Monday, February 04, 2008

Education for What?

My daughter Linda came across the following essay in a Short Story textbook she is reading. It makes you think. Read it, then see my comments following.

What is the general object and end of Education?

Obviously, you cannot lead a person in a way unnatural to him. When you teach, bring up, train a horse, it is always remembered that it is a horse you are dealing with. We do not try anything else. But with human beings we are much more muddled. It seems as though we hardly know what human beings are or what they are for. Yet, obviously, that is the first thing to find out. What is a human being? What end is he made for?

In the world today, whatever we say about it, we act almost entirely as though human beings had no reason for being except to get on in the world - to acquire a lot of material possessions - to get a good paying job. That seems to be considered the first and most important thing. On top of that we think it would be a good thing if people had a sort of ornamental veneer of culture and good manners- that they be able to appreciate good books and to speak with a refined accent.
So it seems that today our definition of man is: That he is an animal who exists in order to enjoy himself while he lives, and therefore the object of education is to draw out all those faculties which are suitable to that end. First of all, he must learn how to acquire a good living, and, secondly, how to enjoy it in the manner least likely to endanger it. We must learn how to acquire riches and we must learn not to squander them in riotous living. Shorn of all camouflage, that represents the general line of people's ideas today.

That is not what we say, but it is how we act. And even the more highbrow people are really acting in the same way; for though, perhaps, they say that the object of education is to draw out the very best in us - to teach us to know ourselves and control ourselves so that we may enjoy ourselves even more - it all comes to the same thing - to acquire the means to live well and then to enjoy life.

But if the common materialistic view of man leaves much to be desired - and few people are really satisfied with it - it is obviously a very limited view and takes no account of those qualities in men which we all agree to admire most: humility, unselfishness, tenderness, except in so far as they help us to get on - and it takes no account of the quite common appetite of men for something real and unchanging and not liable to decay and death - I say, if the common materialistic definition of man leaves much to be desired, what other view is there? If man is not just an animal among animals, what is he? Well, I think, even without entering into the awful field of religious controversy, we may say certain things. God exists; He is a Person - the Personal Author and Ruler of all things. And we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. And we are made in His image - that is to say, we share in God's spiritual nature. We are rational beings and can deliberate and weigh the pros and cons of action; and having thus weighed, we can act freely. Whether or no we can do good of ourselves, we can certainly refrain from evil, even if we are to some extent - perhaps to a large extent - the victims of our physical and psychological make-up. We are, therefore, rightly held to be responsible persons and not automata obeying willy-nilly the forces to which we find ourselves subjected. And if we are thus children of God - for we are, in this religious view of man, more than just animals without responsibility (after all, you can punish a dog - but you cannot really blame him) - if we are children of God, then we are heirs also. We are called to some sort of sharing with God in His own life. We have what we call a vocation. We have, in fact, a destiny independent of our physical life on this earth. A destiny for which this physical life is a training ground and place of preparation. It is, in fact, a school - a place where we are educated.

It is clear then, is it not? that if we accept the religious view of man's nature, we are compelled to take a very different, a radically different view of education. No longer can we think merely of getting on in the commercial and materialistic sense. We must now think of getting on in the sense of getting heavenwards. And in everything we learn and in everything we teach to our children or our pupils, we must bear this fact in mind. We must learn to get on in the world - not as an end in itself, but as a means to getting heavenwards. Any education which neglects this fact, and to the extent to which it neglects it, is false education, because it is false to man. It is untrue; it is not in accordance with his nature as child of God and heir also.

All this sounds very pious - though there is no harm in that - and some people will think that I am advocating an almost total neglect of practical things - that perhaps I despise worldly success, that I despise reading, writing, and arithmetic and dancing and gymnastics and science and history. That is not so. What I am saying is simply that as parents and teachers we must teach these things with an eye on our goal. If, like the materialists, and that is, in practice, most people today, we think there is no goal, then of course, there is nothing to be said against that kind of education which has for its sole object the training of children to win prizes and get good jobs.

But if we do not accept the materialist philosophy, if we do not agree with the economic interpretation of history, if we do not think man is nothing more than a creature made for gaining material wealth, if we take the religious point of view - because, if we think for half a moment, we know that we are not satisfied with working merely to make money to buy things which have been made by people who only made them in order to sell them...then we shall take a radically different view of education. We shall even take a radically different view of arithmetic and of reading and writing - because we shall attack them in a totally different frame of mind. That is the point. It is not that we shall do nothing but write hymns, though the best poems are hymns. It is not that we shall only read the Bible, though the Bible is the best book, or that we shall only count how much we can give away (instead of counting how much we can spend), it is simply that we shall see all things as in some way heavenly or leading heavenwards. For education will not then mean drawing out those faculties which make us successful worldlings, but drawing out those faculties which make us better fitted for an eternal rather than a merely temporary existence. We shall see everything, as the philosopher says, sub specie aeternitatis - that is to say we shall see everything in its real shape, its eternal shape, the shape of its being rather than the shape of its doing. For it is not what we do that matters most, but what we are. And it is the same with things as with persons. Being is more important than doing. But if, like the materialists and their followers, the business men of today, we say there is no being behind doing, but only doing, then we shall not only lose the Kingdom of God in heaven but also the Kingdom of God on earth.

But in spite of our enthusiasm for worldy success, we all know that a worldly view of education is very unsatisfactory - to say the least. It does not satisfy us. We want something more. And very often we think that all will be well if, in addition to learning things which will be useful to enable us to get on, we add what we call cultured subjects - a spot of art, a spot of poetry and foreign languages, just in the same way as people build banks and town halls with iron frames and concrete and all the cheapest and most labour-saving methods, and then cover the front with elaborate stonework in imitation of a classical temple, with columns and carvings.

And so it is with education. If we cannot give our children a truly religious education, through and through, so that everything they learn is in harmony with their ultimate heavenly destiny, then it would be much better if we confined ourselves to the plain bread-and-butter part of the business and simply taught them practical things - the three R's and physical jerks and how to read a Bradshaw and drive a car - and leave out the classics and Shakespeare and all the sham culture.

For culture is a sham if it is only a sort of Gothic front put on an iron building - like the Tower Bridge - or a classical front put on a steel frame - like the Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street. Culture, if it is to be a real thing and a holy thing, must be the product of what we actually do for a living - not something added, like sugar on a pill.

So it all comes back to this: What is man? Is he just an animal for whom earthly life is all? Or is he a Child of God with eternal life in view? - Eric Gill

Knowing that all truth is God's truth helped me when I discovered that the man, Eric Gill, who wrote the above, was religious as well as vile and immoral. I was taken aback by his exploitations, and it made me think twice before posting it.

However, ALL TRUTH IS GOD'S TRUTH!! So, the truth that we ought to consider ourselves so much more than animals because we are made in the image of God rings out in the essay. The truth that we must have a goal in mind when choosing what we will teach our children is still true. When I teach my children geography, I am teaching them about God's world. When I teach my children history, I am demonstrating God's hand in the affairs of men. When I teach them language, or writing, or reading, I am reflecting the God Who condescends to communicate to mere mortals. No matter what I teach, as a Christian mother I must do it with a view that whatsoever I do, I do to the glory of God!

Education for what? For eternity! To make a difference in this world! To prepare to be used as an instrument in the Hand of the Master. This is the reason. This is the goal.

And so, we press on.

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