What Martin Luther King was able to accomplish in his 39 years is difficult to fathom. He had received a doctorate and five honorary degrees, written five books, traveled over six million miles, given more than 2,500 speeches, been arrested 20 times and become the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize, at age 35, not to mention having inspired millions of people around the world.
But by age 18, he had already developed the basic ideological foundation on which he built his later achievements. In 1947, as a student at Morehouse College, King wrote in the school newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, an essay that eerily portends the message of his “I have a dream” speech that he would deliver 16 years later on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
In his 1947 essay, “The Purpose of Education,” King explained that education is not merely about learning facts and developing critical thinking skills. In his words, “Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education.” Sixteen years later, he would dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
We must remember King’s words as we develop education policy today. Testing and rote memorization have overtaken the lives of students and teachers, but such activities will not get students far in society. Instead of mandating more and more tests, we must ensure that our teachers have the time to teach and thus help mould student character. After all, tests don’t build character; teachers do. Only when policymakers take this mantra to heart will our students be able to dream and achieve like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.