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Teaching The Why of the Dream

At noon today, CNN aired Martin Luther King's speech, which made me wonder, have your kids ever heard the original "I Have a Dream" speech?

Students at an Atlanta elementary school were lucky enough to have it re-enacted for them last week by the school's head custodian. In case you missed it, the August 1963 speech is available anytime on YouTube.

From my kids' earliest days in school, their teachers have talked about Martin Luther King Jr. in advance of today's holiday. This year, one son's preschool class created people out of paper, crayons and string and talked with teachers about people being the same regardless of their skin color. The other's elementary school works continually to teach about different cultures equally. Both kids understand that Barack Obama is poised to become the first black president tomorrow. Both have been read books about slavery and segregation. Both are able to "grasp hands with little black boys and little black girls as sisters and brothers," as King dreamed.

But given that the life in 1963 and the life in 2009 are vastly different, neither can truly grasp the African-American journey in this country. While adults around them still may see skin color, many kids today don't; they see people. There's a greatness to that reality that many children in our country are now a part of. While we are still making strides to keep reaching for that dream, we've made significant progress in 46 years.

Listening to King's speech today, hoping I could show it to the kids, I realized they aren't quite old enough yet to understand many of King's references. Those seem to take a certain maturity level that may not hit till middle school.

Are you spending today doing service for those in need? Are you showing your kids King's speech? Do they grasp the significance both of MLK Day and of tomorrow's inauguration?

*Correction: An earlier version of this blog listed an incorrect year for Martin Luther King's speech. It has been fixed.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  January 19, 2009; 10:55 AM ET  | Category:  Newsmakers
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I sure hope my kids don't grasp the significance of MLK's speech. I would much prefer that they don't understand that they can and most likely will be discriminated against because they are obviously not white.

I have yet to hear anything out of them to indicate that they understand that I am not the same colour as them which makes me (or them) different. I hope it stays that way for as long as possible.

I am afraid that I am pretty blase about this whole historic inauguration and don't find it particularly amazing. I grew up in a country were race was not the issue that it has been in the US. So if race isn't an issue in this great country of ours as so many people said during the campaign then this is not a historic inauguration because apparently it is only historic based on race - which isn't an issue right?

What is more historic as my husband pointed out to me was that this man was not born into a wealthy family. He was born into a family with modest means. This means that anyone could become President no matter what their origins are. You can be of any colour or of any economic background. That is historic.

Posted by: Billie_R | January 19, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse


Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!) During his campaign, he told lots of hope in future for America if he was elected, but now he warns Americans of oncoming darker economy and not to put too much hope in his promises. He promises a big plan to reduce budget deficit but his inauguration ceremony this January will be the most costly in history (50 millions) while the nation is in deep depression, as well as his presidential campaign (600 millions), which was far more than his opponent John McCain's. He swears to clean up Washington DC, but he failed to first clean up his homestate Illinois, one of the most corrupt state with the scandal of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who greatly helped Obama to win his state senate seat in 1996, 1998, and 2002. And his favorite slogan is "Yes, we CAN", yet he himself CANNOT quit smoking at all !!!

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | January 19, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I don't think there was ever any doubt that Barack was a politician. I find it comforting as his administration unfolds to see that he's actually more a Democratic political than he is a Black Man.

I don't think many kids make it out of MCPS without hearing the dream speech.

Just as Obama is and will always be a politician and a man, King is a man and a Pastor. I like to think of his message in the context of a call from God, and know that his work and his message were an extension of his faith in a just God.

Posted by: RedBird27 | January 19, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

On teaching the why of the dream speech i would like to speak to my African American brothers.....

I grew up hating who we were because my Father refused to be there for me and tell me who we as African American men are. He failed to give me my identity. I don't know all the circumstances around his decision to abandon my Mother and me. Yet, I can say this, I needed him. If for nothing else, just to tell me that it was o.k. for me to have been born African American, dark skinned, and male. I needed him to model for me hope, patience, responsibility, integrity, and success. Most importantly I needed him too show me how to be a man. I needed him to correct me when I was wrong, and to praise me when I did something praiseworthy. Thank God for my Mother and Step-Father and Pastors and Mentors who modeled humanity for me. My dad lost out on something....seeing me in the process of becoming a successful man.

If you have a son or a daughter for that matter, please do yourself and that child a favor and STAY. Sacrifice so that that child will have a chance. Let it be said of you as it was said of Christian in a 'Pilgrims Progress', and as it is said of MLK, "....He played the MAN...."

Posted by: need4trth | January 19, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Missed this on friday.

The other day we were talking with my almost 7 YO. My husband was asking: Do you know what's going to happen in a few days? Then he asked, do you know what's special about this new president? And my son thought and then said: Nothing. My husband was about to say something, and I teared up. I got my husband to stop and told him: Isn't our son's response exactly what we want? That there's nothing particularly 'special' about this particular man? As in - let's just not, ya know, talk about his skin color. Let's not make that a discussion (although we can discuss other attributes about him that might be special). That would be MLK's legacy. That it would be another day, another transfer of power, another president.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 20, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

fr Billie_R:

>I am afraid that I am pretty blase about this whole historic inauguration and don't find it particularly amazing. I grew up in a country were race was not the issue that it has been in the US. So if race isn't an issue in this great country of ours as so many people said during the campaign then this is not a historic inauguration because apparently it is only historic based on race - which isn't an issue right?

It is indeed historic, because for the first time in a long time, we have finally the village idiot OUT of the White House, and someone who deserves to be in it as duly-elected (not selected, like dumbya was) to be President. This is a GREAT day for ALL.

Posted by: Alex511 | January 20, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Uh, didn't anyone notice? I don't want the blogger, Ms. Garfinkle, teaching history to American children. Dr. King's renowned speech took place in Washington during August 1963, not August 1968, and thus was more than 45 years ago, not 41. Dr. King had already been assisinated on April 4, 1968. Yet another reason why blogs on newspaper websites should be banned.

Posted by: DCBuff | January 21, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Interesting. As an African American parent my older daughter knew and understood the significance of MLK (not just the dream but his work on poverty and economics when she was in elementary school.I also don't want her to be "color blind". The true test is that we see that there are differences yet still find common denominators. The American experience is shaped by many factors, not excluding situations and life experiences shared by those of shared religions and or race.

Posted by: nf518 | January 23, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

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