The name of Maryellen Eisenhauer, a first-grade teacher at Lucy Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville, was misspelled in an article Wednesday on how students are taught about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mary Ellen Eisenhower asked her first grade suburban Maryland students, "Would it be fair if I gave Isaac four pieces of candy and gave everyone else two?"
"Nooooo!" came the loud reply.
The lesson for the mainly white middle-class students at Lucy Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville was that when civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. worked for fairness for blacks he helped all people.
Twenty-five miles away, at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Southeast Washington, the slain minister is a larger-than-life hero to the students, almost all of whom are black. Many grew up with his picture in their homes.
"Learning about King is different than learning about other subjects," said sixth grader Darrel Thompson, 11. "Math and science don't make you feel anything. When you hear his speeches and think about all the unfair laws that whites created to oppress us, you can feel something."
King's life has been an official part of the District's history curriculum since 1972, and he is treated as a major figure. His name inspires such feeling that teachers even use him to interest their students in subjects such as geography and mathematics.
In the suburbs, school systems once offered little beyond the standard two-page textbook treatment of the man who was born 57 years ago today and died before all but a few of today's public school students were born.
But through the years interest in King has grown, textbooks have improved somewhat, and this year, because of the federal holiday for his birthday, Fairfax and Montgomery counties sent every school a packet of material for teachers.
Christine King Farris, King's sister and a professor of education in Atlanta, said she believes that heightened public awareness about the holiday will mean that "this will be the last generation of students who do not know anything about Martin Luther King Jr."
"The teaching has changed in the way American perceptions of him in general have changed," said George Whitener, who teaches government at Herndon High School in Fairfax County.
"While he was alive, there were some people who weren't inclined to speak very kindly of him."
But the extent to which King is taught in the classroom varies with the teacher. "The problem is that while you would see some excellent activities in some schools, the schools down the road would have nothing going on," said Robert E. Frye, a former minority member of the Fairfax County School Board.
One reason King was not studied in some classrooms was that in many American history classes students do not get beyond World War II and to the civil rights era of the 1960s. And Marion L. Bell, human relations director for Montgomery schools, said some white teachers "may be a little uncomfortable" offering lessons about King because they fear that their students will ask them questions to which they do not know the answers.
In the predominantly white suburbs, students are taught that King improved society for everyone and that his preachings of equal treatment and nonviolence are still fresh today.
"We talk about and stress the fact that he was trying to help all people," said Jackie Daye, 41, a black woman who grew up amid segregation in North Carolina and now teaches second grade down the hall from Eisenhower.
On a recent afternoon, Daye's students read from journals they had written about King's life. "He wanted to make life easy for all people," one girl read. "Very nice," Daye told her.
Carole S. Taylor, principal of Forestville Elementary School in Great Falls, said her teachers have asked their students: "Do you remember the time no one wanted you to sit at their table?" That lesson, she said, "has some relevance to their lives. You have to have that connection."
Eisenhower talked with her students about the meaning of the word "peaceful" on a recent day, and she asked: "What did we learn about him King that showed he was a peaceful person? How did he think problems should be solved?"
A half-dozen small hands waved, and she called on Richard, a brown-haired boy in a striped sweater. "The problems were solved without any fighting," he replied.
"That's hard to do," Eisenhower answered in a sympathetic tone. "The thing you want to do when someone hurts you is hurt them back. Dr. King knew that problems should be solved in a peaceful way."
Junior and senior high school students sometimes dip into more controversial waters. Paula H. Spencer, a social studies teacher at Woodson High School in Fairfax County, said the subject of the FBI wiretapping of King came up in her class one year. "The class got into questions about personal life and how important it was," she said. "The general consensus was that not enough is known, and it should not be a major factor."
Spencer said students sometimes bring their personal histories to class when they talk about King's life. One black girl told of her mother's stories of sneaking water, from a water fountain marked for use by whites only, on a dare when she was a child. Spencer said her students "were surprised that someone they knew had been treated like that."
At the taupe brick elementary school in the District that was re- named for King two years ago -- it was formerly called Congress Heights -- sixth grader Darrel Thompson said he has learned something new about his hero every year, and he has portrayed King several times in school plays.
Several teachers at the King school and at some of the 170 other schools across the city said King is one of their favorite topics because they can use his life to interest students in a variety of subjects.
James Guines, the District's associate superintendent for school instruction, said that in addition to teaching about King in required history courses, "his speeches, plays about him and other materials are pervasive throughout the system, from kindergarten to high school.
"In language classes, his speeches are used as a model, just as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address," Guines said. "His contributions are cited in international studies courses. When talking about geography, for example, teachers point out that Oslo is the place where King received his Nobel Peace prize.
"King is bigger than history," Guines said. "His life is used as a role model for kids to learn how to be somebody."
The lesson that sixth grader Darrel Thompson said he has drawn from King's life is this: "Dr. King believed in standing up for what was right. So do I. If we're having a class discussion about something and I believe someone is wrong, I'll stick to my point of view."
"I don't think there'll ever be another man like Martin Luther King," said sixth grader Elana Gardner, 11. "If it weren't for him, I would probably have to live in a certain area and go to a certain school, and I wouldn't ever be able to vote."