“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The Purpose of Education” (1947)
Social justice and human rights are two cornerstones in the foundation of education. Each January when we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I find myself refocusing on the true meaning of what we do as educators and why we do it.
I am reminded that educators are ultimately tasked with building our future and providing our world’s children with the tools that they need to be good global citizens. Often the rhetoric of today’s education debate centers on achieving better standardized test scores and the true focus of education gets lost in the background.
We are shaping whole children, not fact-reciting robots. Not only must we impart the knowledge essential for building and maintaining an effective society, but we must also teach children to be empathetic, caring, kind, and understanding. In today’s technology-driven culture, teachers are influential beyond the classroom setting. The role of the teacher is changing, and the value of education cannot be underestimated.
Dr. King’s legacy reminds us to challenge the status quo, think critically, and to follow our hearts. These are the lifelong skills we must establish in our students alongside history, equations, and writing skills. These are the skills that will help our future leaders create a global society rooted in democracy, fairness, equality, and respect for individual rights.
We must empower our students to think critically, establish well-researched positions, speak their minds, and impart effective change. When we teach students mathematics, we must also develop global awareness and competencies, including understanding of language and culture. When we teach writing, we must also provide students with extracurricular, cocurricular, and community-based experiences to ensure students’ academic and personal growth.
Each student in our schools must have access to challenging, comprehensive curriculum in all content areas. Each graduate must be challenged academically and prepared for employment and participation in a global environment.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us many lessons, as did the teachers, parents, and community that shaped him. In his shadow, we must shape the leaders who follow.