The Crisis in Education — Loss of Vision

Title: The Crisis in Education – The Loss of Vision

Text: Mark 12:30, Hosea 4:6

Time: February 11th, 2013

 

For a number of years now I’ve been thinking about the present state of education in our country, from the lower grades all the way up to college level and graduate school, and I think it’s appropriate to say that we’ve reached a crisis.  I’ve been trying to talk and explain to people that it’s as if the whole point and purpose for education has been lost, based on what I’ve observed. For example, a few years ago I stumbled upon the “mission statement” of a school district in Michigan, and it went something along the lines, “We exist to create a learning environment that will enable students to learn and become equipped to compete in the global economy. . . .” I’ve since read many other similar school districts’ mission statements that sound the same. But my initial reaction to this kind of mission was to say, “Why is educating school children put primarily in the context of economic competence?” These statements give the impression that the point and purpose of education is to enable students to get a good job, period. I thought to myself, “What a feeble mission statement, what a stunted purpose.” I still think that. And this is the crisis in education, as I see it, that we’ve lost a greater purpose or more profound point in educating our young when it all boils down to economics. Not that economics isn’t important; it is. But it isn’t or shouldn’t be the sole or main reason why we are educating our young. But from the way most people talk today, from educators to parents, it seems as if career, vocation or job is the main reason for being educated. Now the crisis today in education is that this kind of vision isn’t a big enough vision to sustain real learning in the long run. There must be something more profound or important in learning than simply job training. Education is more special than that. This has been my thinking for years, if not at least a decade now. Then, I recently read a book by the late New York University professor Neil Postman entitled, The End of Education, which basically argued the same thing I had been feeling for many years. Unless we recapture a greater purpose, a more profound vision, a greater inspiration for education, we’ll eventually see more and more of the problems we see today in schooling multiply. Where is the love of learning? Where is the search for truth? How many students today pursue learning primarily because they are seeking the right, true and good? Some do, not doubt, despite the emphasis on job training. The New Testament teaches us to “love the Lord they God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” Mark 12:30. Unless we capture something of this vision, our educational system will continue to decline. Let me ask and answer a few questions. 

 

First, what is the real crisis in education today? Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Now isn’t this a great verse to use in speaking of education reform. “There’s the answer,” someone might respond, “It’s a lack of knowledge, so we must teach students better.” But the verse actually teaches something more profound than teaching students more things, or teaching more things better. In the original Hebrew it actually refers to more than knowledge or information or factual details. The word translated “knowledge” in most Bibles is actually better rendered “vision.” So then the most accurate translation of the text might read something like this – “My people are destroyed for lack of vision.” Now vision is a form of knowledge but it’s more important than a factual information; it’s more the whole context or big picture into which all the detailed information or knowledge fits. Put another way, knowledge is the separate puzzle pieces; vision is what the complete puzzle looks like. As we begin to work a puzzle we usually have a picture or vision of what the complete project looks like, and this helps us gather the puzzle pieces together in order to fulfill the project. The finished picture gives us a context for gathering the detailed pieces together; it helps us in sifting and sorts the various and seemingly unrelated pieces together to form a whole. The picture on the puzzle box is the overall vision, the process of putting the pieces together is the project or activity. Now in respect to education today, the crisis is that we’ve lost, generally speaking, any vision of why we are educating our young, and they’ve lost any vision for why they are being educated. The crisis today is that the simplistic idea of job training isn’t a big enough vision to sustain the work of education. It does motivate, but it doesn’t motivate profoundly. It doesn’t inspire or drive educators or students the way a real, deep vision for learning must. But it isn’t just education that suffers from lack of vision; the church also suffers from it also. How so? Christianity today seems to be competing with the secular world in coming up with “practical” knowledge to impart to church members. Attend a typical church today and you’ll likely hear a message on “How to have a successful marriage,” or “How to be a success financially,” or “How to overcome stress,” and so forth. But what’s the point of all this “practical” Christianity? To enable one to succeed in life. But this isn’t a very profound vision, especially in light of the Bible’s teaching to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” Mark 12:30. So education is suffering a crisis in its loss of a profound vision, but it isn’t the only area of society that’s lost its way. I could also point out that government has also lost its profound vision, but that’s another message altogether.

 

Second, what does a real vision for education look like? Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” The Hebrew word for “knowledge” in this passage is hada’at. It’s such a broad word that it can mean many things in the original language; it can mean general knowledge, but it can also mean vision or mental seeing. Sometimes in the Bible it equals wisdom. In earlier times educators understood that education involved more than merely teaching information or imparting knowledge; they grasped the profound point that it included passing on wisdom, or a way of seeing, that tied everything else together. As an example, let me talk about my alma mater Wheaton College. Its motto is, “For Christ and His Kingdom.” Now that’s a profound mission statement, and it’s large enough to encompass all that learning was, is and ever should be. It meant that students are learning for the higher calling of serving God on earth during their terrestrial journey. It’s certainly sets a better and more profound context for pursuing an education than merely getting a job or making money. As a student at Wheaton College I distinctively remember that the motto “For Christ and His Kingdom” wasn’t an empty phrase – it really infused meaning and purpose to everyone on campus from students to faculty to administrators. It provided the motivation for studying hard, for pursuing tough questions, for thinking deeply and striving for excellence. There really was a sense that we were working for the Lord’s kingdom in great and small ways at Wheaton. And the thing is, many or even most of the colleges and universities in the United States and Europe were founded “for Christ and his Kingdom” whether they come out and say it or not – although many do spell out their Christian mission very clearly. But unfortunately today only a few institutions of learning that were founded upon the Christian vision for education actually follow that vision today. A profoundly sad example is Harvard, a college that started as a training school for ministers. It certainly doesn’t follow any Christian vision today in its educational philosophy. It’s a good example of today’s crisis in education. It’s lost its profound vision for learning. It provides no transcendent context for anything it teaches. What about public schools, grade schools, junior high and high schools? At one time a profound Christian vision permeated even public schools in the United States. In fact, the first public community schools were formed in order to teach children how to read – the Bible. Even in a more secular setting, in the early days of public education administrators, teaches and students all held to a basic biblical worldview. Without spelling it out, they acted under the assumption they were working under the will of God. But the crisis in education today is that we’ve left God out of the equation, and as a result, our vision for learning is shriveled up. It’s lacks a profound context to motivate and inspire. The problems we see today in education are the result of a lack of inspiration and motivation.

 

Third, how can we restore a profound vision in education? Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” The passage speaks of the terrible end result of a failure of education – destruction. In our context today we might translate this to mean that society suffers and eventually collapses under the weight of a failed educational system. Now in Professor Postman’s book, he proposes a number of educational visions that he believes might inspire and motivate teachers and students once again to strive for excellence from a sense of a higher calling. Unfortunately, his list is pretty puny. In other words, he’s diagnosed the problem correctly – a lack of profound vision is crippling education at all levels today – yet his proposal to correct the problem fails because he’s trying to come up with a profound vision without God. It can’t be done. That doesn’t mean teachers and students can’t get excited about secular causes, and pursue these causes with passion through education. Yes, this can be done. For example, during the days of Marxist Communism in the Soviet Union, there was no lack of zeal on the part of communist educators in pushing their ideology on students. And it was even possible for students to use Marxism as their worldview to inspire and motive them in their studies, and later, in their political activities. Many around the world were caught up in the Marxist political vision. Postman suggests that we in America could use the original vision of democracy as an inspiring and motivating educational vision.  But what he forgets is that America was never ever inspired solely or even mainly by the democratic vision, or the capitalistic vision, or even the vision of freedom. There was always the Christian vision in the background, especially in the earliest days of America. If we take away the basic Judeo-Christian worldview vision and try to carry on with just the free democratic or capitalist vision, we’ll run into the same problem we’re facing today – the political vision of democracy and the economic vision of capitalism aren’t profound enough or inspiring enough to sustain a culture. For example, if freedom is taken too far, there’s anarchy – like what happened in the French Revolution. A secular democracy lacks a transcendent purpose, just like a secular capitalism lacks any ultimate meaning. Only when we are connected to the Ultimate in some way does life and culture have meaning and purpose. The reason we are able to keep going today is because we’re running on the spiritual and moral capital of past Christian generations. If we don’t replenish the supply we’ll collapse and fall as surely as the Roman Empire did when it ended.

 

So then what is the solution? What is a practical solution? We obviously can’t return to a time when nearly everyone was Christian or thought like a Christian. We haven’t seen that in a generation or two past. But what we can do is acknowledge our debt to the Jewish-Christian worldview that provided meaning and purpose to our educational system here in the United States. And if we want to regain a sense of meaning and purpose in education today we need to build on the still shared common vision of Judeo-Christian God that remains. In other words, we probably can’t go back to the specifically Christian worldview that marked our country in the earliest days, under which students were educated and under which students were inspired and motivated to learn. Our culture is too diverse and pluralistic now to impose a Christian vision of life and learning – although we could pray that there might be a Christian revival where such a vision could naturally return without imposition. The Christian vision could and should be present in private Christian schools. But for the regular public education system I think we could return to the general Jewish-Christian worldview assumptions that would give both teachers and students a sense of meaning and purpose in education. There could be an acknowledgement of God, to begin with – and not any God concept, but an acknowledgement of monotheism. This isn’t a stretch, and it’s totally constitutional, after all, we have an acknowledgment of God printed on all our money, “In God we trust.” So then, education could assume the existence of God, the basic understanding of God in Jewish and Christian terms. What this would do is undermine the atheistic secularism that has captured so much of education today. Atheism is great de-motivator, a great discouragement for learning or even living. If there is no God, if there is no higher plan, if men and women are simply accidents of nature with no higher purpose, then why pursue truth, why pursue life? If there’s no higher purpose for existing, why strive for any earthly cause? Education needs to begin to acknowledge the profound and meaningful contribution the Judeo-Christian faith has played in building our nation and civilization. I don’t have all the answers as far as integrating this into the current educational system, but unless we find a way we’re going to run out of spiritual and moral capital; we’re going to lose the ability to motivate teachers and students to pursue truth. If we allow the removal of all transcendent meaning and purpose from our educational system, we’ll find that there will be no point to continuing that system at all. The truth is, we need a transcendent vision to sustain education in this country; it’s going to have to come from some source. There is no better vision than the basic Judeo-Christian one.

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