Yesterday was the last day of 6th grade for my young one. For seven years now I have been his primary teacher, a role I was not expecting to play but have been privileged to enjoy. This passage of another school year has me thinking about education in all its varieties—homeschool, public school, college, Life. I suppose it’s a train of thought that will roll over some toes, so I’ll get right to the upshot. College isn’t the goal. Career is not the goal. And education is not a necessary evil. It is one of the great inspirations of the modern Western world, a game-changing gift that we entirely take for granted.
Consider: you have been given a quarter of a lifetime to revel in the collected discoveries of the world’s best thinkers. Very little is required of you—no physical labor, no quota of production. Others work so that you can use the most strategic years of your developing mind to drink it all in.
Why do lightning bugs shine? Where did we get words like dawdle, zeitgeist, filibuster? Who invented automobiles?
We read and memorize and recite the strange magic of Shakespeare and Annie Dillard, thrill to the wild stories of Genghis Khan and David Livingstone. We listen in to the Big Ideas of Plato, Luther, Edison; try to get our heads around the words of Jesus; hear the sad tales of glory-hounding humans from Nero to Hitler gone amok. We ask,
How can we prevent atrocities? What marvels are left to discover? What corners of the globe are bucket-listable?
My older kids currently go to a high school which offers the golden opportunity of college credits racking up, but has a decidedly pragmatic approach: chart the highest-earning career path you can devise in seven happy hops. College for the sake of curiosity is out. Lucrative vocational goals are in. Did you know skilled plumbers and electricians are in high demand? Did you know a PhD in history is not the path to riches? Go figure.
But if it is laughable to think that degrees attained translate to money in the bank, is it also shortsighted to make money the end goal? If it is wrong to rank people by their intellectual achievements, is it also wrong to devalue learning? Maybe we’ve taken a good thing (education) and created a monster of pride, greed, and ambition.
I know a contractor who gets on his knees to clear out crawl spaces. He is aging, a grandfather, and his joints are achy, but this is his job, and he is faithful. This man is one of my heroes—the kindest, gentlest soul. You can sit with him around a dinner table, hear inspiring stories, laugh. He is the salt of the earth. It’s not his degrees that make him remarkable, it is the total package of loving God with all of his mind and heart and aching knees.
I know a pastor working on his third grad-school degree. He reads and writes about forgotten 18th century politicians and preachers, dusting out cobwebby corners of history and excavating beautiful legacies. You might hear a nugget in a sermon time to time, and never bother to read his mountain of work. It’s not his degrees that make him remarkable, it is the total package of loving God with all of his mind and heart and bleary eyes.
So if it’s money you’re after, there are more direct paths than a college lit class. If it’s changing the world you want, you may not need calculus. But if the idea of four more precious years to cram in all of the wonders and dilemmas and innovations of the world makes you catch your breath—if the opportunity to be stretched and challenged and prodded not simply to accept but to think deeply sounds like cold water on a hot day, then why in the world would you not empty your pockets to pursue such an education?