Here’s a part of Martin Luther King’s history about which many people are not aware: He enrolled in college at the age most students are sophomores in high school.
King was just 15 years old when he passed the entrance exam at Morehouse College in 1944. So while he was still but a teenager in 1947, he’d been around the university long enough to draw some conclusions about the purpose of education — and how far too many of his fellow students seemed to be missing out on it.
Writing in the January-February 1947 issue of the college newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, King opined that university students seemed to believe that education was either a means to get ahead of others or a way of bettering themselves as thinkers regardless of improvements in their social, economic or moral circumstances.
Indeed, it was then and is still today both of those things.
But in his passionately worded essay, King argued education needed to amount to something more than either of those ends. And although 70 years have passed, his words could not be more applicable to today’s world.
“Education,” he wrote, should help a person “think incisively and to think for one’s self.”
And while that is difficult, he noted, it is vital to helping students become not just smarter or more employable, but better.
“We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda,” he continued. “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.”
Still today, the purpose of education is often conceptually siloed into “get a good job” and “become a more intellectual person.” There is nothing wrong with either of those aims. But on this day, upon which we observe what would have been King’s 88th year, it behooves us to remember his young wisdom.
Education may improve a student’s lot, and it may help that student become a better thinker, but if it does not render a student more capable of knowing and appreciating truth, it has not served its purpose.
“Be careful, brethren,” King concluded. “Be careful, teachers!”