Russell and Duenes

Education is Not About Achieving Economic or Class Parity

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Thinking well about education requires starting with the right questions, the most foundational questing being: What is the purpose of education? Education goes off the rails when we answer this question with notions of pragmatism such as, “It’s to help people get good jobs,” or “It’s so that we can achieve social and economic equality for everyone,” a goal that can surely never be achieved by any educational system. That’s because people are gloriously unequal in just about every way, save for the fact that we are all equally bear God’s image.

Fact is, no system of education, government-administered or otherwise, is going to abolish the “problem” of tiered education. The government’s been at it for decades, and the reality of tiers and inequalities in education has not gone away. Yet, even focusing on “tiers” is problematic, for it assumes that the goal of education is to make everyone economically equal. It assumes that the primary goal of life is economic parity amongst human beings. It also assumes that a kind of educational engineering can bring this goal about, which common sense tells us it cannot. Unbridled egalitarianism is an idol of our age in more ways than in controversies over gender.

The goal of education is to teach people to love the One, True God, and to live in such a way so as to honor God, worship Him in spirit and in truth, and steward his manifold blessings in creation in a wise way. Of course, the non-Christian reads this and says, “But I don’t share your view. I don’t believe in Jesus, and so I don’t agree that this is the purpose of education.” And the public schools response to this is to side with the unbeliever and mandate, de facto, that the goal of education be social and economic equality, for that is the only goal it can seemingly have once all moral and spiritual purposes for education have been stripped away.

So what to do? As I’ve written before, the first thing to do is to acknowledge that the government cannot properly educate people. It must, by definition, get the answer wrong to the question: What is the nature and purpose of education? Thus, the government, rather than being in the business of administering education, should encourage it in tangible ways, but not be its official promulgator.

And what about the problem of inequality? First, I reiterate that no matter how much people want to display their social bona fides and good intentions by expressing the goal of stamping out a “tiered” system, or the inequalities in education; inequalities will never be finally eliminated. My wife and I will strive to give each of our three boys the maximum educational attention we can provide, but we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that this erases the inequalities that exist by the nature of things. They may all have tremendous educational aptitude, and they may not. Someone might reply, “Yes, but you will have given each of them an equal opportunity to learn, and this is what is missing when we have “rich” and “poor” schools.” My response would be this: If my wife and I somehow lived below the poverty line for the rest of our lives, I trust our boys would still receive as good an education as some kid who went to a $20,000-a-year prep school on the San Francisco peninsula. For providing an education has very, very little to do with how much money is spent on that education. The opportunities can surely be provided in a number of ways.

Which brings me to my second point. More money for individual schools does not necessarily translate into a better education. Abraham Lincoln should have taught us this lesson. Poor parents can provide an excellent education for their children if they understand and have internalized what constitutes the nature and purpose of education, and if they love their children. If they don’t, public education is not the only stand-in. In my view, having a computer has absolutely nothing to do with gaining an education, and yet it is gospel in the public schools that computers enhance learning. Having a formal classroom has little to do with getting a good education. Indeed, I believe that many of the “big ticket items” that public (and private) schools spend good sums of money on have little to do with learning well. They are faddish. Yet virtually all we hear in public sentiment is that public schools need ever more money so that the poor don’t get left out. Yet we spend billions on public education, and they’re still left out. Our good intentions are simply not enough. We claim that we “love” them because we’re so committed to public education. Yet love must surely do better than be well-meaning, and it should imply more in the Christian person than approvingly banishing so many to a school system that almost entirely excludes spiritual truth and the good of a person’s soul.

I’m often baffled by the overwhelming Christian support for public schools. A Christian who denies that the overarching purpose of education is to teach God’s image-bearers to honor and love the Triune God, and to submit to Him in everything, is a Christian who has denied the centrality of gospel. And yet, this biblical purpose is rejected wholesale by the public schools, which by definition exclude Jesus as having to do with anything called knowledge, and deny His lordship over His creation, at a minimum. Even if Christians do not want to be seen as imposing an explicitly Christian education on all the unbelievers in our country (an impossibility) – it seems odd to me that they would instead want to essentially impose the false religion of officially secular agnostic materialism not only upon unbelievers, but upon the mass of believers as well. At the least one would think Christians would oppose such mandated agnosticism, and advocate instead a policy wherein people are given the dignity and freedom of choosing how best to educate their own children. What do we, as Christians, hope to see produced by the public schools? Is attaining a vibrant faith in Jesus just a crapshoot? Further, given our disposition, let us dispense with all the handwringing about how the culture is going “down the drain,” as it were, when we manifestly refuse to put the stopper in the drain.

As God’s people, we are called to think creatively and biblically about the nature and purpose of many things. Certainly let us do so when it comes to education.



Written by Michael Duenes

September 1, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

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