I heard it again just a few days ago. I was in a conversation with a group of people and the subject turned to different types of work and vocations. Then someone said it, "That's why you go to college, so you don't have to do that kind of work." Meaning a job that required less physical labor was superior to one that requires more. Recently attitudes have changed, but it is still prevalent that jobs that require an "education" are better. It may be true that the best paying jobs require degrees, but it is certainly not true that getting a degree guarantees a better wage or salary than not getting one.
I believe it also to be true that society will always be adjusting attitudes and requirements concerning education and qualifications. What might be a better exercise would be to expand our understanding of education and put more responsibility back on families, businesses, and religious organizations. The truth is that education still happens mostly in our homes and churches (or lack thereof). If one receives a poor education from these sources, it will profoundly affect one's performance in more formal educational settings.
The Bible gives us a good framework for education. It begins with choosing how we are to view the world of learning, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov. 1:7, RSV).
Even if one does not agree with this orientation, it is important to know what one's orientation is. Otherwise there will be no way to know where one is in the world, or what foundation her learning is built upon.
After this, there are the similar descriptions of Samuel (I Samuel 2:26) and Jesus (Luke 2:52) as they were growing up. This is from Luke, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with man."
Here we see a trifold approach to education. There is the component of learning how the world works and how to use one's hands. This is wisdom as understood in the Bible. It included topics of justice and equity as well as work and work ethic. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are full of such wisdom. There is also growing spiritually, or "in favor with God". Those who learn spiritual discipline will also learn how to discipline their physical bodies. This becomes a source for knowing one's self and motivation for vocations. Finally, there is understanding of how to get along with other people. This includes how to contribute to any system one is in, whether it be a family, a nation, or a faith tradition.
Many of these things can be taught in our schools but are better taught in other environments. This will make our children ready to learn the information they need to be productive in this world, as well as empathetic, caring, and moral.
The founding fathers of our nation believed that education was important. Thomas Jefferson famously said, "The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate." I am certain that Jefferson would be impressed with all that we have learned from his day to ours, but I am equally certain he would be appalled at what is missing. Namely, an understanding of our government and how it works.
In a statement made in a very different context that sounds as though it could have been written today, Immanuel Kant (1704-1824) wrote, "Our present education, both in the home and at school, is still very faulty, in respect of discipline, doctrine and the cultivation of talent as much as in respect to the building of character in accordance with moral principles. We care more for skill than for the disposition to use it well. How then can it be hoped that persons improperly educated should rule a state to better advantage? Let education be conceived on right lines, let natural gifts be developed as they should, let character be formed on moral principles, and in time the effects of this will reach even to the seat of government."
Although he was making an argument for peace among nations, his idea that a nation gets what it develops through its education is true. A proper education includes learning math, science, and humanities. It also includes knowing how to use our hands to live and how things work. A proper education should be happening everywhere and never cease. A proper education should feed the soul before it feeds the mind because the soul shapes the mind and how we see the world. Never stop learning, and never stop teaching.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.