Thursday, January 5, 2012


Now honestly, has there ever been a January following holiday gluttony when you haven’t at least thought about going on a diet or starting an exercise routine? It is the most popular, overused and most rapidly abandoned New Year’s Resolution; “I will diet and exercise and become a new me this year!!”

What else is January good for? It is a long, dull, uninteresting month with nothing to look forward to until all the big holidays of February.

Well, January does have two events that warrant my interest besides dieting and exercise.

One is my youngest grandson’s birthday.  

The last is another better known birthday, the federal holiday on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

Have you considered that there is only one other person whose birthday is a federal holiday in this country?

I always pause to remember MLK and his accomplishments. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a civil rights leader. He was assassinated in 1968 on my husband’s 24th birthday and just four days before my first child was born.

As a young junior high school Language Arts teacher in the late 1960s, I was a member of a team teaching experiment. The team included an English composition teacher and a social studies teacher. I taught American literature. We would have a formal lesson planning session about once a month to decide what we would be teaching.

The social studies teacher influenced our curriculum because she had certain units she had to cover. She asked us to do the Civil War unit in January 1970.

There were lots of interesting teaching materials that we could borrow from our district office.

I was able to get records (33 RPM) with a lesson plan and supplements about the Lincoln/Douglas debates (yawn) along with Civil War poems and stories. Because Martin Luther King, Jr. had  been killed in April 1968, there were great resources available through the library about him and the civil rights movement.

I found something I thought was more interesting for 7th graders than the Lincoln/Douglas debates. It was the friendship between Lincoln and another Douglas…that was Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who was an influential activist for civil rights and a persuading, intelligent orator. He influenced Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Historians have called him the father of the civil rights movement. He was also the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad

I provided the students with the texts of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech.

In social studies they were studying the historical facts behind the events that prompted the passion and change in our country from the Civil War to the “present”, then 1970.

In English composition, the students were writing “themes” on various aspects of the abolition of slavery up to and including the current civil rights movement.

The school where we were teaching was a melting pot of students of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds. There were wealthy Anglo and Jewish students from the most elite residential areas and African-American and Hispanic students from the south side barrios all mixed together with some middle-class white and mixed race kids.

I happened to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Gringa” with a Hispanic surname. This helped the school with its minority teacher quota requirement. To my knowledge, no official ever came to verify this deception.

It was one of the most interesting units I ever remember teaching. It was educational for me as well.

If you haven’t read the texts of these speeches lately, “google” them. They are so deeply American and are awe-inspiring.

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