Education Isn’t the Answer
Our world has many serious problems. It does not matter what background you come from, what experiences you have had, or what worldview you ascribe to, everyone recognizes that things are broken. Life on earth is not as it could be, maybe even as it should be. I believe this is a universal acknowledgement. Therefore, one of mankind’s greatest tasks is to seek solutions to these problems. What avenues can we explore that might make things better than they are? There is no shortage of answers to this question. From my vantage point, the most common refrain in our modern, Western world is that EDUCATION is best option available.
It is espoused that education can turn things around. If people are educated, they have hope to escape poverty. If people are educated, they are less likely to be bigots. If people are educated, they are more likely to make good life choices, more likely to avoid substance abuse, more likely to escape mental health problems, more likely to progress society into an enlightened state, and so forth. There are those who embrace this perspective, and those who don’t are told to “educate yourself”. It seems that we have settled on education as the means to fix the world.
I want to challenge this idea. It’s not because education is bad. Obviously it isn’t. I can’t imagine that less information is somehow better than more information, unless one wants to argue that naivety is bliss. That may be true to an extent, especially for young children, but with age comes a realization of life’s problems that can’t be avoided. Thus, I am not arguing that education isn’t part of the answer. I believe it is. But education alone isn’t sufficient, and it has its own inherent weaknesses that can’t be overlooked. Consider at least three of them.
People can be educated beyond their intelligence. In everyday terms, we call this “indoctrination”. This happens when someone is consistently told what to think, but not how to think. They may well receive a robust “education”, but their own ability to reason hasn’t necessarily grown stronger. You can see this in practice when someone is willing to parrot ideas that they have been told but can’t sustain any kind of intellectual dialogue with a dissenter. I would contend that much of modern education fits this form. Robust debate is resisted. Safe spaces are embraced. Yet what could possibly be more destructive to the advancement of good ideas than what Haidt called the coddling of the mind? Good ideas are resilient. If they contain truth, they will stand even in the face of great opposition. Good education happens when space is created for ideas to battle it out. When this doesn’t happen, and only certain ideas are allowed to be explored to the exclusion of others, the result is education that exceeds actual intelligence.
People can be educated beyond common sense. Hans Christian Andersen explored this concept well in The Emperor’s New Clothes. With the right social pressure, people can adopt beliefs that are contrary to what they see with their own eyes. Take, for example, the rise of Communist-Socialist thinking in higher education. Students increasingly despise Capitalism (which, to be fair, has its flaws) while enjoying the benefits of it. They instead embrace the concept of extreme wealth distribution while assuming that people’s desire to be productive will remain intact. This, of course, is nonsense. When results are unlinked from effort, laziness abounds. We know this to be true because we understand human nature. The very students who embrace this idea would prove its own foolishness if their professor told them everyone in the class would receive the same grade even if they didn’t show up or hand in any assignments. The vast majority of them, if not all, would never show up again. Yet somehow we think that things would be different in the actual marketplace. In that sense, education can provide only surface level answers to deep and complex problems that we embrace at the expense of our own common human experience.
People can be educated beyond their morality. The idea that education can turn an immoral person into a moral one is absurd. It is assumed that if you embrace ideas that are deemed unethical, you can be educated out of them. Perhaps there is a seed of truth here, since seeing things from another perspective may draw out sympathy from an individual. However, the problem is that education deals primarily at the intellectual level while morality operates at the heart level. We assume that the high school dropout embraced a life of crime because they lacked education. Yet what then do we make of the crooked businessmen and highly-educated societal elites who display their immorality in more sophisticated ways? The corruption is the same. The only difference is that one has avenues to execute their immorality with more devious methods. Many Nazi’s were educated. They were also immoral. Education alone can’t remodel the human affections so that they are oriented to love and service to others.
This is why Christians must embrace a fully-orbed view of discipleship. Education, to be sure, is an important component—essential, actually. But recall that the great commandment is to love the Lord with one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. A good education can help to embolden love of the mind, but the other components of humanity may remain untouched. The heart, the will, the emotion, even the very soul, require a kind of change that education alone is insufficient to give. Supernatural intervention is required. The Bible calls it regeneration or new birth. What this refers to is a work of God on the inner part of a person that results in real change. This kind of change is what can free someone from enslavement to their own humanity. It alone can provide people with the resources they need—namely, love—that can help change the world.