Monday, January 16, 2012

What is your dream?

Today, Grand Valley held a Silent March to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr, whose birthdate was January 15, 1929. Along the way, placards lay out a timeline of the civil rights leader's life and some of his quotes. I find Dr. King's messages inspiring, and I believe that they are timeless. So I was grateful when Valerie Strauss shared several excerpts from his speeches and writings related to education in her column, "MLK's prescient thinking on education reform."

I especially connected with his piece for the Morehouse College student newspaper. In this writing, Dr. King discusses the purposes of education. Part way through the piece, he writes:
Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. 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.
The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.
Reading this, I immediately thought of phronesis - the idea of knowing what's available to do and what's worth doing. Of course, what is worth doing to one person may seem foolhardy to another. And another person might consider the "doing" just plain wrong. In the article, Dr. King writes about former Georgia governor, Eugene Talmadge. Dr. King considers Governor Talmadge intelligent but wonders, "yet he contends that I am an inferior being. Are those the types of men we call educated?"

How can education help us address such unintelligent presepectives? We must provide experiences that challenge unfounded beliefs. We must provide opportunities to reflect on those experiences. And then we must start over again because beliefs can be a difficult thing to change. But change they must, or it will be Dr. King's closing words in the article that will turn out to be most prescient:
If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, "brethren!" Be careful, teachers!

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