Reclaiming Education (or why Mike Rowe is only half right)

The last couple of years has seen a renewed interest in the restoration of vocation and education. There’s a piece over at the Acton Institute, featuring a short video of eminent vocation defender Mike Rowe, that highlights some of the main points: debt related to education is too high, labor jobs go unfilled while people scour the Ivy League hotspots for six figure checks, we’ve lost a proper sense of the good that comes from hard work, etc. These are all valid points, in my opinion, but I think they are missing something. Rowe, and Glenn Beck who is interviewing him, are still defining education in terms of its ends. Without saying it like this, it boils down to: “why get an education if I will never use it in my job.” This idea is just as flawed as the notion that, “everyone should get a college degree to get a better job.”

The latter statement belittles the value of education by making it the standard; college doesn’t afford real advantages in this situation because everyone now has the same advantage. Debt is seen as acceptable in light of the long term pay off, even though the statistics suggest there never will be that perceived pot of gold at the end of the collegiate rainbow. Some have proposed lowering the cost of schooling to avoid the debt debacle, but that doesn’t really solve the problem either. Theoretically reducing the cost of something in order to make it available to everyone, even if some individuals don’t desire to have said service, does not in fact end up lowering the cost. Head over to MyCancellation to see this playing out in the healthcare world right now.

The former concept reduces education to knowledge versus skill sets; but aren’t all forms of gathering skills an education? This is too limiting in defining education as something that only comes from ivory towered academics who write papers and study dead people more than they interact with those who are still living. But if education is, to borrow a phrase from R.C. Sproul, leading people out… then shouldn’t education be anything that moves me forward in life? This is still an insufficient definition of course, but it at least gets rid of the silly idea of “college” being equal to”education.”

In truth, this is a nuanced discussion that I am painting in broad strokes, but I do that because despite the subtleties, both sides of this argument are missing the whole point of education. John Milton said it best I think,

If Milton is correct, and I believe he is, then to treat education as something other than that which restores the Imago Dei to each of God’s created people is to propose a false education.

If I go to school to “get a better job,” I am making God’s design for education into a mercenary endeavor that will never satisfy my deepest longings. I may earn a more substantial paycheck, and I may even enjoy my job, but I will still be disconnected from what education is really all about. On the other side of that, if I avoid education because I don’t see it as pertinent to my vocation, I will be missing a step on the journey that is designed to bring me closer to my Maker.

What I am advocating is in line with Jamie Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project: reorienting our hearts and minds towards their proper end, namely God. Herein lies the foundation to my calling.


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