Monday, January 16, 2017: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
I am typing this from work. That’s right. I’m a teacher, and I have to be at work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And I am not happy about it. I am so not happy about it, that in reference to every student who is absent today, I find myself thinking “good for them!” Why do I not want to work today? Well, because I have friends that teach at other schools and they have today off and it’s just not fair! I want to sleep in tooooo!!! (Yeah, and my RMA boyfriend is probably laughing at me right now because he is probably working too.) But in all honesty, what is the big deal? Why do I think I should not be working today, and not just because I want a three day weekend. I’ll tell you why. Because the kids notice.
At our elementary school today, students will be completing MLK Day related projects. They will be talking about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he did, and why he’s important. They will be reading books and writing paragraphs. They will be drawing and coloring pictures. And their teachers will be telling them that he’s so important in the history of our country that today is a holiday, and that’s why the post office and the banks and some other places are closed today. And then the kids will ask, “but why don’t we have today off? Why isn’t school closed?” And the only answer that we teachers can give is, “I don’t know,” which is the truth.
Okay, maybe you don’t believe the elementary students will notice. Maybe they won’t. But whether or not they do, the high school students will. Two years ago, a high school student asked me why our district takes off for Presidents Day, but not for MLK day. And, not surprisingly, this was one of our ESL students. In response, I suggested that it was possible the district decided to give only one Monday off, so our schedule didn’t get too wonky, and decided Presidents Day made more sense because it was several weeks deeper into the semester, rather than about the second week out. I said this not in an attempt to defend the school, but in an attempt to see the best in everybody (and, I suppose, because it does throw me off when the second week of school is only four days.)
But the fact is holding school on MLK Day makes our non-white students wonder if they are valued in our district. It undermines our message to the students about its importance (especially when we honor Presidents Day by canceling), and whether or not there is a logical reason behind it, it makes us look like a bunch of racist redneck confederate-flag wielding, Trump-supporters. We’re already a Southern state, so people already make that assumption and color us in black and white. We don’t need to give them more reasons.
So, to those who wish we had today off, I’m with with you. To those who have made the decision not to cancel, I would recommend that we cancel in the future. I think our reputation, both with our students, and with outsiders is improved by it. And to those who noticed, I don’t know. I don’t know why we don’t honor the day by canceling school, but I will honestly tell you that I don’t think it’s because we value white people more. I honestly think it’s a lot less political than that. Or maybe a long time ago, the school didn’t celebrate out of protest, and now we don’t because we never did before. Or maybe the calendar does make more sense this way. And yes, this time, I am saying it to defend my school. I love my school, and that’s why I believe every word of my defense.