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My Dream of Martin Luther King

by Faith Ringgold

Summary

My Dream of Martin Luther King introduces a number of questions about freedom, equality, race, and heroism.

The artist Faith Ringgold has dream about Martin Luther King, Jr. In this beautiful book, she describes her visions of King’s life, from his boyhood to his assassination.

Read aloud video by Happy Cultivated

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

My Dream of Martin Luther King, by Faith Ringgold, shows one child’s understanding of Dr. King’s life through an imaginary dream. This story, accessible to middle and late elementary school aged children, is a great starting place for a discussion about U.S. history or social justice. It can also be used to inspire a discussion of ethical philosophy or social philosophy addressing such issues as freedom, equality, race, and heroes. The goal of this discussion is to help the students clarify for themselves what these abstract terms mean.

Deepening children’s understandings of social and ethical philosophy, as we aim to do with these philosophical discussions, is important because it equips them to form their own opinions about social issues based on critical thinking and sound reasoning. Discussing the values of Dr. King in a philosophical manner will help children later in life to defend their own ethical position if they are challenged by others, or to reassess their own assumptions if they begin to see them as flawed.

Freedom is a complex issue that must be addressed in any society and in any form of governance. Children often feel that freedom is an ideal that they can accept but cannot achieve because they are children. The goal of discussing this issue is to open up a broader perspective and let the children see how their need for freedom fits into a larger social and historical picture. Doing this should allow the children to see for themselves why freedom is an issue that philosophers have been arguing about since the first formation of government.

Equality is another topic that children are taught to believe is a necessity in our society but may never have actually thought about. Elementary school children are often preoccupied with the concept of fairness and equality in their everyday lives but probably have little understanding of the complexities inherent in accepting this value. The questions in this set are intended to ask children to think more about what equality is, why some things are not equal, and if people can be different and equal at the same time.

The third set of questions deals with the issue of race. These questions try to get at what things make people different and what makes people the same, and what role, if any, race plays in this. These questions should offer children the opportunity to talk openly about race in a way that they might feel uncomfortable doing in other situations.

Children are fascinated by heroes, both real and imaginary, and it is important for them to question what makes a person a hero. Thinking about a real life hero such as Martin Luther King is a useful way of addressing issues of good versus bad and right versus wrong. Moral philosophy is a huge field but the questions here will help teachers or parents start into this broad topic. This book also includes difficult emotional material such as images of police brutality. The corresponding set of questions approaches this difficult subject with the children so that they can discuss the role of violence.

Understanding the complexities of social issues will help children to see why our society, and our global community, has struggled with issues of justice, freedom, and equality over and over again. These questions will help children develop insight into these historical issues and see their relevance in everyday situations and current politics. In a democracy, these skills of critical thinking and forming connections across varying situations are essential.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Freedom

In the story, the girl dreams that people are carrying bags “containing their prejudice, hate, ignorance, violence, and fear, which they intended to trade for hope, freedom, peace, awareness, and love.”

  1. Is there anything you can only do if you are free?
  2. What is the opposite of freedom?
  3. Could there be “prejudice, hate, ignorance, violence, and fear” and freedom at the same time? Or do the characters in the book have to trade those in to gain freedom?
  4. Could a free person ever feel prejudice? Hate? Ignorance? Violence? Fear?
  5. Based on what we’ve said about freedom, can anyone say what freedom is?

Equality

There was once segregation laws that made it so that black people could not go to the same places and do the same things as white people. That is why, in the story, Martin Luther King could not go to the same school as the white boy or even sit down in the front of the bus.

  1. There is a picture of a man holding a sign that says “separate is not equal.” What does this mean?
  2. For things to be equal, do they have to be the same?
  3. If people are different, can they be equal?
  4. Can you give me some examples of ways that people are not treated equally?
  5. Do you ever feel that you are being treated unequally at school or at home?
  6. Are there any situations where it is right for people to be treated unequally? What are some? Why are they right?
  7. Based on this conversation what do you think equality is?

Race

In the story, we saw examples of how black people were treated differently from white people because of their race.

  1. What is race?
  2. Does race matter?
  3. What makes people different from each other?
  4. In the story, black people were treated badly by white people. This is called prejudice. Why is prejudice wrong?

Hero

Some people consider Martin Luther King to be a hero.

  1. Can you name some heroes?
  2. What do the people we think of as heroes have in common with each other?
  3. Does Martin Luther King have these traits?
  4. Does a hero have to have these traits to be considered a hero?
  5. Does a hero have to act like a hero all the time, or can heroes have days off or make mistakes?
  6. Often, heroes are working against something that they think is bad. In this book, Martin Luther King protests against the people who tell him he can’t sit in the front of the bus and the police who put him in jail. If Martin Luther King is a hero, does that mean that the people he works against are “bad guys”?
  7. Can police be “bad guys”?
  8. If a hero broke the law, would he or she still be a hero?
  9. When is it okay to break the law?
  10. If a hero did break the law, should a police officer arrest him or her?
  11. Based on this discussion, what do you think a hero is? What does a hero do?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Liz Tabor. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for My Dream of Martin Luther King featuring a close-up painting of Martin Luther King Jr.'s face on a blue background. He is an African American man with a dark mustache. He is wearing a suit and looking off into the distance. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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