Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK Day and the school closing controversy

Depending on where you went to school and who you are, today means something different to you. If you're a white suburban or farm kid, today probably doesn't have much meaning to you. There is only a small percentage of that demographic who's parents or teachers (before college) really gave them a quality insight on what Dr. King's movement really encompassed.

I went to public schools in the city, and MLK Day to our district was considered (and still is) a national holiday of reverence. Therefore, we had the day off school, without question. Upon entering college, I assumed it happened everywhere, at ever institution of learning. Well, every public university in the state of Michigan is closed on this day, except for my alma mater, Grand Valley State University. This was and is taken with mized emotions amongst staff and students. The school has a big march with local political leaders, and state's that they believe Dr. King would want them to remain open and honor his memory and movement in the spirit of learning.

Some students didn't care either way, it made no difference to them. Others wanted the day off simply for a day off, irregardless of the meaning behind it. Still more took the action of remaining open sincerly insulting, and felt somewhat embarrassed. I'm not talking only about the campus hippies here either. The fact that every other public university in the state closed save for our institution does make one raise an eyebrow, and you certainly leave your school on the firing range of criticism.

I realized today that the Dewitt Public schools were open as well. If you don't know, Dewitt is a rather affluent suburb/exurb of Lansing, MI. In their high school, graduates have commented that there are maybe 3-4 African American students out of around 900-1000 total high school students. All hyperbole aside, one can draw conclusions between the stats and the actions of the school board. If the Grand Rapids Public Schools attempted to remain open on this day, I would expect an immediate and rather harsh backlash. Their enrollment accounts for a majority of "minority" students system-wide. I'd wholly expect parents to keep their kids home today in lieu of the holiday.

In a school system such as Dewitt, I expect there would be a few off-hand opinions of the importance of the day, but nothing firey to be sure. The school board, students, parents and regular town population are very light on the minority demographics. They would have few dissenting opinions to sway their decision.

So by now you may think I'm reaching. You may even take offense to my theory. Go right on ahead, I'll even up you one. Do you honestly think a school system run by Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh would honor Martin Luther King Day? Not that Dewitt, Michigan and other suburbs like it are filled with Palin's and Limbaugh's, sometimes quite the opposite in fact. However the disgusting truth is that there are still a lot of racial undertones in this country. The school controversy on this day is but one highlighted facet of a much larger social issue. Yes, this is meant to spark debate, as open debate is the only way we can make headway on the issue.

I have immediate relatives who went into Alabama and Mississippi in the '60's and took part in Freedom Rides. In their efforts to bring our country through and out of a very dark, dark social era, they risked their lives. We owe them our thanks at the very least.

Happy MLK Day everyone.

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