The Grand MLK Day elementary school Essay

It would have had to have been fifth grade when my class was handed a MLK – Civil Rights – History of Broad Subject and Where We Are Now essay assignment.  Nothing particularly inspired on my part, but by the standards of generic elementary school mish and mashing a lot of secondary sources and writing in complete sentences essaying, mine stood out.  After all, it was longer than anyone else’s — something which amounted to something and spoke to at the very least some cognitive ability — sitting down to type the thing out on the computer lab, my hunt and peck typing was much quicker than everyone elses’, and yet I ended up having to sit there roughly to the end.  So it was that at the start of having to write this the teacher told us that she was going to send a few of these to some statewide judging committee, and so it was that mine was the only one she bothered sending.  This had no effect on me one way or the other.

Weeks later, a sheet of paper came in the mail, essentially a Certificate of Participation.  It had stamped on it, in the background, an image of Martin Luther King, Jr. and it had on the governor’s signature and it said not much more.  It was the type of thing I would draw some cartoons on a few years’ later, and in the meantime just slide into a box paying no mind whatever toward.  Nonetheless, my mother caught sight of it, or perhaps even opened the letter in the first place, and asked why I had not shown it to my teacher.  There was no good answer to the question because it was a stupid question.  My mother somehow attributed shyness to my marked indifference, when it was more a matter I don’t know what this could possibly signify.
That aside, I thought about that essay a few years’ ago when reading a piece by an English professor expressing her annoyance at judging elementary school Martin Luther King, Jr. essays and reading the same cookie-cutter tripe, depoliticized Triumphantalist Journeys which ends with all issues of equality more or less, and more on the more side, settled — a nod to a vague need to continue, though we don’t really know where we are continuing toward.  Likewise, I recall name-checking any black entertainer I could think of, which ends up sort of cloying, and if I were mature as opposed to an idiot eleven year old, you’d be justified in hitting me over the head.  A satisfying piece it was as it justified my fifth grade indifference.  The only thing I can’t quite put my finger on is how things could be different — teach your elementary school children something and see if you can lead to something besides a bit of polly-annaism and awkwardness.

On MLK Day I don’t know if I want to hear is the “I Have A Dream” speech.  Better to hear something from “Beyond Vietnam” or… something somewhere else.  Besides which, the number of lines the average American knows from “I Have A Dream” stands at… two.

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