Dr. King on #EdReform

“In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as manywhite poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.

Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development.


“The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportuniti es, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination these measures were intended to remove the causes of poverty.

“While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at a similar rate of development. Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy. Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions. Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and superficial studies.

“At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.

“In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

“I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income…. We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”

I recently visited the Martin Luther King Historical Site in Atlanta. For the past week on the EPC radio show I read and dissected selected text from forward thinking thought leaders like Dr. King, James Baldwin, Horace Mann, and John Dewey in search for fresh ideas for education reform. Instead of reinventing the wheel as #edreformers tend to do policy leaders should dig in the historical crates to find inspiration. For example, this quote comes from Dr. King’s  “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, 1967) where he prescribed remedies for systematic inequities. He made connections between economics, class, race, and education. He fought for policies like a universal living wage which could contribute to long term educational gains for the poor and disenfranchised. He understood that reform didn’t stand a chance if families, parents and caregivers were submerged below the poverty line.

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