Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life by Making Today a Day of Service to Others

January 17, 2011: In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life of service to others, what could you do for someone in need?

I asked students what they could do for a person in need and many of them struggled coming up with ideas. Why? It can't be that they don't know anyone in need; now, more than ever, people are struggling to make ends meet.

I ruled out that they didn't have anyone modeling the behavior–all around us are volunteers, parents, teachers, and so many others who go above and beyond for others with no desire for personal gain.

So why couldn't they think of things to do for someone else? Their reason was that they never have time, so they don't think about doing something for someone else. Their lives are too busy! They are in too many extra-curriculars! They barely have time for homework!  These were some of their responses.  But, then I asked why they were able to make time for Facebook, or computer/video games, or texting their friends. Of course, their response was they have to have some time for themselves!

Does this sound familiar?  How much time does today's teenager give back to his/her community? I thought back to my high school days and realized we did a lot for our community with nothing in return. Nor did we expect anything in return. It seems that today's child has to get something back–practically be bribed–in order to serve others. The class that donates the most canned goods for the local food pantry gets a pizza party!  or  Donate the most winter clothing and have your name in a drawing for a Playstation 3! and Help rake leaves for the elderly & we'll go rollerskating afterward! 

I remember raking leaves for the elderly. We didn't go anywhere afterward, we didn't get paid, and we certainly didn't charge money as a group to perform the service. I also remember my peers and I getting in trouble for accepting a pop one time because that was a form of "payment." If we hadn't opened it and drank it, we would have had to return it. And looking back, that made sense. We were doing something out of kindness, not because we wanted something in return.

Are today's teens too busy today with scheduled activities to even make time for service? How will children ever learn how to give if they don't practice it? Does it need to be scheduled into their day as a mandatory activity? And if so...Why should we have to make service to others a required activity? Doesn't that defeat its purpose? If it becomes required, it's no longer something they are doing because they choose to and want to. It's because they have to. And that makes it a chore and something they may loathe the rest of their lives.

So I just left the thought of serving others in my students' heads as they left for their three-day weekend. I asked them to think of what they could do for others. Even something simple, small. And to think about who needs help the most in our community. Because if they are thinking of it, then perhaps they will do something for someone else–not because they have to and not because I told them to. But because they want to.

UPDATED Classroom Connection: Here's a freebie you can download for MLK day or use when reading/studying any of his speeches. Martin Luther King, Jr. Free Lesson Download
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