Sunday, January 21, 2007


On January 15th, Suzy with a Y, over here, raised a couple of interesting points, and I said I would enter the debate when I got a chance. Well here I am, 6am on Sunday 21st and finally getting an opportunity to sit down and apply the old fried grey matter to the issues at hand!

In a nutshell , Suzy was questioning how to present Martin Luther King Day to her very young students, without diluting the essence of his beliefs, and asked the rhetorical (but still worthy of an answer) question “is it bad not to "do" MLK for a week or two in January if, through my actions and the culture of my classroom, I am trying to embody the teachings of Dr. King throughout the entire school year?” she also goes on to point out that she has a larger percentage of Latino children in the classroom than black children, yet no-one celebrates a day for them.

So, for what it is worth, here is my take on it….While I think it is good to remember those who have made a positive contribution to society, I totally agree with Suzy’s comment that “No great teachers have developed their beliefs in a vacuum”. Throughout history, great icons have been remembered, and celebrated (just as great monsters have been remembered too, like Hitler), but none of them got to be in power without the contribution and backing of countless supporters, who usually remain unacknowledged.
If we had a “day” for each great contributor to society, we would never actually work at all! So how does one choose?

In this country, in the Apartheid years, we had a holiday called “the day of the vow” which was a celebration of the victory of the Boers (Afrikaaners) over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in the mid 1800s. They made a vow to God that if he let them win, they would continue to celebrate the day in honour of him. When the National Party came to power, they declared it a Public Holiday. Naturally a majority of the population found this offensive! When we had our change of Government just over a decade ago, the holiday was kept on that day, to acknowledge its importance to the Afrikaans section of our society, but it was renamed “the day of reconciliation.” (I must admit, I thought this showed great maturity on the part of the new government)

In Zimbabwe, when I was growing up under British colonial government, there was a 2 day holiday in July called “Rhodes and Founders” to celebrate Cecil John Rhodes and other founders of Rhodesia. Now, in post colonial Zimbabwe, CJR is persona non-grata, and the holiday remains, but is called “heroes day”, after what we now call “heroes of the struggle”. (In the pre independence days, the same guys were called “terrorists” by the Smith government!) Because, invariably one man’s hero is another man’s enemy! But it is a clever idea really; the name “Heroes Day” is ambiguous enough that any part of the population can take a couple of days to celebrate whoever they perceive to be their particular heroes.

Because of the stupid habit of naming towns, streets, airports and government buildings after people in power at the time, in Africa, where we have a history of political turbulence over the last few decades, we are faced with constant name changes as governments change. Looking at my old atlas from high school is something of a joke these days, so much is obsolete!

I think that in a country like America, which has absorbed and is made up of people from so many different communities, by singling out a few individuals, you create a tightrope of “Political Correctness” to walk. If you have a holiday for Martin Luther King (and let’s face it he was a great man and deserves to be acknowledged as such), then should there not also be a ….. day and a……….day and a…….day?
And if you go back in history, what about some of the great American Indian leaders? (Sorry, forgive my lack of politically correct jargon; put it down to the fact that I am an ignorant foreigner!) Or the leaders on both sides of the civil war (because you don’t want to offend either side?)

Heroes are good, and a helpful rallying point behind which people can stand up and be counted for values that are important, but when it comes to naming a national holiday after them, for every one you acknowledge in this way, there are thousands, just as worthy, who you automatically snub.

So basically what it comes down to, when it comes to honouring heroes, whether with National holidays, or place names, is that it is a minefield to be avoided, because it all depends on who is choosing the hero!
(By the way, this same argument can be extended to religious holidays, in an ethnically and religiously diverse nation, why only have public holidays to celebrate important days in the Christian calendar? But if you included all belief systems, no-one would ever go to work!)

So Suzy, I think you do much more honour to Martin Luther King by encouraging your students to live by his values on a daily basis, and acknowledging him as the source of the teachings while doing so, than by having a shallow little blurb about him on one day in the year.
By the same token, sharing some of the Mexican,( American Indian, Irish American…etc etc.) traditions and heroes in your class would be great, (also as a part of the ongoing sharing in the class and not as a special day.)

Bottom line, in a culturally diverse country, kids need to learn to respect and celebrate the richness brought about by the differences, and embrace what is good in each culture which makes up the fabric of the whole society.

Ok, well, I’ll put my soap box away now….. and proceed to lighter topics,

such as .........

An old friend popped in to help at Croick cottage yesterday (He says Hi, #1). Clive started to work for us when he was just 21, and our kids were still toddlers, back in the days when we were living on the smallholding. Over the years we have all gone in different directions, but remain friends.
The middle bathroom is finally getting somewhere........

just a reminder of how it was....
lemon yellow cracked tiles and tatty floor, with the basin right in the doorway, so you had to squeeze past and close the door to get in properly

the loo was NASTY, cracked and gross.

Half way there, new tiles on the side of the bath, and new flooring. We still need to put mirrors in the corner over the basin, and skirting on the edges of the floor, but this is how it looks so far….

new basin in corner, out of the way, and new loo
this mirror is over the bath

Daily photos…

since i didn't get a chance to post yesterday, here is the picture i took while in the bath getting rid of paint yesterday afternoon! I keep a row of bottles on the window sill, for the sort of stained glass effect and also a little privacy. (Seemed more fun than putting frosted glass in and blocking the view of the plants in the courtyard outside.)

I seem to have this thing about reflections, and light through coloured objects at the moment. So while on that train of thought, here are a few other photos taken recently, where light through objects creates interesting patterns and shadows and colour mixtures.
A couple more views of “red grape juice, ice and a slice of lemon.”
Light through apricot leaves
More bathroom bottles,
……these are antique bottles dug up from an old rubbish tip, I love them and heve them in odd places all over the house!

and today's pix.... i love this tree in our little back courtyard.


Sheila said...

I don't know about photo of the day, you always seem to have a good collection. I love the ones of the coloured glass, but they are all excellent.

Terry said...

While I have to agree that teaching the ideals of MLK daily is far more meaningful that a shallow blurb on MLK Day, I do want to point out that I feel that viewing MLK as a "black" hero is, in some ways, a misunderstanding of all he stood for and fosters the kind of divisiveness that the Civil Rights movement strove to do away with. For me he was a hero for all of us, white, Latino, black, Asian. When he said his dream was that his little children would someday be judged, "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" I heard that as a dream for all children. Personally, I like to observe MLK Day in some small way in the hope that he will not be forgotten and his message will continue to inspire all of us. There is a growing movement here for people to use their MLK day off from work to do public service work in his memory. I like that.

Suzi-k said...

thanks Sheila.
Terry, you make a very good point about it applying to everyone, those are universal values, and the world would be a better place if everyone lived by them!
I think the idea of using the day for community service is great.

Suzy said...

Howdy, weighing in here 'cause I was the instigator of this discussion. Thank you both Terry and Suzi-K for your reflections. I didn't mean to say that I believe he's just a black hero. It's more that I don't want to be superficial about it. I try to avoid a "heroes and holidays" approach to teaching. It seems as if MLK Day has been co-opted and trivialized (soon we'll be seeing MLK sales at WalMart) and I don't want to take part in that. I don't want to "do" MLK as we "do" Valentine's Day or whatever. I want it to be more than children parroting "I have a dream that ... people will pick up litter" or whatever. And I'm also sensitive to the fact that I was reamed by a parent a few years ago for teaching "inappropriate black history" that was "too scary for young children" (an unfair and incorrect assessment, in my opinion but it left me very wary and somewhat confused. She was a white mom with an adopted black child and she said I damaged him by reading books that included WHITES ONLY signs on drinking fountains and other examples of Jim Crow laws; it made him feel like he didn't belong in their family.) Anyway I was reprimanded by my principal, even though every single book I shared with the class had come from the list of acceptable and award-winning picture books put out by my district. So be it. I am findng my way and it helps to hear what other people think.