01/19/2015 11:00 am ET Updated Mar 21, 2015

On MLK Day, Our Kids Should Be In School

I know, I know. We honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today. And let me begin by being very clear on my deep respect and admiration for Dr. King. I want my kids to know about him. I want them to watch him on video and learn about his legacy and understand him in his historical and social context.

I used to bemoan Martin Luther King Day (and others like it) because I was a harried mom who couldn't come up with enough things to keep all three kids occupied. Now, they are old enough to entertain themselves or play with friends, and I feel more equipped on a personal level to handle another long weekend.

I can handle having my kids home with me today. I'm just not clear on why skipping school honors Dr. King. (Or Christopher Columbus, or our veterans, or our presidents, for that matter.) I would love for my kids to be in school today learning about the legacy of Dr. King. I would love for them to hear some of his speeches, consider the ways in which he influenced culture for the better, and discuss the ways in which his dream still hasn't become a reality for many.

Today, my children will stay in their pajamas until mid-morning. If it gets warm enough, they might run around outside. They might have a playdate with some friends and make some paper bag puppets or chocolate chip cookies. They will probably get bored and maybe watch a movie. And absolutely none of their activities will have anything to do with the man -- and the history -- we pause to recognize today.

For the elementary school kids, Martin Luther King Day could involve videos of his "I Have a Dream" speech, coupled with picture books about his legacy. For older children, substantive conversations about race -- both in America's history and the present -- would serve not only their educational needs but also the needs of our nation. Schools educate students as citizens of this great nation, a nation founded upon principles of justice and freedom for all. To examine the ways in which we have failed and continue to fail to enact the vision of our founders, the vision of Dr. King, ultimately moves us closer to that ultimate goal of true equality.

I get it that there are other reasons to have a long weekend. A few days off of school offers a chance for illness to abate. The teachers need a break every now and again. Some families take advantage of three days in the winter to go skiing. But none of these provide a pedagogical rationale for a holiday. Let's stop pretending. No need to honor a great figure in American history if all we really want is a reason for a day off.

Today is a national holiday, and the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior certainly deserves our full attention. For that reason, our children should be in school today.