When you think Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, what do you think? How about Presidents Day? Or the upcoming Memorial Day? You’re relieved for a day off, right? That’s likely the case for the rest of us, too.
Freshman Jacob Kaplan-Davis, for example, appreciates having national holidays off for the extra break on weekends. “I can push all my homework until that day,” he said.
Just a couple weeks ago was Presidents Day. On that Monday, Kaplan-Davis was most excited about “not having school” and was “not even slightly” considering the past U.S. presidents.
But, don’t forget, that these national holidays, more often than not, serve to recognize extraordinary people or events in American history. The intent behind these “days off” is not to give you a day off. (MCPS has excessive snow days for that.) This is the reason our county gets Veterans Day off, but not Columbus Day, even though it is a federally-designated national holiday. The same merit of veterans has been found to not apply to Christopher Columbus, after new discovery and wide publication of old records. However, students often don’t acknowledge even the well-deserved recognition, like that of veterans or Martin Luther King, Jr. And this problem can be attributed to the county.
Under the Social Studies tab in the Curriculum Subject Areas section on the MCPS website, a “Special Topics” section provides materials for teachers regarding holidays such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents Day. These sources are specifically made to help teachers inform and educate their students about the significance of national holidays. However, MCPS’s PreK-12 Social Studies Supervisor Maria Tarasuk, who aligns MCPS curriculum to state standards, notes, “I don’t think teachers are as aware of this as they may have been several years ago.” Prior to MCPS adopting Google Apps for Education, the website used to be a communication tool between MCPS and the teachers.
“So I have [a] social studies page [on Google Apps for Education] for teachers with links to resources and curriculum. The information on our webpage has not been migrated over however,” Tarasuk said. Even the resources that the supervisor’s office does recommend are merely “suggested,” as Tarasuk said.
The only reference to national holidays in MCPS Social Studies curriculum is in the Kindergarten and third grade sections. This curriculum has other effects on the ability to emphasize national holidays, according to social studies teacher Keith Yanity.
“Because of time constraints in place to finish the county curriculum, this would be left up to individual teachers, not the county. […] Unfortunately it is not something that is prioritized because of the constraints,” Yanity said.
Though learning about national holidays may seem fitting for younger kids, there is deeper learning potential for high schoolers. “At the older grades, it’s possible to extend that learning to examine various perspectives on national holidays. […] There are many who question why some people are honored through holidays and others are not,” Tarasuk said.
Some of these important people and events are incorporated into history curricula, but the need to recognize them on their designated holiday still exists despite resources being available and reason being clear. So next time you think about a national holiday, hopefully you acknowledge its importance before your mind turns to Netflix and procrastinating.