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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More Than An Apple?

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17)

I recently had a discussion about what exactly the "fruit" in Genesis represents. Since I don’t think God puts things into the Bible idly, the discussion took some time.

I’ve heard different theories. The apple represents something sexual, or perhaps the "flesh" similar to the representation of Communion. Overall though, I’ve held that people just read too much into it. The point of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was to test Man. What good is obedience or love if it comes because there are no other options? A forced obedience is not obedience at all. But a perfect love should produce obedience. What is it to serve the God whom you love?

Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; (Genesis 1:29)

Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)

But as I’ve given it some thought, I do wonder if there is not more to this fruit than meets the eye. What does it mean when you read fruit in the Bible? A friend reminded me that digging deeper doesn’t always mean fishing for something that’s not there.

"So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:17-20)

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither {can} you unless you abide in Me." (John 15:4)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

[For] you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8-10)

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)

And I could go on. In just these few examples, I see something that may or may not be there. The act of eating brought forth death in the Garden. The willful disobedience separated us from our Creator. But He did not abandon us to our own machinations. He provided a willing Sacrifice for us all.

But that brings me to my question: is the "fruit" of the Tree there because, despite our disobedience, we were given Hope? A Tree was part of our Fall, and a Tree was part of our redemption. Is the fruit a part of our Spirit there just as becomes a part of us once our debt had been paid? With that single act of disobedience, a Kingdom was brought about; a Kingdom superior to that of Eden. This life better than Paradise? Emphatically yes. For now we bear the fruit of our Lord! No longer should the buds blossom only to die before it brings forth life! (See 2nd Kings 2:19-22) Here, every day we have the choice to abide in Him or to be cut off.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. But perhaps, we need to reexamine the Life, the Source, we have here on this earth. And perhaps we who were made "Sufficient to have stood," will stand tall.

Lines 97-128

Whose but his own? ingrate, he had of mee

All he could have; I made him just and right,

Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.

Such I created all th’ Ethereal Powers

And Spirits, both them who stood and them who fail’d;

Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.

Not free, what proof could they have giv’n sincere

Of true allegiance, constant Faith or Love,

Where only what they needs must do, appear’d,

Not what they would? what praise could they receive?

What pleasure I from such obedience paid,

When Will and Reason (Reason also is choice)

Useless and vain, of freedom both despoil’d,

Made passive both, had served necessity,

Not mee. They therefore as to right belong’d,

So were created, nor can justly accuse

Thir maker, or thir making, or thir Fate;

As if Predestination over-rul’d

Thir will, dispos’d by absolute Decree

Or high foreknowledge; they themselves decreed

Thir own revolt, not I; if I foreknew

Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,

Which had no less prov’d certain unforeknown.

So without least impulse or shadow of Fate,

Or aught by me immutable foreseen,

They trespass, Authors to themselves in all

Both what they judge and what they choose; for so

I form’d them free, and free they must remain,

Till they enthrall themselves: I else must change

Thir nature, and revoke the high Decree

Unchangeable, Eternal, which ordain’d

Thir freedom: they themselves ordain’d thir fall.

[John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book III, Lines 97-128]

I sat in my class today and listened while my professor read those lines out loud. Although her goal was to illustrate Milton’s dislike of Calvinism, something else captivated me.

Milton’s expression in those lines moved me emotionally, they way poetry should. I felt the weight of our rejected Maker; the burden of my choice to rebel.

But seeing a leak in the plumbing is not enough. The leak, the rebellion, needs to be fixed.

A friend of mine was recently worried because she felt like school was pushing her away from God. She spent so much time reading Chaucer and Boethius, she neglected to read her Bible. I’m in no way advocating abandoning the Word, but I do wonder if God does not reach out to us through other literature?

I don’t have a concrete answer to that question. How does someone argue with a belief that God speaks through different means?

I do hope though that all of us, made "Sufficient to have stood," find a way to survive our "freedom to fall."