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Changing the Perspective Through Education as Revealed by the "I Have a Dream" Speech

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Education provides clarity to the hazy areas in our lives. James Farmer, Sr. asserts a valid claim: “Education is the way out [of ignorance]…and into the glorious light.” Through knowledge, we are able to overcome ignorance and realize not only who we are, but also the potential of who we can be. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream, Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Coming into Language and Frederick Douglass’ Learning to Read illustrate how simple skills, such as reading and writing, serve as a mental escape for people that are imprisoned by their lack of knowledge. As these texts show, education offers human beings an advanced perspective on issues beyond their initial opinions, provides individuals with the techniques needed to fully express themselves and to sculpt their own destinies, and is the means necessary to build a better world for each other and ourselves.

Coming into Language details Baca’s underprivileged upbringing and circumstances, while exemplifying how writing both transforms and provides meaning to his life. For “most of [Baca’s] life[,] [he] felt like a target in the cross hairs of a hunter’s rifle” due to his illiteracy (Baca 530). In this instance, we see that being uneducated is a burden in one’s life. Feeling like a “target” implies that Baca feels as though he is a victim. He mentions being in a “cross hairs of a hunter’s rifle,” which indicates his lack of control in his life and how it is literally in the hands of someone else. Baca is, therefore, trapped in his own shortcomings; his inability to read and write does not allow him to understand or reach his own potential, making him unable to express himself and as a consequence, live a mediocre life. Once he learns the fundamental skills to read and write, he describes how “writing [bridges his] divided life of prisoner and free man” (Baca 534). Baca uses writing as a conduit for his emotions. To live as a prisoner is detrimental in and of itself; one lives in confinement and is restricted both mentally and physically. However, Baca channels the elements of literature to redefine himself as a ‘free man.” He writes “to [sublimate] rage…[and] to avenge the betrayals of a lifetime” (Baca 534). Without his knowledge of the English language, Baca would not be able to render his tragic life in a positive manner. Education supplies the sense of belonging he needs to fulfill a greater purpose. He takes the concept of education and showcases that anyone can learn to read and write, so long as that individual wants to; one’s circumstances are not an excuse. It is that process of aspiring to escape the darkness of ignorance that reveals the true light in one’s self. Instead of encapsulating himself in his own sorrows, he chooses to exert that despair through writing, sharing his deep-rooted troubles with everyone who decides to read his work. The reader is compelled to empathize with Baca and learn from his mistakes, and thus instilling in the reader an improved sensibility towards the act of learning. That is the ultimate goal of education: to teach beyond words and enlighten a desire inside others to promote goodness, wisdom, and the belief that we can mold our own path. Through Baca’s experiences, we, the readers, become more conscious of ourselves, reflecting on who we are and who we want to be by our using acquired knowledge that is often taken for granted on a daily basis.

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The autobiographical story of a young slave, Learning to Read, depicts how knowledge opens Frederick Douglass’ eyes to the world around him. He explains, “at times [he felt] that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given [him] a view of [his] wretched condition, without the remedy” (Douglass 348). Douglass conveys the two-sided meaning to surpassing one’s ignorance; the concept of not being able to fathom the world one comes to realize. This results in the question of whether or not it is better to lead a life of ignorance as opposed to awareness. What Douglass fails to realize in this moment is that education is the key to exceeding our own limitations. It is the fear of the unknown that does not leave space for self-growth and what education consequently strives to solve. One can live an unknowing life, but that restricts one’s ability to embrace life itself. A part of enjoying life is being able to feel moments of joy, pain, and other human emotions. Education lets us be in sync with our emotions and pursue matters of importance. Ignorance is the product of restrained education. In Douglass’ case, slaves obviously could not receive an education because that would impose a threat on white power. However, Douglass takes that drawback and uses it to fuel his passion to read and write. He “[copied] the Italics in Webster’s Spelling Book, until [he] could make them all without looking on the book” (Douglass 350). Douglass’ drive to terminate his own illiteracy is at the very core of education. Education is not solely how much one knows, but rather what one chooses to do with what one knows or has. Douglass takes a simple book and maximizes the information by reciting the sounds until he perfects the annunciation. Anyone can memorize facts and definitions, but surpassing ignorance is when we apply the overarching purpose of what we attain to the real world. Through this, we can unlock opportunities of advancement for ourselves, which is precisely what can be observed in Douglass. Education gives us motive and reason to desiccate ignorance because all we have to do is maintain an open mind; ignorance is the effect of deliberate ignoring.

Education presents the tools to approach all aspects of life with maturation and an all-encompassing outlook. It gives us the ability to absorb the power of language and use this influence to make outlasting changes Dr. King created the world that has come into existence today. Without his knowledge and rhetoric, humanity would still uphold its original standpoint with respect to people of color. As a result of his knowledge, his powerful articulation in I Have a Dream centers on the notion of equality and fairness – topics that require an education to perceive in an intellectual and sophisticated fashion. In his speech, he declares, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’” (King 852). Some people presume that equality just entails being treated the same as everyone else, with justice implied in its meaning. Although true, it takes education to understand that equality is much profounder than simply changing the way we treat others; it revolves around altering the way we live and how we perceive. Education gives us skills to know the deeper message in almost any given context. In I Have a Dream, specifically, despite the message explicitly regarding the idea of how fairness will bring peace, there lies a greater aim that Dr. King mentions: “[whites] have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” (King 853). When we start to treat freedom as a state of being for all people rather than a tangible object for only blacks to achieve, we will be able to value the worth of every person. This is what Dr. King conveys through his speech: the idea that freedom is validated when – and only if – everyone can agree on a common goal. Education is the route to our salvation; it is the singular component that can cure our own blindness.

Education propels human beings to view life beyond its surface value. As presented in Learning to Read, education allows one to see clearly, no matter how dark it is, and thus provides the starting point as to where to go. From this, learning lets us grow and apply our education toward a positive future, which defines Dr. King’s life’s mission and work. Baca teaches us that language is more than words, but an emotional release; he conveys that once we can harness the power of self-expression through literature, we consequently impact the lives our audiences for the better. Knowledge eradicates the sense of fear that individuals have when faced with new obstacles. It is only when we educate ourselves that we teach ignorance to stop itself.

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