Why be educated? The two most common responses to this question are as follows: To achieve one's highest potential; or, to secure the best possible life. Now neither of these are poor responses, but they raise other questions.
On the first point, a series of questions naturally follows: What does "highest potential" even mean? Why is it important to achieve one's highest potential? Can a person be happy without achieving his highest potential? Is the goal of life to find and express self? Will I neglect others in my attempts at self-improvement? Perhaps it would be better to help others achieve their goals.
On the second point we see another series of questions: What is the "good life?" Why does it matter that I should have the good life? Perhaps it is acceptable to me to have an average life or an "almost good" life. Can I achieve a "successful" life without a formal education? Isn't it possible for me to learn what I need to learn through life experience? Who is a greater success? The intellectual who makes little money or the millionaire high school drop out? And if they can both be successful, what makes them successful? And if they are both successful, then isn't it true that formal education is only subjectively important (important only to certain individuals who may need it, but many, perhaps most, don't need it)?
Now the point of asking these questions is simply to highlight that the question, "why be educated," is a worldview question, meaning that one's view of reality will shape the answer. For example, what might an atheistic professor say in answer to this question? What might a pantheistic naturalist (someone who believes that the universe is God) say? Or what might a pop-culture atomaton (robot) say?
And to our point: What might a Christian say in response to the question of motivation in education? I can think of at least four sound reasons for a Christian to pursue education:
One, to examine God's world in order to become more intimately aquainted with Him. Men like Kepler and Newton believed that to do science was to "think God's thoughts after Him." For them, the sciences were a way to figure out how the genius behind the universe put it together. This enterprise only enlarged their admiration for Him. The natural theologian, William Paley, once said that the sciences provide us with an invitation to "a continued act of adoration." Do you think of your science class as an opportunity for worship? Why not? If it is mundane or boring to you, then perhaps the problem lies with you! Newton saw the whole natural world as a Cathedral and the mind as the only fitting instrument of ultimate praise.
Two, to examine God's revelation more carefully, having developed the skills of a competent thinker. Many students carry around with them the unworthy idea that education is meaningless unless it is "used" later in life. They say things like, "when will I ever use this math lesson?" Or, "I'm planning to be a scientist, why should I care about the poetry of Shakespeare?" The expression of these ideas indicates a person who is either simply immature or foolish. The philosopher Martin Heideggar said, "It is not what you are going to do with philosophy that matters (the answer to that is probably nothing); but what philosophy is doing with you." The Christian understands that the purpose of education is not merely pragmatic (relevant to how I might apply it), but it is organic. It has to do with retraining my perceptions about the world, aligning them with how God wants me to see the world. It has to do with transforming me to be useful in God's purposes and plans, or at the very least to be able to detect God's purposes and plans.
Three, to set forth God's truth to the world as clearly, artfully and persuasively as I can. As Lewis says, "God never intended the Bible to replace the ordinary human arts and sciences." It is a director or guide to them all. It should be clear that if my speech regarding my faith is incoherent, it will have no impact on other lives. In fact, it may incite ridicule. It is not my place to change the hearts of people, but it is my place to be obedient to God's call to enlarge my talents as much as possible so that their use may be effective in God's hands. It is time for Christians everywhere to know what it is they believe and why they believe it and then to be able to out-think those representing other worldviews.
Four, to become my best self as an act of penitent gratitude for God's prodigious generosity with me. Here I am, a sinner, condemned, isolated from God; an enemy, guilty of treason against the high king of heaven, and yet he has redeemed me, empowered me, transformed me and set me to some glorious use in His eternal plan. What more can I do than obey His challenge to be as excellent as I can be mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually? God has asked me to participate with Him in his work of holistic transformation.
And now a few practical points with respect to this class:
One, Bible class (in this case Contemporary Philosophical Issues) should require your highest and best intellectual effort.
A few interesting facts: You will not face a single question on the Trinity on the SAT. Many schools could not possibly care less how you perform in these classes (secular schools). Most of your public school contemporaries (peers) do not take these classes and never learn this material, ever, in their lives. And yet many of them attend fine universities and eventually enjoy successful careers.
These facts have led some Christian schools to conclude that Bible classes should be emotionally and interpersonally appealing, relevant, etc. rather than academic in nature. At BCHS, we think that idea is ridiculous.
What makes the Christian school Christian is not the people, faculty, or the name Christian on the letterhead, at least not primarily. What makes the Christian school Christian is its understanding of truth. And this is a truth we will hold you accountable for learning. Of course we can't make you believe it, but is it really all that surprising that we at least insist that you know it?
A warning comes with this. If you give your best academic effort to everything else and then your leftovers to this class, your grade will show it. And more importantly, you life will show it. For the true Christian, a fervent and disciplined effort in this class will be another expression of love for God.
Response to a Common Objection: "But Bible class should be about loving Jesus, not academics."
Why must we think of the two as mutually exclusive. Such an attitude comes from the postmodern influence among Christians. In our Bible department, we do not accept the notion that faith and reason are separate and unrelated domains, or that heart and mind are separate and unrelated domains. But many Christians today think this way. They think that loving God is an affair of the heart, and science (or work, politics, even yard maintenance) is an affair of the mind. Here we adopt Augustine's view, "I believe in order that I may understand." Faith and reason are intimately integrated. Much more will be said on this in the second semester. For now, it will suffice to ask a simple question: If faith and reason are unrelated phenomena, then why would study ever be required of the Christian? All he would ever need do is move with the swelling of his passions.
Since this is our philosophy, you should not think of the Bible class as youth group. And the next point is related to this--namely, that the Bible class specializes in affairs of the mind without affirming that there is a separation between mind and heart. We cannot provide for the whole Christian experience of students, but we can assist in the development of the Christian mind. And that is our specialization. The Church is supposed to be the place where the holistic needs of Christians are met. Unfortunately in many Churches there is little if any education occurring. Much more can be said here, but let it suffice for now simply to affirm that BCHS, including its chapels and Bible classes, is not the Church, but an educational institution, commissioned by parents to assist in the whole development of their children. Of course we are going to have a limited role here, but hopefully a significant role.
For the true Christian, this academic opportunity will be interpreted in light of a desire for whole development, and as such will be received as yet another opportunity for the enrichment of the life of faith. The low minded person will see his or her theological or philosophical education as a drudgery or as an unnecessary diversion from "heart matters."
The second practical point is this: Not everyone is equally smart.
There has been in the last 40 years or so an effort in education to make self-esteem rather than accomplishment primary in education. This has fueled a culture of low expectations, both in the academic and professional worlds. Bill Gates is famous for his derision of this approach to education. He points out that in life one is applauded only after there is some significant accomplishment and not as an incentive to make the attempt. And it really doesn't matter how hard one tries. In the real world, there are no points for "trying our best." Failure is punished with harsh and often lasting consequences in the professional and adult world.
We don't want anyone thinking that they are inferior, and so various theories are offered to level the playing field. The suggestion was made by various intellectuals that perhaps everyone is equally smart, just in different ways. Some are kinesthetic (body) smart, others book smart, others relational, still others verbal, or visual, etc. But really is this adequate? Is it really true that everyone is equally capable of high level problem solving, comprehension, memory and all the other marks of truly exceptional thinkers? Of course not. No one would suggest that everyone is equally capable physically. Can everyone run a 200 meter dash in 20 seconds? As a teacher, it seems to me obvious that, as we see various levels of physical skill, we also see various levels of mental skill.
Once I encountered a coach who informed me that coaches were superior to teachers because they could take an athlete at a given skill level and bring him into the team and make use of his unique talents, even significantly improving on those talents over time. Nobody felt inferior or left out because the coach saw to it that everyone had a role that fit his giftedness. And he believed that teachers couldn't accomplish this for every student in a classroom and that is why they failed certain students. This, to him, was a sign of the failure of the teacher and not the student. As it turns out, he was upset with me for failing a couple of the members of his baseball team. So his basic premise was that I was not able to work with these students who had various academic disadvantages and that made me inferior to a coach who can work with various athletic disadvantages. I asked him one question that ended the conversation. I said, "I hear you coach, but did you make any cuts before the season began?" He got the point.
The simple fact is that not everyone is equally smart, and that says nothing about the inherent value of people before God. Jesus died on the cross for the intellectually advantaged and the intellectual disadvantaged, but a school need not affirm that everyone is or ought to be equal intellectually.
But... and this is a significant But!... It is clear from the parable of the talents that God expects everyone to make the most of what they have.
Practically this means two things: One, it is the teachers job to create an environment of academic pressure, of stress, that will call students to excellence while not expecting that everyone will become Augustine or Lewis. And two, it is the students job to aim for perfection while giving himself or herself permission to be in process. If a student is not willing to do this, then he or she should get out of the way!
Now, I've emphasized disparity in intellectual ability. But there is also the issue of disparity in intellectual curiosity and desire (work-ethic). It has been my observation in 14 years of high school teaching that those people we refer to as the "smartest" are often not the most capable, but are simply the most diligent. One can consider the stories of Jerry Rice and Peter Jennings as examples of this phenomenon.
Peter Jennings was the news anchor for ABC for years. A few years ago he died of lung cancer and during the various tributes to his life and work, it became clear that his thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. The man never earned a college degree and yet he knew more than most degreed individuals because of his relentless pursuit of knowledge.
Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL. It is widely known that his best 40 yard dash time was a paltry 4.6 seconds. He came from a rather small college and was not a particularly high draft pick. No one could have guessed that this rather average athlete, at least by NFL standards, would become arguably its greatest player of all time. Over his time in the NFL, Rice's secret became clear. His work-ethic literally defied comprehension. He would run a 6 mile track up the hills surrounding San Francisco at near sprint speeds. Other players tried to match his workouts and collapsed in exhaustion every time. Rice's attitude was always, "You will not outwork me!"
In my experience as a high school teacher, this has been the attitude of the finest students I've encountered. Granted, many of them possessed rare intellectual gifts, but not all of them. And imagine what a student with great intellectual gifts can accomplish if they match those gifts with a sound work-ethic.
Now it is possible to go too far with this into "overwork." Ben Franklin once said, in praise of a rigorous work-ethic, "There will be plenty of time for sleep in the grave." The problem with this attitude is that one will reach the grave quicker and will undermine one's capacity for longevity if it is seriously applied. Some of you may need to think about this. Can you really do all that you've committed to do, and do so with excellence? Perhaps it is better to do 3 things well than 6 poorly.
But is this the general problem with our culture today? I would say no. Most people don't need encouragement to make more time for leisure, for television, etc. Most people suffer from simple laziness, which, according to Plato, is the fundamental flaw in humanity.
And now a third practical point: Education is necessary to achieving true human excellence.
Of course, one's understanding of "human excellence" will have to be provided by his worldview (philosophy of life), but here we will work with the assumption that human excellence has to do with achieving one's potential and being generally successful, in the way society commonly defines those terms.
Given those definitions, the most common objection to point three is, "Look at men like Edison and Einstein or Bill Gates. They struggled in school and were still geniuses. In fact, they did poorly in school because they were bored with school."
The obvious response to this is to note that each of these men were highly self-educated. Self-education does not mean you receive no help. You simply control the times, people and frequency of the help you receive. And usually they seek more help than the average degreed individual, not less.
So yes, you may be bored with high school because you are genius. My advice would be to drop out, take the equivalency exam and conduct your education so that you can move on to greater heights than is possible here.
But if you are not Edison, Einstein or Gates, then perhaps you should just sit quietly and consider that there is knowledge here to be gained.
And now a few moments of straight talk:
Some of you listened to this, others heard only more academic static.
Some of you later in life will blame parents and teachers for a deficiency in your understanding, or your inability to get into the college you want, etc. But that will be foolish. You have no excuse.
Some of you in your educational life will learn only how to jump through academic hoops. In other words, you will learn to work the system, give the teacher what he wants and do the minimum to "earn a grade" rather than learning.
Some of you will earn diploma's, even BA's, and still be poor thinkers.
Some of you will even cheat your way through high school, college and your job, and you won't be caught.
It is possible that someone in here could become a millionaire fool.
And some of you will become wise. Who will be the philosophers among us?