Last year, I was trying to get my U.S. history class to focus on a passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Unfortunately, I was not surprised when a student protested, “We already know about him. We’re tired of hearing about Martin Luther King.”
So I asked, “Okay, what do you know about him?”
“He had a dream,” another student replied as others laughed.
I insisted that there was infinitely more to King and his ideas than one very famous speech. “Well, that’s all they ever show us,” someone complained. “And that’s why I’m trying to show you something new about him,” I responded, showing, I hope, only a hint of my frustration.
This unit attempts to help students penetrate the curtain of clichés and lies the corporate media have erected around Martin Luther King Jr., in order to make him “safe” for public consumption. My objectives for students who participate in these lessons are that they will:
- Explicitly identify the ways in which Martin Luther King Jr. is portrayed in the mass media, and specifically, which of his ideas are communicated to the public.
- Read and discuss a range of King’s ideas almost completely unknown to most of the public today.
- Reflect upon why many of King’s ideas introduced in this lesson are almost never referenced in the mass media or in U.S. history textbooks.
- What were the major ideas of Martin Luther King Jr., and why aren’t they more publicly known?
- How do the media depict King and his ideas and why?
The lesson includes a handout with excerpts from speeches and books by Dr. King that is useful for all to read.