week we'll be coloring in pieces,
any way you want and using lots of colors!

Next Tuesday we'll put it together and
use it to decorate th
e children's room.

What do you think the final picture will be?

Simplistic? Yes. Reductive? Maybe. But it works for the little kids and the final product will hang in the children's room at least through Black History Month, a visual reminder of the time we worked together to make a puzzle. I may evengo back to "I Have a Dream" and find that passage about children playingtogether regardless of their skin color since this Martin will have blue, green, purple and polka dot skin.

This could also be subtitled "Why we can't have nice things." I have no idea where the missing puzzle pieces are, thank goodness none from his actual face disappeared. And it's not just the kids we can't give scissors to anymore. That butterfly like cutout on his left cheek? Where he seems in need of a Nelly style band-aid? That was a nanny who asked me oh-so-nicely for a pair of scissors while she was making something for her charges.

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