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The Problem with MLK Day

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Guest blogger Jana Mathews: Making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday was a HUGE mistake.

Martin Luther King

Before all of you get your politically correct panties in a pinch, hear me out:

The government had good intentions when it honored the great civil rights leader with his own named holiday, yet I can't help but think that legislators should have known that doing so would produce such a bad outcome. Sadly, MLK Day has suffered the same fate as other federal holidays set aside to memorialize American heroes (I'm thinking specifically of Presidents Day, Veterans Day and Memorial Day); namely, it's become a three-day weekend. Deny it all you want, but you know it's true: if Martin Luther King's birthday was in June, you know you'd have a barbecue!

If we really wanted to honor remarkable people and events from our nation's past, we wouldn't let our kids out of school on the days designated to remember them, but rather, we'd keep them in. Instead of giving kids another vacation that they don't need, I'd like to see schools dedicate Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honoring the great leader's life and mission by performing school and community-wide acts of service.

Of course this will never happen because any proposal that asks children to do something for someone surely will be shot down by a small but vocal minority of parents who will whine that volunteerism is a violation of their children's civil rights.

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35 comments so far | Post a comment now
Tracey January 19, 2009, 8:53 PM

Our schools are not free daycare. You seem more bitter about “another vacation that they don’t need” than concerned with honoring MLK.

Josh January 19, 2009, 9:58 PM

As a Kindergarten educator, I definately DO teach my children about MLK Jr. There are several great children’s books about this amazing man, and I continue to find more and more resources on the web to help educate my kids on how infuential and important his teachings truly are. That said, as an educator, I appreciate the time off to prepare for upcoming grading periods, and to rejuvinate after (what can be) a hard few weeks of readjustment from a long winter break for the children and faculty. If you are a proponent of having children work “volunteer” jobs for the holiday, I fully support you, but only caution you to remember how important down time is in a young child’s life. Hope I’ve shed a different light on things.

Becca January 19, 2009, 11:27 PM

Jana…I think a day to volunteer in honor of Martin Luther King, rather than all the kids around here who thought today was just a teacher prep day, would be awesome. I think if we could find a way to honor Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman at the same time, that would be even better.

Desiree January 20, 2009, 3:50 AM

Um, I would jsut like to add something. Even though kids get this day off, they get an extra day added on at the end of the year. Schools can only have a certain amount of days off. FYI.

Nancy January 20, 2009, 6:49 AM

I am a fan of Jana’s blog but I can’t say the same about this article. Although I understand her point that the importance of federal holidays has been watered down, I believe her argument is seriously flawed.

Make no mistake about it, community service is a moral/religious issue. The responsibility for teaching (and certainly enforcing) such a concept falls squarely on the shoulders of church and family. It does not belong to an overburdened public school system that is already struggling to teach a rigid curriculum AND basic values (honesty, kindness, respect) to children whose parents can’t be bothered.

It’s better that the public school sytem teach the historical importance of MLK’s life and work. As for the transcendental impact of his words, this is a subject best broached at home. I think this can be illustrated in the following quote by MLK regarding service to and love for one’s neighbor: “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”.

This is not a matter of parents “whining that volunteerism is a violation of their children’s civil rights.” Rather, this is a question of requiring a public school to model the behavior of the good samaritan instead of the parent or church.

Anna January 20, 2009, 9:50 AM


“Of course this will never happen because any proposal that asks children to do something for someone surely will be shot down by a small but vocal minority of parents who will whine that volunteerism is a violation of their children’s civil rights.”

This comment sums up the typical tone and attitude of your blog and articles. I for one am tired of reading about how you are morally and intellectually superior to everyone else.

People think that you’re funny. But I’m not sure a mother who is critical, cynical and judgemental of so many people is humerous. Teach your kids that there are good people in your community. Have a little faith in folks. This is what will be valuable to your children. This is what MLK would have wanted.

nancy January 20, 2009, 10:27 AM

One more comment…I don’t understand why there is a picture of one our greatest (assassinated) leaders with a giant red X over it. Is this supposed to be funny? I get that you don’t want anyone to get riled up and assume anything wrongly about your intentions, but how is that possible with this picture leading the way? As a fan of your blog and humor, I must say that I am deeply disappointed in this article.

Anonymous January 20, 2009, 4:18 PM

Wow…are you serious? My daughter is 9 and knows everything about MLK Jr. from school. Unfortunately I have to work that day but my daughter is off and I was unable to take her to the parades and festivities that occur on that specific day to honor a great man whose legacy led to the inauguration of another great man. (I think all of you are bitter because you voted for the other guy….) January 23, 2009, 12:36 PM

You are so right about this! That’s why I sent my son to a catholic school. On MLK day they stayed in school, listened to his speech, prayed and then went to do some community service. That’s the problem with the public schools these days, too many whining parents and then they wonder why their schools are failing their students!

calis January 23, 2009, 3:59 PM

It should be a national holiday because this man achieved so much, now for the schools that aren’t teaching about him are most likely not teaching much of anything. I would seriously re consider having my kids to go to such a school, my nephews know who MLK was even though they live in a city where they are not many blacks and the school don’t have many blacks and they are not black but obviously the school they go to it’s a good school because they really teach children about all history.

nancy January 24, 2009, 2:16 AM

Northwestairline?—You are comparing apples and oranges. Your son goes to a private religious school. I can assume you are paying this high price so he can pray with those who believe the same as you do, thus you have no reason to “whine”.(Although I must add that my child also went to a private religious school and the parents still found many reasons to complain.) My guess is, if you disagreed with how the school was conducting prayer and other moral issues (such as community work), you would move your child to another school. Most public school parents do not have this choice. I am saddened that the real issue here, that both Jana and some of the commenters have missed, is that community work should be taught primarily at home and/or in the church. Your children will not become “better” people because of a field trip. They will become more aware of their fellow humans’ suffering and the need for justice by watching their parents’ example. If you want to pay someone else to be the example…more power to you. But leave the public school parents and their motives out of it.

PGPH January 24, 2009, 11:01 AM

As a teacher and a black woman I think your proposal is inane and just silly.

Every school I ever taught at does a big presentation and fosters discussion on who MLK was and why its important.

Too often the accomplishments of many are swept under the rug. This man did much for America and it needs to be recognized. Having the day to do volunteerism has been around for years (since the MLK center was opened) so this is no surprise.

Many in the African American community go to church services and special events to remember, discuss and participate in community building.

Further, I’d like you to try and tell Veterans that their parade every year is unnecessary.

People celebrate however they want, if they want to celebrate at all. You want to do something then do it but don’t make blanket statements. Obviously your community is different from mine and MLK day is important here.

The real point here is parents should be doing more character building with their children instead of it being taught in school. Volunteerism is great but why does that task have to be done at school? You want, YOU do it on your time, at home, whenever you want.

elizabeth January 24, 2009, 10:28 PM

I substituted in the public school system last week, third grade. For two weeks prior, the teacher had been reading about MLK and assigning projects around his teachings of non-violence. As a sub that day, I also read to the class about MLK and we discussed the importance of “turning the other cheek” to better achieve peace and justice. Everyone seemed to understand the topic. But one hour later, at lunch, two girls in this class who have a long history with each other, got into a major physical fight. I questioned the “victim” afterwards and asked her why she didn’t walk away when she had the chance. Hadn’t we just discussed how to do this before lunch? She replied, “My parents said if anyone hits me, I should hit them back harder.” The moral of this story? Public schools should certainly REINFORCE good values and morals. However, if they are not being taught at home, there is little hope of improving negative (or instilling positive) behaviors in our children for the long term.

Chicatitta January 15, 2010, 8:24 AM

U guys r so stupid Martin Luther King did the right thing for all of us. He fought for black rights. What would u do if white pple were slaves. Would u be happy. we pple treated them unfairly. u guys should be ashamed of yourselves.

Jamal January 18, 2010, 7:26 AM

MLK day is a moment of silence to remember or celebrate MLK’s cause. True some schools do not teach anything positive about MLK, I’m happy to know not one of those schools. Mlk fought for Human rights not rights for any one race, not even just for the rich or poor, Human rights. Though there were many people fighting with him he is the iconic symbol for peace and he is American. Americans for peace in the world.

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