Our community leaders do a wonderful job of bringing the student body and faculty together to celebrate a day that many people forget or are too busy to observe, and for that, I applaud our school. The workshops are successful in applying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of peaceful protest and equality to our modern day issues and conversation. Many students end the day having been exposed to different perspectives and materials than they otherwise would never have experienced.
We are a diverse community; a microcosm made up of different races, religions, nationalities and backgrounds. Both our students and faculty come from a variety of places and speak an array of different languages; however, with those differences come many variations in the core curriculum of the various education systems that our students and faculty hail from. Across the United States, many schools and parents have dropped the ball on educating their children about the life and achievements of Dr. King. African-American parents, and grandparents in particular, are in tears thinking about their experiences of mistreatment, feeling as though they are burdening their kids with the knowledge of this history. And as for our international students, education about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement are not necessarily staples of the curriculum.
In an effort to make the content of our workshops more applicable to today’s current events, we focus more on the “big picture” of Dr. King’s message and the application of it. But, it is difficult to participate and leave the workshops with a deeper understanding if you don’t already have a full understanding of the underlying context that drives this daylong program. We fail to ensure that all members have a solid foundation in understanding why the holiday is celebrated, who Dr. King was, and why he and his message are still prevalent today. How can you build a house if you haven’t, first, put down the steel beams and concrete that make up the foundation?
Just as we can’t expect every student to come into Deerfield knowing the fundamentals of geometry, we also can’t expect every student to come in knowing the history of Dr. King and his influence on the Civil Rights Movement, arguably the most powerful catalysts for the advancement of people of color in America.
And as Deerfield faculty members, students, and the administration play integral roles in our development before, during, and after school hours, it becomes our duty as a school to ensure that all of our students have ample opportunity to absorb this knowledge that they can then translate into the workshops we do.
Additionally, with our school deciding to celebrate the life of Dr. King on one specific day, it has created a stigma that these lessons and conversations should only be discussed for one day. For something as monumental as the lasting effects of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, a one-and-done mentality is not the way to ensure that every member of the community gets the most out of this learning experience. These conversations should be ongoing throughout the school year. Unfortunately, until students are given the toolkit to dissect and understand the underlying racial issues in our country, they are unable to have these prompted discussions.
The “day on, not a day off” motto was inspired by the official “Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service,” which challenges Americans to celebrate and honor Dr. King by volunteering to serve others instead of relaxing. It is so important that we are pushing for more service-oriented initiatives, but I don’t believe the ninth grade class will get the most out of their service experience unless they truly understand the purpose for which they are serving. Similar to how our sports teams are required to participate in community service and some team members do not take it seriously, if our students feel obligated to do this service, they will fail to see this as an opportunity to choose give back to the community in honor of Dr. King. We should also work to make sure that all of the students want to participate in this service initiative as a way to honor Dr. King instead of feeling like they are forced to do so.
Until we can officially implement a course to mainstream the knowledge surrounding Dr. King and his legacy on campus, we must work together to help supplement the learning process. For those who have a deeper understanding of the subject matter, start conversations in your classes and sit-down tables around Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and throughout the year. Help the younger students who may not share the wealth of knowledge that you do. For those who haven’t been exposed to Dr. King and his work, I urge you to do some research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. We have to work to put more emphasis on Dr. King at the heart of this holiday. As a community, we can work to create effective dialogue that will allow the whole community to benefit from a deeper understanding, not just of Dr. King, but of the ways in which the injustices he fought against are still relevant 50 years since his death.
While a whole class focusing on social justice would give students and teachers a platform to learn from and discuss with each other, a more immediate solution would be to incorporate mandatory discussions about both the history and current situation of social justice in our country. Similar to the white privilege talks held in the dorms this fall, these discussions could serve as the jumping-off point for authentic conversations campus wide.
Although talking about the past can be painful, we simply cannot use that as an excuse not to teach the younger generations. Yes, black people were not allowed in certain establishments. Yes, the n-word was used to degrade and diminish. Yes, many people died as a result of the unrelenting hatred. But regardless of how difficult it may be to hear about or see these atrocities, we as a community, both the Deerfield community and society at large, cannot deny exposure to this knowledge. It is important for parents and educators alike to push themselves out of their own comfort zones in an effort to educate the youth about this cause both in and out of the classroom.