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Reimagining Education for a Better Future: Learning from the 18-year-old Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, we honor the legacy, life, education, and leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At Black Girl College Prep, we envision a future where every student has access to high-quality educational, life, and career readiness resources and opportunities necessary to feel prepared, confident, and empowered to use their unique voice and skills to help create a more diverse and equitable world, similar to Dr. King's dream.

However, long before Dr. King's dream and famous speech that was delivered in Washington, DC, in 1963, he was just Martin, a student leader who graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, GA, early at the age of 15 and soon after enrolled in college.

In 1947, the 18-year-old student and Maroon Tiger attended Morehouse College, a prominent all-male HBCU (Historically Black College and University), where he wrote for the Morehouse College Student Paper, The Maroon Tiger.

In an article, Dr. King penned a thought-provoking piece titled The Purpose of Education. Below are a couple of excerpts, translated more simply (for my younger readers), followed by suggestions for today's use.

Dr. King’s words: "Most of the brethren think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses. Still, others think that education should furnish them with noble ends rather than means to an end."

Simplified version: Some believe that education should give them the abilities needed to take advantage of others forever, and others believe that education should give them good goals instead of ways to reach their goals.

Dr. King’s words: "It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient to achieve, with increasing facility, the legitimate goals of his life. Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking." 

Simplified version: I think that education serves two purposes in people's lives and in society: one is practical, and the other is cultural. A man's education should make him more effective so that he can reach his real-life goals more easily. People must also learn how to think quickly, clearly, and effectively through their education.


Dr. King’s words: "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."

Simplified version: I think that one of the main goals of education is to save people from the mess of misinformation. Education should teach people how to sort and weigh data, to tell the difference between what is true and what is fake, between what is real and what is not real, and between facts and fiction.

Dr. King’s words: "The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals."

Simplified version: Schools are supposed to teach people how to think deeply and seriously. But schooling that stops at efficiency could be the worst thing for society. The most dangerous offender might be the one who is smart but has no morals.

Dr. King’s words: "We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists consumed with immoral acts."

Simplified version: We need to remember that being smart isn't enough. The goal of real education is to give people both intelligence and character. If we don't watch out, our schools will turn out a bunch of narrow-minded, unscientific, unreasonable propagandists who are obsessed with doing bad things.

Today's Application:

 Dr. King's insight on the purpose of education remains relevant 77 years later, in a digitally immersive world where anything (Google speed) can be accessed with the click of a mouse, information overload (in a 60-second reel), and the social media age.

Education shouldn't be weaponized, constrained, or prejudiced, and it shouldn't be viewed only through the lens of members-only. 

With a resounding echo of Dr. King's comments, education should be respected and considered as a means to an end rather than the end itself.However, many individuals (particularly people of color) have discovered or are learning that education is not the equalizer they had hoped for.

For us educators and students (which we all are simultaneously), it is essential to recognize that every occurrence, moment, and interaction with another person is a mini-classroom and a chance to share or retrieve knowledge (education).

Furthermore, those who are capable of seeing life from this perspective will develop a satisfying balance and respect for education, as well as the ability to use what they have learned to help them think more clearly and effectively.

The purpose of education is to broaden your skill set, database, and ability to discern, decide, and do. However, if we forget to incorporate soft skills and humanity into education, our culture risks becoming cold, transactional, and cruel.

Especially today, having solid character, a commitment to practicing empathy, and the ability to assess, critically think, properly vet, and be emotionally intelligent are some of the best educational tools that you can provide to your students, the learners you love, yourself, and anyone who experiences you.

Here are five things to remember about education:

1. Education is humble. Seriously, you can learn something even from a three-year-old. Look for ways to add knowledge to your database outside of formal settings.

2. Education is both a tool and a means. You educate yourself to help you obtain the things you need and reach your goals.

3. Education is a continuous process, not a destination. The instant you believe you've arrived or know it all, you become foolish.

4. Education should be utilized to provide checks and balances. There is an abundance of free information available to assist in identifying what is true and what is fake.

5. Education must hold space for compassion and empathy. While it’s easy to become too smart for your own good, remembering to consider others and respect where they may be on their educational journey is crucial today.

Keep the dream alive. Happy learning!


Coach Rahk


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