“The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.”While this sounds like a policy speech that could have been written yesterday, these are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered in 1964 as he received the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers.
More chilling is Dr King’s admonition to educators and citizens, written 70 years ago –70 years!—to find the truth:
Dr. King’s insisted on a simple solution to eradicate poverty: its total abolition through the guaranteed income. While other efforts have made some progress, effective coordination rarely rises above political weakness. The essential pieces—a program for adequate and transformative housing, access to equal education, and support for fragile family relationships that distort development—are subject to “the whims of legislative bodies.” Dr. King called for nothing short of the end of poverty. And he identified education as the battleground in that freedom struggle. “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.” – Morehouse College, The Maroon Tiger, 1947
With literacy rates relatively unchanged in America over the intervening decades, it is hard to see the progress toward a more enlightened and informed society. Inequality in access to education widens. It is hard to maintain hope.
And yet, Dr. King’s acceptance speech for the 1964 Novel Peace Prize gives heart. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”