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King Holiday Spurs Classroom Activity

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A new federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. next week has aroused nationwide interest in a variety of classroom activities--from history lessons and essay contests to films and puppet shows--that commemorate the slain civil-rights leader.

Dr. King's writings and speeches are being widely distributed, along with "Living the Dream" pledge cards aimed at enlisting students as advocates of nonviolent social change. A network of schools named for Dr. King has launched projects in art, language, and social studies. And U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett plans to teach a 3rd-grade class on Dr. King in Atlanta this week.

Meanwhile, coordinators of holiday celebrations "have been absolutely swamped by requests from teachers and school districts" seeking instructional materials, said Boyd Bosma, a civil-rights specialist for the National Education Association.

"How many times do we establish a new holiday that really has significance for a large part of the population? It's a historic event," he said.

The American Federation of Teachers has had to hire temporary workers to fill about 20,000 requests from its members for special instructional packets on Dr. King, reported Barbara Van Blake, the union's human-rights director, adding, "It's been a great response."

Observance Date Varies

School schedules for the holiday will vary, however. Dr. King's actual birthday, Jan. 15, is a holiday in some states; others will observe the federal holiday on Monday, Jan. 20.

According to John Zottoli, a spokesman for the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, only eight states have failed to make one of the two dates a legal state holiday or "commemorative day." Students in most large urban districts will have either Jan. 15 or Jan. 20 off because of union contracts, said Ms. Van Blake of the aft

In Maryland, the decision of several districts to keep schools open has brought criticism from some black organizations. (See Education Week, Dec. 18, 1985.) But Beverly Cole, education director of the naacp, said the group's national headquarters in New York has received no other reports of such controversies.

Dissention over whether students should attend class on the holiday has been the exception, Mr. Bosma agreed, with Coretta Scott King striving, he said, for unity on the first federal observance of her husband's birthday.

He predicted "significant movement by next year" in legislatures to make the federal observance an official state holiday.

Most Schools Plan Programs

Special activities honoring Dr. King are planned in 95 percent of the districts responding to a survey by the King-holiday commission's education committee, said Willi T. Webb, an aide to Lawrence F. Davenport, U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. The commission panel is co-chaired by Mr. Davenport and Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the nea

About 200 superintendents from 38 states responded to the survey, said Ms. Webb, outlining plans that "ranged from [instructional] programs at individual schools to plays and evening activities, celebrations in musical programs, bringing in prominent community figures for speeches, rallies, or parades, showing movies."

Some examples of plans included:

Mecklenburg County, N.C., schools, which have observed Dr. King's birthday for seven years, will highlight it this year with music and art exercises, a poster-making contest, films, and community events.

The Westbury, N.Y., school district has prepared its own curriculum and audiovisual materials.

Elkhart, Ind., elementary schools will feature a puppet show, while secondary-school students will view a videotape on Dr. King's life and work.

Unified School District 328 in Kansas is one of the few districts planning no activities, leaving ob-servances to the discretion of individual schools.

King Curriculum Developed

Many superintendents reported plans to use a new curriculum developed by Christine King Farris, the sister of Dr. King and an associate professor of education at Spelman College in Atlanta.

The workbook prepared by Ms. Farris, "Martin Luther King Jr.: His Life and Dream," is, according to the nea's Mr. Bosma, "the first real, comprehensive material for elementary schools" on the subject.

Secretary Bennett will use these materials at an Atlanta elementary school this week before a scheduled speech at the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change.

Ms. Farris, a reading specialist, tried to make her subject accessible to young students by emphasizing her brother's childhood and family relationships. The 48-page work text includes several previously unpublished photographs of Dr. King, along with crossword puzzles and review exercises.

Prepared specifically for the first observance of the federal holiday, the text is already in its third printing because of "phenomenal" demand, according to a spokesman for the publisher. Some 250,000 copies of student and teacher editions have been distributed, said Tyra Sidberry, a curriculum director for Ginn & Co. of Lexington, Mass.

'Network' of King Schools

Thirty elementary and secondary schools named after Dr. King, along with five colleges he attended, have organized a "network" to promote several educational projects on the occasion of the first King holiday. These include: "Collector of Dreams," a writing exercise assisted by Alex Haley, author of "Roots"; "Weaver of Dreams," a quilt-making project, with each school contributing a square; and "Heroes," a film focusing on the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott led by Dr. King.

Also, the coalition is working on a "conflict-resolution" project aimed at controlling "the escalating physical and verbal violence in the schools," said Carolyn D. Jones, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family of Schools Network.

The group, representing some 30,000 students and educators nationwide, is funded by grants from the American Can Co. It grew out of the "Join-A-School" project in New York City, which matches corporate sponsors with inner-city schools.

Unions Play Active Role

The two major teachers' unions have also played an active role in preparations for the holiday. Besides classroom aids, the aft is distributing written and audiovisual materials focusing on Dr. King's links to the American labor movement. The union is also sponsoring a radio advertising campaign in which a history teacher describes his efforts to make "Dr. King's message ... as real today as it was 20 years ago."

The nea recently mailed out 150,000 copies of "American Visions," a new magazine on black culture published by the Smithsonian Institution. The premier issue, devoted to Dr. King, was released to coincide with the holiday.

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