MLK on Education

“As I engage in the so-called “bull sessions” around and about the school, I too often find that most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education. 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.

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. 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.

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…

We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education…”

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
‘The Purpose Of Education’

In his own words: A student explains his NCS education

When you hear your own students explaining their education in a way that proves “they really get it,” down to the real core of what it means to educate Christianly and in grace, it’s hard not to cry right on the spot. 🙂

Have hardly been prouder than during this speech at the NCS graduation last week.  The valedictorian is still studying overseas in Taiwan for his senior year, so he recorded his speech.  [Maybe all valedictory speeches should be recorded on foreign soil? There’s something cool about this!]

David nails it — a “grace-based” education digs deep. Really deep.

When "Success" Becomes Lethal

This past Sunday the New York Times ran a lengthy article about students (high school and college) who use “study drugs” — ADHD medications like Adderall are regularly sold under the table in schools to help stressed students get ahead. 

This shorter article excerpts poignant testimony of student addicts. Many of their stories follow similar themes: overwhelmed by the pressure from teachers, society, and parents to perform well and be successful, they succumbed to the pressure to enhance their attention with easy-to-get ADHD medication. Contrary to their expectations (based on the anti-drug themes they’d grown up with), the results were instantaneous and positive….at first.  Now, many are addicted and regretful.

In Their Own Words: “Study Drugs” 

I found this student’s comment especially telling:

Let me say first off that I take full responsibility in choosing to take Adderall as a study drug. It definitely helped me get good grades during finals, but plenty of students get good grades without it, and I would understand if somebody in my classes felt cheated because I took it.
That being said, the immense pressure put on students by parents and educators has made taking speed a socially acceptable thing. I come from a family that gets disappointed and chews me out for B’s or even B+’s and A-‘s. My whole life I’ve been told that, no matter how smart I am, the only way to be successful (see: acceptable) is through academic excellence. Now, would my parents be upset that I’ve taken study drugs? Probably, and that’s just symptomatic of the problem.
I’m sick of the expectation of a “perfect” kid. The parents and educators in this article who express shock at kids using study drugs ought to look in the mirror; they are equally responsible. College is harder to get into today than it was and it is much more stressful and difficult once you get in. Change your unrealistic expectations or take the My Kid is an Honor Student bumper sticker off your minivan.

~~~~~~
I’ve been at the giving end of that kind of pressure. Teachers know that a push to achieve something beyond what a student believes is possible may be necessary to get some students out of a rut or laziness or low expectations for themselves and moving toward real growth and change.

But I’ve also been the one pushing students into “faster, higher, stronger, better” when it probably wasn’t the best choice.  You don’t really know until you see them break, and then you realize “that was probably too much.”

So how do we know when to push and when to relax? Many people worry that we coddle kids too much these days. What’s the balance?

~~~~~
The students cited in the NYT article all cite unmanageable workloads and unrealistic expectations.

We need to delve into the definition of “success” in the educational venture, and even consider the purpose of education in the broad sense, to begin to unravel what “realistic expectations” should be in a biblically normative classroom. 

Any definition of success that defines a person’s worth by what they can do rather than what they are (character) seems to emphasize product over process. I am more interested in a student becoming a life-long learner, curious about the world and how it works, than what they “know” at any given point.

Put another way — if our purpose on this earth is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; if we  want our schools to equip students for Kingdom living — shouldn’t our schools recognize more than just academic accomplishment?

If I speak with the tongue of a Harvard Business grad but have not love, I sound like a clanging gong played by a toddler.

If I gain admission to a top-20 school, but have not love, it’s not really worth anything.

If I define success according to academic performance or career goals but ignore the child’s own desires and talents, it hurts both of us in the long run.

If I make a student think I am proud of her when she gets good grades and unhappy with her when she doesn’t “perform” to the level I think is appropriate, have I not redefined my relationship with her into a performance-based hamster wheel?

It’s time to challenge the established 5-hour SAT testing sessions, cut-throat races for scholarship money, and underlying assumptions about the role of a college education as the route to success for the overwhelming number of high school students.

It’s time to question the usefulness of worksheets and homework, the validity of the school day chopped into 7 or 8 45-minute periods, a 3-month summer vacation, or the value of the lingering 20th century American curriculum in a 21st century world.

It’s time to reclaim a more biblical notion of “success.”

"You are not special"

The following is about an honest, forthright speech by a Boston educator at a Massachusetts high school. What may at first seem unkind and brutal is actually a refreshing gust of reality for these students who will eventually escape the swaddling of their parents and the comfortable cocoon of formal education.

We do kids a huge disservice when we focus their educational pursuits on them, as if we humans are benefitted by implementing overly-self-driven values. Truth is, I can’t find fulfillment in myself. I have to work for something bigger than me.

You can read lengthy excerpts from the speech here. I’d like to highlight these two:

 “If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning…I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters.”

and

“I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about.”

Here’s the condensed version
And here’s the Boston Herald reprint of the entire speech.

 

For the Kingdom and Eternity, not "For a Job"

Remy Wilkins on the true purpose of education:
Out of Education

Excerpt (emphasis mine):

Man is called to glorify and enjoy [God] (notice the singular: end, not ends. Glorifying without enjoying or enjoying without glorifying does not fulfill the requirements). Man’s chief end is something that constantly pushes us into the future. This is the answer: education leads us out of the present and into the future.

and

Having no starting point has caused education to be looked upon as the foundation. In the history of the world, salvation through education has been a constant threat. Education apart from the Savior becomes the savior, education apart from slaves becomes the master, the end in itself. But Christians are the servants of the world and in their service they become free. Education for the purpose of career and salary is the new Egypt and we must be led out of education.

Thinking about Schools

We had some conversations with friends of ours over the holidays about schools. Being educators, we seem to collect a regular stream of questions now about schools, education, the classical method, etc. It’s kinda cool actually — to finally have enough experience in a particular field to actually be slightly useful once in a while. 😉

I think the way that I view education is kinda radical. Not like “WHOA! RADICAL!” in the global sense.  But many people find themselves falling into the world’s view of an education, or even the regular Christian viewpoint.

The world views education as “something to help you get a job later.”  After 150 years of public education in America, we’ve asked our public schools to be everything from cultural stamps (get those immigrants in line!) to morality builders (“character education”) to multicultural tolerance machines. But the Industrial Revolution pushed Americans toward an unvarying ideal in our educational system: preparing children to be good workers for the US economy.

We chase math & science when those careers seem important; we value group work because modern businesses need employees who make good team members.  Parents want their kids to either be prepared to get a good blue-collar job after tech school or land one of those coveted spots in a top college (with a scholarship to match).  Students don’t see the value in studying anything “that doesn’t help me in life” (as if a 16 year old has any clue about what they “need” for life).   I hear so many people talk about school as a place to prepare kids to “be successful in this world.”  And schools should do that.

But education isn’t just about future employment.

Christians realize that the world is bigger than the paycheck, so we tack on more spiritual language. We call schools places where kids should learn morals regardless of their religious backgrounds. (Somehow Americans have a unified moral code?)   If we’re discussing Christian education, then most people know that they should want God to be “the center of the curriculum”… that Bible classes are important … that rigorous academics somehow make God happier than non-rigorous academics (whatever that means).

And I’m not saying those things are bad.

I guess I’m noticing that my thinking has shifted, and I don’t even really know when it happened.  But when I start thinking about a school, my first questions have nothing to do with the academics or moral structure of the place.  I’m not thinking first about the denominational allegiance of the teachers.  Even methodology doesn’t draw my allegiance (though I certainly have my preferances).

Education is a subset of discipleship.  The teacher-student relationship is one of the most precious friendships modeled by Christ Himself during His ministry.  Ultimately, education is Kingdom work

If your school doesn’t care about kids as individuals — as their glorious Created selves within God’s Kingdom — then your school doesn’t “get it.” We’re not crafting good workers for the American economy or producing Good Christians to fill pews. The task is bigger than this.

If we teachers do not look beyond the course content and standardized tests and learning goals to see a student’s heart, then we are not educating for a life that will extend far beyond this earthly existence.

…. This post merely dips a toe into the mighty ocean. I need to think some more….