Is Education Fulfilling its Purpose?

Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first asked this question in 1947, it could just as easily have been asked today. 

On this MLK Day, we are moved to explore the question through the writing of Cathryn Stout at Chalkbeat Tennessee, published before Dr. King’s birthday in 2022. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization focused on efforts to improve education for all students, especially those who have been historically sidelined in American classrooms.

By Cathryn Stout

Among his many roles, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an educator. Though his most famous messages came from the pulpit and the podium, King also briefly led in the classroom and often spoke on education. He taught a social philosophy course at his alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1962, filling his lectures with references to Plato and Rousseau. As a 15-year-old in 1944, he worked on a Connecticut tobacco plantation and the future preacher boasted to his parents in a letter that he was head of the religious department and led study sessions for his fellow workers. 

King, who was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, thought and cared deeply about the role of education in social justice. In one of his most famous writings on the subject, ‘The Purpose of Education,’ the young Morehouse student wrote, “The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” 

He added, “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.” 

As we reflect on the King holiday and national day of service, we asked some readers to share their thoughts on King’s early perspective on education and if education in 2022 is fulfilling its purpose. Here are some of their reflections. The responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Read more at Chalkbeat Tennessee.