The Goal of Education

I remember vividly a conversation I had with my mother in our kitchen in Endicott, NY. I was a senior in high school and was in the midst of making decision regarding my educational future. I was not overly excited about college. In fact, I was going round and round with my mother, arguing that the only real purpose in college was to get a good job, so I could send my kids to a good college when they grew up, so they could get good jobs and send their kids to a good college when they grew up, ad infinitum.

Admittedly, it was a shallow and cynical view of education, but one that had been confirmed by society and my educational environment. It’s also a mindset that is easy to pass on to our kids. When they ask, why do I need to learn this, how do we answer? Is learning all about ‘utility’, about acquiring skills we’ll need in the marketplace to make money? If so, then why do we really need to know about the ancient civilizations of Indiana? Or great literature? Or ethics? If it’s all about being productive, what about further education as an adult? And what about learning in the church – is it just about producing leaders or evangelists, etc.?

Thankfully I’ve set aside the cynicism of my pre-college years and have recently begun to think a lot more about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of good education – both in the school and the church setting. Now, older and a little wiser, if (when) my kids ask “why should we learn about _______________?” my simple answer is, “to make you a better worshiper of the true and living God.” Certainly other byproducts of education are important also – like becoming a wise person who can make informed and godly decisions, becoming a person of virtue, becoming a contributing member of society (not just in terms of economy), etc. But in the end, I think these byproducts should be subsumed under the big goal of worship, or ‘glorifying God’.

For years now, I’ve been praying with my kids each night and have included a sentence or two like “help them to sleep well tonight (with no bad dreams and no bad thoughts), so they can wake up rested and ready to go to school and learn all about the world you created.” I realized a couple nights ago that I’m fighting an uphill battle. I asked the boys why they go to school and learn to read and write and do math. Their first response, “to get a good job.” The system is hell-bent on turning us into cogs in the wheel. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I realized how much work I have to do to impress upon the Christ-centered, God glorifying nature of education, of knowledge. They won’t learn it from their teachers, nor will they learn it by osmosis. Not even an short sentence every night before bed. It’s going to take a concerted effort to point their minds to the God that stands behind the orderliness of geometry, the story of history, the beauty of art and music, and the wonder of science. I look forward to our summer and doing this work together!

Boys, it’s not about the job, it’s about God. And it’s about the end for which God created us – to glorify him and enjoy him forever. Enjoying him includes enjoying his creation, his world, his good gifts. It requires you live rightly. All of these are the proper goals of education. A job you enjoy is too. But lets keep the first things first – learning about these things don’t just make you useful, they make God bigger in your eyes (if you have eyes to see him). I really enjoyed and would recommend the book by Paul Spears and Steven Loomis Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective (Christian Worldview Integration).

PS. Boys, get good jobs so you can take care of mom and me when we’re old and decrepit!