Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK Jr.: Can digitization & the Internet help perpetuate the dream?

An MSNBC article tells us that not every student in the U.S. understands who Martin Luther King Jr. was. Unfortunately, what is being taught in our schools has changed.
In many schools across the country, teachers say social studies has taken a back seat under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which stresses math and reading. Squeezing history into the curriculum can be difficult, educators say, and taking time out of a scheduled lesson to use a federal holiday -- even King's -- as a teaching moment can be tough.
If it is not being taught well in schools, can the Internet help? As I write this, I'm also Googling to see what is retrieved when I type in "Martin Luther King".
  • The first six hits are either from the Nobel Prize web site, the King Center, or Stanford University and are all pro-King sites.
  • The seventh hit is really an anti-King site hosted by Stormfront White Nationalist Community. This site works to discredit both Dr. King and the work that he did.
  • The eight hit is from Wikipedia. We might suspect that the Wikipedia article contains some incorrect information, but "what" is not immediately obvious. What I find interesting though, is reading through the discussion page, where you can see what people disagree on in the article.
  • Knowing that most people look only at the first ten hits returned by a search engine, I'll note that the ninth and tenth hits are also good.
So in the first ten hits in Google, there is one that would lead you astray. But also in the first ten hits, there are no digitization projects that are making King's writing available to the public. Stanford Univ., which is spearheading the King Papers Project, has created a web site of information for teachers that contains some documents, but not a lot.

Can digitization and the Internet help perpetuate the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Obviously, the Internet is helping since there are articles, biographies and other information available about King on it. There are also dissenting voices, which can be important to understand. However, there is not the digitized content available to help bring his story alive. That content is still under copyright and has not yet been freed so that it can be easily digitized and disseminated. The King family has been enforcing the copyright on Dr. King's works, yet placing some of his works in the public domain could do more to spread the message that he believed in.

Maybe in a year, on January 15, I'll do a Google search and find that a legitimate digitization project of Dr. King's works is available and highly ranked. Until then, it will be up to us as individuals to retell the story and keep the images -- even if it is our verbal "images" -- of those events alive.

Related post: Martin Luther King Jr.: Digitized and available illegally


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1 comment:

mitch said...

It's sad that many of today's kids, even college level, have no idea who these famous historical figures are. I'd be upset that people didn't know who Dr. King was if I hadn't watched this one episode of the Tonight Show, where he asked a recent college graduate who the father of our country was and he said "George Bush". It's little wonder that we keep repeating the mistakes history has already shown us.