I’m currently re-reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 work Strength to Love. In the introduction, he notes his hesitance in publishing this work because the “essays” are actually “sermons” and thus meant for a present, listening audience. This is important to keep in mind in reading this passage about the church that I find quite timely:
“As the chief moral guardian of the community, the church must implore men to be good and well-intentioned and must extol the virtues of kindheartedness and conscientiousness. But somewhere along the way the church must remind men that devoid of intelligence, goodness and conscientiousness will become brutal forcers leading to shameful crucifixions. Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent” [all emphasis mine] (46).
So I read this wonderful line in King’s text yesterday and today I received a beautifully handwritten note from my son’s teacher, at the Christian school he attends, that says this:
“Good day parents: Our book day is Friday. Please do not allow Miles to bring books or toys to school because it distracts him from his work.” WTF?! When did books become toys? Miles is allowed to play with toys in the car before he goes into school, but he’s so good at not bringing toys into school that his Kindergarten teacher noted this fact in one of our many conversations. So if books are a distraction from his “work,” wtf is he doing?
When I was in school, I remember students being admonished for sneaking and reading books after they had completed a test and the teacher had not collected them or if we were being punished and forced to sit quietly with nothing on our desks. Even then, I remember thinking reading was a good use of one’s time once classwork was complete, but I complied with the rule. Although I didn’t say this to my son, his teacher has a stupid a*$ rule as far as books, work, and school are concerned. Ever since Miles has been in school, I’ve stressed the importance of having books in his book bag. I would tell him to read or color before class began or if allowed, to be productive in this way once his work was complete.
Everything in me wants to call this teacher and tell her that EVERY SCHOOL DAY is BOOK DAY!!! It’s the same urge I felt when the principal overheard me asking Miles if he wanted to carry his Bible in his hands or leave it in his book bag and she said, “He doesn’t need a book. Ms. K is going over scriptures in the cafeteria.” I’m not one for rolling up to your spot and telling you how to run it so I’m not going to say anything to them; we’ll just have to accept punishment for this one. If this were 1814, I could see telling an enslaved black child to hide traces of his literacy but a lawfully free black child 200 years later?! My son CAN and WILL carry books to school!
My son’s teacher has a master’s degree in theology. I guess wherever she went to school, they skipped over what Martin Luther King, Jr. had to say about the church’s responsibility of “reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.” King even goes on to say: “Only through the bringing together of head and heart–intelligence and goodness–shall man rise to a fulfillment of his true nature. Neither is this to say that one must be a philosopher or a possessor of extensive academic training before he can achieve the good life. I know many people of limited formal training who have amazing intelligence and foresight” (47). Like King, I know wise untutored people too and not a single one of them would tell someone that “book day is Friday” and that while in school, books are a “distraction.” Lord have mercy. It’s like you send children to school nowadays to show them how stupid we’ve become.