Educating Society on Humanity
Never were truer words written than in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables (1862) that “there is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher [classes].” So much so that Martin Luther King, Jr. referenced this quote in his speech, “The Three Evils of Society” (1967), before putting forth the choices that America found at its crossroads over half a century ago, and that our society still contends with to this day in 2020:
“The time has come for America to face the inevitable choice between materialism and humanism. We must devote at least as much to our children’s education and the health of the poor as we do to the care of our automobiles and the building of beautiful, impressive hotels. We must also realize that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”
Society often questions what can be done to educate the poor. My question is what can we do to educate society on humanity and empathy, because a system that is rigged by and for the elite will not work for the rest of us, no matter how many policy studies are published that prove public education and tuition-free public colleges would benefit us all. Any positive changes have been an insufficient drop of sustenance in the man-made desert of injustice that most humans have lived in since the time of Victor Hugo and Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a millennial, I have seen my generation deeply impacted by the Great Recession of 2008. In the decade since, there has been much discussion around whether higher education is worth attaining because it no longer guaranteed financial security, only mountains of debt. Somehow, the conversation became largely focused on vilifying young people who take on student loan debt for want of a formal education and devaluing the invaluable worth of an education for poor, working, and middle-class students, rather than questioning why the system keeps historically disadvantaged groups from elite institutions.
Any argument that dissuades most of our citizenry from obtaining an education beyond 12th grade is malarkey. Only diversity, equity, and inclusion will fill the dearth of humanity and force a fundamental shift made by people like you and me, who believe in humanity over greed, to revolutionize a broken system to benefit everyone over the lives of a few. This can only be attained when people are educated on humanity and more people from all socioeconomic classes are given a seat at prestigious educational institutions and boardrooms.
There are occasionally extraordinary leaders – Rose Skillman comes to mind – who used their wealth to leave a legacy that has genuinely improved the lives of children. But we have become too complacent with giving elites carte blanche to dismantle our public institutions while placing the weight of these public services on a few individual’s shoulders, leaving millions to rely on the uncertain blessing of charity for basic survival. Charity is insufficient to eliminate the centuries of human suffering caused by purposefully choosing materialism over humanism, such as ensuring that every child has clean air, safe drinking water, universal health care, functioning public K-12 schools, and tuition-free public colleges.
As a member of the hoi polloi, educated by schools overwhelmingly attended by children from privileged backgrounds, one discernable and troubling characteristic that I found at these educational institutions is that the voices and opinions of the poor are virtually non-existent. And therein lies the central difference between schooling and real-world education on the basic needs of our fellow humans.
It is up to us to teach the lessons of humanity and to use our knowledge on what it means to struggle to change what it means to be educated and elite. Until the children of farmers, teachers, janitors, and servers, those who have experienced living on public assistance, and others who grew up living in food deserts and know what it feels like to go to bed hungry, can grow up with the education and influence to choose humanism, nothing will change.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of her employer.