What can we do to celebrate the civil rights leader in the year 2015?
Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for equality in the face of overwhelming oppression, violence, and corruption in the heart of the United States. He united thousands of people against the oppression of black people in this country. Before his death, King had organized a movement to unite citizens to fight for the dignity of the impoverished folks of this country in much the same way he fought for the citizens of color.
King believed strongly in the importance of education, and I have no doubt that he would have been a strong advocate for the children today who are not yet receiving free and appropriate access to a quality education, children with learning disabilities, children with mental illness, children with Learning Differences.
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, King wrote,
“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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.”
Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew something that much of our country has yet to learn – our lives, our destinies, our actions are irrevocably tied to one another. We have a social responsibility to advocate for the needs of our neighbors - because our neighbors’ voices will be strengthened by our own ability to amplify their concerns, their ideas, and their experiences of inequality.
One of the ways we can amplify our neighbors’ voices is to teach. By teaching we make this world a bit more connected, a bit more livable, and a bit more just.
This blog provides some ways to teach about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his contribution to our great nation.
Use Well-Constructed Lesson Plans for In-Class or Homeschooling Instruction
The National Park Service has lessons for teachers of Elementary and Middle School students. Through several different steps in the unit plan, students will learn about the history and social movements of the Civil Rights Era, especially those under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. The lessons use graphic organizers, creative problem-solving, and experiential learning – all methods that may suit the learning styles of children with Learning Differences.
Scholastic’s lesson ideas include a middle school-high school appropriate temporary talking museum. Preparation includes placing several posters or bulletin boards throughout school with the addition of QR Codes. Students use their smartphones or school-provided devices to scan the QR codes and listen to audio excerpts of King’s speeches.
Morningside Center’s program A Teachable Moment provides free lesson plans for K-12 teachers looking to teach social responsibility. The lessons for MLK Day are appropriate for middle school and high school students. One lesson uses a vintage comic book to teach students about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, another lesson focuses on King's work at the time of his death, organizing for socioeconomic equality with the Poor People’s Campaign, a campaign that rings true today.
Participate in a Day of Service with Your Class or Family
“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is perhaps the most appropriate day of the year to devote time to your community. Children and teens are equally as capable of making a contribution to the betterment of their community. Even if students have never before participated in community service, MLK Day is a great day to start.
Students can organize their own service project(s), as individuals or as a class. For students organizing their own service projects, the National FFA Organization hosts the Service Learning Tool Kit, which expands upon many of the essential aspects of a successful service-learning experience including investigation, planning/preparation, action, reflection, demonstration/analysis of results, and celebration.
If you have the time to commit to volunteer, but not to organize, All for Good, provides a search engine for individuals looking to volunteer locally for the MLK Day of Service. The search engine allows searchers to select their availability, location, and category of interest. There is even a virtual opportunity section that can prove helpful for families or classes that are worried about the issue of accessibility.
Committing to a service project is a great opportunity for youth to participate in their communities, for families/classes to work together, and for the community to benefit from the bright young minds in its schools. All around, it’s likely you’ll leave a service project with a greater understanding of your community, and a great understanding of the children in your care – a win-win for all!