In Emmie Drueckhammer’s high school world history and U.S. history classes, students know they can express opinions, but they must be respectful of others. That understanding is key in a class that is discussing current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement and its relation to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“This has been an issue they want to talk about and work through,” the Spring Hill High School teacher said. “They’re really good about being able to have those conversations, I think because they’re used to it.”
To teach about MLK Day this year, Drueckhammer said she is trying to tie recent events surrounding racial justice with King’s legacy.
“One thing I’ve noticed is (students’) ability to connect it this year,” she said. “When we’re talking about history, they’re connecting it with the Voting Rights Act and what’s happening today and in the Georgia election and Stacey Abrams and voter suppression.”
Her students are more knowledgeable with current events, which she said she believes is because of social media — events are all over Twitter and Instagram or livestreamed.
A class like Drueckhammer’s is more likely to have discussion about possibly sensitive issues, but she said creating an environment of respect and avoiding inflammatory language from the start helps keep conversations about issues such as race educational.
“I try to stay out of it as much as possible and be more of a guide. I turn it more to (students) so it’s more their ideas and not mine,” she said. “I try to be neutral and let them formulate their own thoughts. I’m a parent, and I try to think of ... if it were my son, I’d want him to express himself but still explore ideas and not have just one view given to him.”
White Oak Middle School sixth-grade writing teacher Angie Lobue said she spends about two weeks teaching about her King, whom she calls her “hero.”
The students will read books, poems and do art activities related to King. They also will write their own “I Have a Dream” poems.
Though her students are not specifically asking her about the Black Lives Matter movement, they are bringing up issues on their own related to racism. Some of the children’s writing already says they want change in the world so people are not judged based on the color of their skin.
“When they find out (in third grade) that there is a time that people were treated differently just based on the color of their skin, they would be shocked. By sixth grade now, many of them have heard of it,” she said. “They’re very aware of what’s going on. They are a community loving student body; I’ve never seen a community come together like White Oak.”
Lobue’s Black students have loved the MLK Day lessons in the past, she said.
“I think it makes them feel eyes are being opened, and hearts and eyes have to be opened for changes to happen,” she said. “I am proud of my students.”
Lobue’s said the King poster hanging on her door serves as a daily reminder to students on how to treat others — “We can use our intelligent words and not our fists.”
“To do what is right is more important than academic grades,” she said. “It’s non-violence and loving everyone and treating everyone equally with respect, and to me that is more important than anything else I could teach them.”