Today is April 4, 2018. It is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember exactly where I was the afternoon he was murdered: sitting on the corner of my parents’ bed, eating a red apple, with juice running down my arm. Woody Woodpecker was on the television. I could hear my mother in the basement talking to my younger sisters as they folded laundry. Daddy wasn’t home yet.
My first thought as Woody disappeared from the screen and a “Breaking News” banner popped up was something was happening with the war. Daddy made us watch the evening news daily to know what was going on with the Vietnam War and other national and international news, because he said, it’s important that we be aware of what is going on in the world we live in. There was always breaking news about Vietnam.
I think it was Chet Huntley that told me that Dr. King was dead. I dropped my apple and ran down the hall and down the stairs to the basement to get Mama. She didn’t believe me and resisted my attempts to drag her back up the stairs to the television. Looking back now, I think her shock prevented her from moving. I started back up the stairs and was met at the back door by Daddy. He knew. His face reflected his anger, fear, sadness, pain. He called Mama up and told her. She cried.
I really don’t remember anything after that.
Being raised in a household during the civil rights movement by school teachers had its very distinct, focused reality. We learned beyond the books in our classrooms. I was in the 2nd grade when Dr. King died, but I already knew how important he was to the community, to the world. I knew the names of all the major players, actually, even met a few. Several had grown up in Jim Crow central Mississippi with Daddy. I knew what the movement was about, I recognized the horrors of war, international and domestic. I was worldly beyond my 6 years of life.
I made a point of making sure, as my children grew up, that they became worldly also. After the attacks on the US on 9/11/01, my husband and I explained what the Islamic religion teaches and how fanatics of ANY religion don’t define the faith of people. They both stood in voting booths with their father and me in the wee morning hours of the 2004 November election before going to school and sat up late that night waiting for the returns to come in. My daughter still grumbles about that election. We reminded them of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and how they have freedoms now their grandparents didn’t have at their ages. We made it clear that the Holocaust was real and came from a very evil mindset and introduced them to survivors of that world event. We took them to meet “real live Native Americans”, (who, incidentally, prefer to be called “First Nations” people, ) at Pow Wows and spent more time than necessary in every single museum we could find. They, in high school, would laugh about getting into arguments in Social Studies classes for being “so woke” about these topics and many more.
Yet, somehow, all of that has fallen away and become simple paragraphs in textbooks for this generation. Discussions on what slavery was/is, how First Nations peoples were/are treated in this country, the politics of war, etc. are only glossed over in classrooms in America now.
When did this happen? Where did we go wrong in our educational system that has allowed books to call slaves “workers” and suggest Native Americans “voluntarily moved to make room for European settlers? Why are Mexicans and Chinese barely mentioned at all in most books?
“Those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.” ~Edmund Burke
Who is ultimately responsible for the education of the children of any nation? The parents, I would suggest. Yet, if the parents are ignorant of the history of their own country, how can they pass this knowledge down? Then, who is responsible for that education? Educators? Educational Publishers? The Government?
In this age of “fake news”, “alternative facts”, and “revisionist history”, I watch documentaries on the European version of America in an America that is quickly becoming less and less European. I can respect the mild panic this brings some and their attempts to prevent the “erasure” of history from their point of view, but was anyone else’s point of view ever respected? Isn’t it time all the points of view, all the truths, all the realities become the “meat” of our social studies/history lessons?
In classrooms all across the United States, teachers may or maynot be talking about the legacy of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. today. Who he was, I’m sure, was noted in a sentence or two, or if the kids are lucky, in a paragraph, back on his birthday or during Black History Month. I know some classrooms didn’t acknowledge him then or now. I, personally, and professionally, find that disgusting.
Hope you do too.
We went wrong, somewhere.