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Structural Solutions: An Essay on MLK, Education, and Injustice

Last updated on March 14, 2023

Image by Unseen Histories via Unsplash.

“Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war,” is what Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed as he led thousands down the streets of Chicago in protest against the Vietnam War.

It’s been over half a century since then but nonetheless, our nation continues along its trek to cleanse itself of inequality. And as I reflect, I continue to ask the question: if we are to overcome centuries of institutionalized injustice, what more will it take? What kind of action will be necessitated not only from me, but also from our country at large? 

To be frank, I’m not sure. 

What I do know, though, is that creating fruitful change will require us to take Dr. King’s advice to focus on strategy and organization. And above all else, we ought to start at the very foundation of our society: education.

Because as the wealthiest 10% of schools continue to spend 10 times more than those less fortunate, all aside from those at the precipice continue to be limited in their pursuits (Brookings). And as we continuously fail to give proper attention to fighting educational disparities, we are snipping a potential key to unlocking the gates of inequality at the bud. 

What’s interesting, though, is that (comparatively speaking) our nation hasn’t always been this way. Throughout the 19 Century, America was actually leading the way as the concept of free, nonsectarian public schools revolutionized the nation’s social landscapes. And by 1970, America boasted one of the world’s greatest educational systems as the gap between minority and white students was beginning to noticeably decline. 

However, according to Ronald Ferguson of the Harvard Kennedy School, our growth has hit a plateau for the past 30 years. We suddenly don’t care as much and the positive trends we were previously seeing have come to a halt. 

This is corroborated by a 2012 OECD report which finds that the United States has fallen behind the likes of the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Japan in addition to general OECD averages by a variety of metrics (OECD).

That’s correct: this nation, an ultra-wealthy hegemon and symbol of equality, has gone from being the global leader to being categorized as below average. And given statistics such that Black students are three times more likely to be held back compared to their White peers as well as that schools serving low-income students tend to have less-qualified and worse paid teachers, this should come as no surprise (Hamilton, Nelson et al). 

America’s growth has regressed.

Hence, educational inequality is and has been a problem. But from hate crimes to drug usage, there seem to be issues far more timely with far greater impacts. So why should we be putting the spotlight on something as trivial as this?

It’s because this matter isn’t trivial– it’s tedious. Not frivolous, but foundational. Not irrelevant, but intrinsic.

And multiple studies (such as this one from Stanford’s MAHB) in addition to Ferguson seem to back this up as they’ve found that bettering our education system will make it far easier to put an end to issues in the long term. 

How so?

Well, 75% of new jobs require some degree of education and higher paying jobs are correlated to higher educational levels (TruthOut, US Bureau of Labor Statistics). On top of that, the impact of simply being in an academic environment which promotes discipline and future-oriented thinking should not be discounted. Thus, by providing stable paths for disadvantaged students to avoid turning to crime or falling into poverty, we would adopt a sustainable solution which works to intercept obstacles before they arise and turn the tables on inequality. 

Despite the fact that our nation’s greatest civil rights leaders continue to gaze down upon us, America’s hypocrisy is nothing short of flagrant as the apparatus meant to be the cornerstone of our oh-so cherished “social mobility” is incredibly far from being equal in and of itself. 

We already know this, though.

Contrarily, it’s so rare that we’re reminded of just how far we’ve fallen, of education’s structural implications, and that overthrowing inequality will require organized solutions on behalf of its citizens. And as long as we continue to exclusively focus on what sounds good in our headlines, the current trends of regression will only continue. 

Alternatively, take action. Organize. Don’t just stand up for what’s right, but stand up for what’s right in a coordinated and industrious manner. Attack problems at their roots. This is how we’ll create a sustainable, effective, and compassionate future of advocacy.

Because if we can’t even bat an eye towards something as rudimentary as this, on what basis does our ongoing fight against inequality stand?

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