Monday, January 21, 2013 is Martin Luther King Jr day. This is such a meaningful day for so many reasons in our country, and I think that introducing Dr. King to our young students is an important responsibility for all teachers in early elementary.
I also think it is something that should be done mindfully. The story of the civil rights movement is not pretty, and MLK’s life, and death, are also full of difficult truths. I have spent some time considering how to do him justice in my class, while ensuring that my students walk away with a positive message. This is what I have come up with…
I focus on Martin Luther King Jr. as a peaceful problem solver. I think it is remarkable that we have such an iconic figure in our history to turn to as a a peaceful problem solver. In an increasingly violent world, kids need to see, and believe, that problems should be approached peacefully. They also need to see that it can work. While it was not a violence free movement, Dr. King’s peaceful influence inspired necessary change in our country.
We all know that students often focus on and remember small details from our lessons, and from their days as a whole. When my students go home, I don’t want them to only remember that Dr. King was shot and killed, or that black and white children could not go to school together. I want them to remember that this great leader solved problems peacefully. The details can be filled in for them as they get older…
I begin by reading a book to my students that I think handles the history in a developmentally appropriate way. I like the book “Happy Birthday Martin Luther King” by Jean Marzollo. I do “edit” a couple of pages when reading (I say the MLK died, not that he was shot and killed). I then zoom in on the part where it says that he believed that people can solve problems without fighting.
We then begin to talk about ways that we know how to solve problems peacefully at school. I have several large posters that I purchased some years ago that feature different problem solving strategies. While we have, of course, been learning and discussing these strategies all year, this is a great time to feature them.
We review the strategies, and then work together to create a “Peace Book.” We ”act out” the problem solving strategies we know, and I take photos of the kids doing this. I make sure that every student is in the book. It is important for the kids to see themselves solving problems peacefully, and it is important for them to see their classmates doing so as well. This is particularly critical for those kids who tend to have behavior problems in class. We want everyone to view all students as capable, peaceful problem solvers.
I then insert the photos into a class book. I actually print copies of the book for every student. We practice reading them every day for a while until the kids ultimately take them home. Here are some screen shots of last year’s book (with student faces blurred.)
I like to think that Dr. King would be pleased to know that he is continuing to help young people learn to solve problems peacefully. How do you celebrate Martin Luther King Junior Day with your students?