Doc Yale

On Education, Martin Luther King and the Fate of Our Country
Martin Luther King Jr.
Civil Rights Activist, Minister

On Education, Martin Luther King,  and the Fate of the Country

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King did so much for this country and our people that it is hard to know where to start a tribute.  I have chosen to focus on Dr. King as an educator.  For this Martin Luther King holiday weekend it is timely to both recognize Dr. King for his contribution to education and to reflect on the demise of real education in this country.  Dr. King is often not labeled as an educator but that is really perhaps the most important contribution he made.  He was an educator in his masterful orations, in his writing, and of course in his actions.  He was not only educating his white oppressors and their government about black people and their aspirations but he was also enlightening his own followers about their potential and the potential of the movement as a whole. And he was educating both his supporters and opponents about the power and potential effectiveness of non-violent protest.  Intelligence plus character put into action—that was his life and the inspiration for so many. 

So why has education become so decrepit in this country.  There are a multitude of reasons, of course, but lets list a few.  First, is that the people of this country have less and less respect for education.  Less than a century and a half ago small communities in the American West organized and built schoolhouses for their kids and imported teachers from the East because they wanted their kids to be literate.  Unfortunately, over the years a  lot of primary school education has devolved into a babysitting service.

A measure of the value current society places is reflected in the pay that our teachers get and the dollars that are devoted to public education.  Why does our society value lawyers more than teachers and pay them $100 to $250 an hour (or more) while most of our primary school teachers are lucky to be drawing $50 an hour.  In many situations young children spend more time and are more influenced by their teachers than their parents.  Don’t we want them to be the best and reward them accordingly and ensure that class sizes are small enough that they can get the attention they need when they need it. 

And consider what has happened to higher education.  Most states in this country had set up public colleges and universities where qualified students could get a four year college education for free. A student such as Doc Yale could take a full load of classes and pay for his living expenses with summer work and part time employment during the school year—and still have time and coins for fun—sitting around in coffee houses or beer joints to chatter with other students and with professors.  And a student could leave college with a degree and little or no debt.  Now students are leaving public colleges and universities  after draining whatever meager savings their parents had and still owing $50,000 or more.  I guess we don’t believe higher education is important. 

But a central question is “what is education for?”.  Wendell Berry has said it better than I ever could so I will quote him:

“The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It's proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible.

Which brings us back to the state of affairs in this country.  There is a move to privatize our school system. This has been manifested in the move toward charter schools, which DY will concede may have had some positive potential when the movement started.  However, as it has played out it has become a way to draw resources (=$$$) away from the public school system and toward those who are geographically located or financially able to go to a charter school. 

And we now have a President Elect who has masterfully played upon the ignorance (lack of education)  of many American voters who cannot see through his truth-twisting and denial of not just science (think climate change) but of policies based on information rather than ideology.    And now he has nominated a Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos who has a long and consistent record of using her money and name to oppose the institution of public schools.  To her the idea that everyone, regardless of race, color or economic status, should have an opportunity to get an education is a threat to her billionaire class. 

Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. “ Martin Luther King knew this and this is why education, real education not just training to be robots for the ruling classes, is such a threat to the one percenters.