As America takes time today to reflect upon the life and works of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one of its citizens who has had an incalculable effect on the nation and world, many are focusing on his most famous speech, the one that made immortal four words: “I have a dream.”
And that is rightfully so. No one hears those four words uttered today without thinking of the great civil rights leader whose life was cut tragically short by an assassin’s bullet during a turbulent decade that also claimed the lives of a young U.S. president and his brother.
The “I Have a Dream” speech has become a powerful influence on America over the past 51 years. There’s hardly a person who hasn’t read or heard the words and been inspired by them as they encapsulated King’s hopes for an America that was more accepting and fairer than the one in which he toiled. He was seeking to help mold a nation where a person was judged according to the content of his or her character, not according to superficial characteristics such as skin color.
But as important as that speech was, as inspiring as it still is and as moving as it is to those who hear recordings of it even a half-century later, King’s work and words are not limited to that single event. Sometimes King’s other words are overlooked. King, for instance, also spoke eloquently of the importance of education.
“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education,” he said. “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.”
Indeed, people are created equal, but that does not mean that the situations into which they are born are the same. Time and again it has been shown that education is a critical component for an individual improving his or her prospects in life. There are no guarantees in life, but numbers have shown that people on average earn more income over their lifetimes when they reach higher levels of education.
True education doesn’t result in the simple ability to spit out memorized facts and score well on standardized tests. Education should enable the student to learn how to reason, how to determine the false from fact.
“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically,” King said. “But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society.”
It’s not enough to know than x equals 3 when the equation is 2x equals 6. One has to know why x equals 3.
“Intelligence plus character,” King said, “that is the goal of true education.”
What King knew in 1963 is still true today. Our schools need to be better at teaching young students how to think, and those young students and their families have to learn that education is a critical key to creating a better life. In a world that often is poorly balanced, education can go a long way toward being an effective equalizer. It’s a lesson that we as a nation would do well to embrace.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board