By Ahmed Mitiche
One of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s least known papers was an op-ed he wrote as an undergrad at Morehouse College in 1947. It was a call to question the purpose of education. I believe his call has yet to be answered.
A recent national study, conducted annually as part of the American Community Survey, captured snapshots of undergraduate college students’ views on education. The respondents were asked to weigh different values and to rate them according to importance.
The percentage of students who found “being very well off financially” as “essential” or “very important” rose from 42 percent in 1966 to 80 percent in 2011. The percent of students who found “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” as “essential” or “very important” dropped from 85 percent to 47 percent. This trend in our views on education starkly contrasts with what King viewed as its true purpose.
King tells us that “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.” For our (costly) educations to be truly worthwhile, we had better begin to ask ourselves the difficult questions. What is my stance on homosexuality–both morally and legally? Why are our prisons still filled with black people over sixty years after Rosa Parks’ sit in? What is our country’s role in the Middle East? Why are we over there anyway?
If those questions make us uncomfortable, that is a good sign. King contends that to begin the journey towards finding our philosophy of life, we must discover our moral and ethical truths. Our educations must challenge us to ask the questions that are not politically correct, to question our teachers, our leaders, and our gods; it is only in the sincere pursuit of truth that we can land on “worthy objectives upon which to concentrate” (King).
There may be serious repercussions if we do not. He ends with a warning I pass on to myself, my fellow classmates, and my teachers: “If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, ‘brethren!’ Be careful, teachers!”
Many of us recently celebrated MLK Day of Service with a great quote on Facebook, by volunteering for a day, or even by starting a service project. These are all great things. But to truly honor his memory and celebrate his work, it is the quest for meaning that we must all embark on together. This pursuit of meaning should enable us to question the status quo of today, not simply to remember what has already been done by greats like MLK. We must question status quos in the political sphere, the personal sphere, the religious as well as the social sphere. Our role as individuals with the potential for leadership and influence is to realize our personal duty to seek truth and meaning in our lives. It is from this platform that we can begin to change ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world for the better.