David Lentini writes, after reading Dr. Martin Luther King’s words on the purpose of education:
Thank you and your reader, Diane, for sharing these quotes. I’ve often complained that the most critical element in our debates and arguments over education policy–the very definition of “education”–has been ignored almost completely. Instead we seem to treat education as something that teachers “do”. And we seem to treat what teachers “do” as a matter of technique, not substance. So, for modern Americans the meaning of “education” has degenerated into a pointless argument over pedagogy.
I call these pedagogical arguments pointless precisely because we won’t discuss what we want an educated American to look like. Sadly, most people I’ve talked to about this issue get stuck on such simplistic slogans as “job-ready” or “college-ready”, as if they have any idea what those terms mean. I’ve rarely heard anyone mention education in terms of preparing ourselves to participate in a democracy or have a good chance of living a full and happy life. Perhaps that’s not surprising, since most Americans historically have rejected education in favor of received wisdom.
Dr. King’s vision of education is soundly in the Western tradition of inquiry and discussion. His words echo the arguments of the classic thinkers and the original humanists of the Renaissance, and his fears can be found in the speeches of educators like Robert M. Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, and other social critics like Christopher Lasch, Erich Fromm, and more recently Chris Hedges. We should use their works as a guide to build a curriculum for a modern democracy. Only then can we debate the most efficient means for education.