MLK and the 6 year old brain

Martin Luther King Jr. day was on Monday, and the kids were off school for the holiday. (Sorry for not posting this on Monday, but I didn’t want to step on the giveaway post!) I’m sure this is the first time that Evie has really realized there was such a holiday as MLK, so she was a little confused about what exactly this entailed.

“Do we leave out a gift or cookies or something?” she asked the night before. She seemed a little worried that if she didn’t leave *something* she ran the risk of angering the ghost of Mr. King. After all, Santa leaves presents overnight, as does the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, so it stands to reason that the Good Doctor would as well.

(“Can you imagine the ghost of Martin Luther King creeping around your house at night? What would he leave?” I asked my co-worker. “A dream” was his (obvious) response.)

In preparation for MLK, Evie has been learning a lot about civil rights leaders in school; Martin Luther King as well as people like Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez. This of course leads into discussions of slavery, race, rights, the underground railroad and assassination. These are all sort of heavy topics for kindergarten, so I have to admit I was interested to see what Evie thought about all of this. These topics carry so much baggage that it’s practically impossible to see them on their own, without all of the history and controversy and discussion that swirls around it. But Evie’s coming at it from a completely blank slate.

Her take was refreshing: she doesn’t get it. At all.

A 6 year old is basically obsessed with fairness. “He has more in his bowl!” “Ollie, count how many raisins you have!” “Why does daddy get the extra pancake?” “Ollie took two turns on the scooter! He’s not letting me have my share!” To Evie it is inconceivable that someone should not be treated equally. EVERYTHING should be equal ALL THE TIME. Any unfairness is inherently wrong and should be rectified. Immediately.

This is not to say that little kids are somehow blind to race. *Quite* the opposite. I think that biologically speaking it was probably very important for children to quickly distinguish and distrust “outsiders”. I think when parents pretend that racial differences don’t exist, children just think we’re crazy. Our approach has always been to acknowledge that yes, that person is different than us. Isn’t it great that we aren’t all the same? (This does not always go over very well. If you recall, childhood does not treat people who are “different” very kindly, however you define different.)

In any case, when the ghost of Martin Luther King slipped down our chimney Sunday night, I’d like to think he smiled that, 46 years after his death, a little blonde haired, blue-eyed girl wanted to leave some milk and cookies to her favorite mythical being: the patron saint of fairness.

We’re not there, Mr. King, but we’ve made some progress.

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