As another Martin Luther King Jr. Day rolls around, most of us can anticipate the sentiments that the holiday will bring. “I have a dream” memes will circulate on the internet, along with a smattering of King’s other quotes, with many waxing eloquent on the ways in which King’s vision of a color-blind society has or has not been realized in the years since his death.
What you might not see much of, however, are Dr. King’s thoughts on education. That’s really a shame, because the brief thoughts he jotted down in his 1948 essay “The Purpose of Education” are very profound and hugely applicable to our time.
1. Education Toward Efficiency
“Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the ligitimate [sic] goals of his life,” King wrote.
In the traditional classroom of 20 to 30 children, students are often forced to go the pace of the slowest learner, thus subjecting the brightest and even middle-of-the-road students to wasted time and subsequent boredom. Such a setup flies in the face of King’s exhortation on efficiency.
If we’re going to cheer our students on to excellence, then we must not doom them to classrooms where lessons geared to the lowest common denominator are standard practice. Instead, we must provide opportunities for all students to learn at their own pace, whether accelerated or otherwise.
2. Education to Think
“Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking,” King wrote.
Fill-in-the-blank, check-the-box, and select-the-multiple-choice-answer are staples of today’s education system. Such a pattern makes sense, too, if the goal is to make cookie-cutter students who turn into yes-men as adults.
But if we want the type of thinking students prescribed by King, then we need to teach students to ask questions, to place them in learning environments that encourage them to explore, and to give them difficult material to challenge them to dig deep and apply all their mental powers to figuring out a problem.
3. Education to Guard Against Propaganda
“Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction,” King wrote.
Several years ago, a National Curriculum Survey released by the ACT found that many students could no longer tell the difference between fact and opinion. Unfortunately, one wonders if that was the goal of the powers that be all along, for if schools train children what to think rather than how to think, they will be ready tools in the hands of the elite, easily manipulated by whomever pulls the strings of power.
4. Education for Character
“We must remember that intelligence is not enough,” King wrote. “Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.”
Today’s schools are often fixated on the latest test scores and academic standings. Those are needful and necessary—and often, sad to say, quite lacking. Indeed, academic proficiency is so minimal these days, that we find ourselves celebrating a school where half of the students can read proficiently at grade level!
But while academic proficiency is low, efforts to instill character in students are even lower. Sure, schools might be telling students to “save the planet” or “live your truth,” but such broad platitudes don’t really train a child what is right and what is wrong. “The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate,” King went on to say. In essence, our students will never be well-rounded adults unless their parents and our schools are willing to ground today’s children in character based on a strong moral code.
Fulfilling King’s Education Dream
Reading these educational goals and then comparing them to the education that takes place in many of our traditional public schools quickly makes it clear that we’ve fallen far short of King’s educational dream.
But the tide might be turning as educational choice grows in popularity across the nation.
And why shouldn’t it? The more choice we have—particularly through Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow education funds to follow children to the schools that best fit their needs, rather than simply going to the district school that’s closest to their house—the more likely we are to give children a chance at a positive and effective education. An education that enables students to be more efficient in learning and advancing up the ladder of knowledge; an education that challenges students to think and gives them real facts with which to make their own opinions—rather than regurgitating the ones prescribed by the powers that be; and an education that recognizes the need for character and seeks to inculcate a moral framework through which to view and live life.
Would Dr. King support school choice? If he was serious about the educational goals he set forth, then yes, because it is increasingly evident that school choice is one of the few ways we can extend these goals and educational opportunities to all children.
Image Credit: Flickr-National Park Service, CC BY 2.0