Russell and Duenes

Education: A Kind of Wisdom and Wisdom

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I recently asked whether any public school had as its mission statement: “It is better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver” Someone replied that this mission statement was indeed carried out in public schools by individual teachers and by quality public schools. Yet we should probably ask ourselves what constitutes “wisdom” and “understanding?”

God tells His people that keeping His commands will be “your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples.” (Deut. 4:6). A certain wise man, who was commended by God, said that “wisdom is with the aged and understanding in length of days. With God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding.” (Job 12:12-13). Indeed, God says to Job: “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” (Job 38:36).

King David says that God “delight[s] in truth in the inward being,” and that God “teach[es] me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Ps. 51:6). The psalmist asks God to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12). Further, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7). The LORD “gives wisdom, from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). The LORD “by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens.” (Prov. 3:19). “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom.” (Prov. 10:31). Wisdom comes through humility (Prov. 11:2), and listening to godly advice (Prov. 13:10). Wisdom is not found among those who trust in their own minds. (Prov. 28:26). “The rod and reproof” also “give wisdom,” (Prov. 29:15). Daniel acknowledged that God “gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” (Dan. 2:21).

St. Paul said that God has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.” (1 Cor. 1:20). Paul prays that God himself may give us “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God.” (Eph. 1:17). In Christ Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3). St. James says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (Jas 1:5). Indeed, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:17).

I don’t doubt that there are individual teachers in the public schools who advise students with godly wisdom. Indeed, I know such teachers personally, and I do not discount the relationships they have built with their public school students. This is all to the good. But it is also largely beside the point when one considers the mission of their public school in general. Individual teachers may provide godly wisdom as they have opportunity, but in their official capacities as teachers, they certainly do not, yea, cannot, teach their students that true wisdom begins and ends with the fear of God and knowing Christ. So how does true wisdom even get off the ground in public schools, when the Scriptures are plain that “the fool (not the wise) has said in his heart, ‘There is no god?'” By its official stance, the schools treat God as a non-entity, a nullity, a vapor, or worse, a superstitious hang-up. How does wisdom grow from that?

Moreover, do our schools have a mission to train students in how to be “righteous” or “humble?” Is maturing in “humility” part of their mission statement? Do public schools ask their students to grapple with the questions: “Who is a good person?” “How does one become a good person?” And if they do grapple with it, will the answers coming from the teachers during class be anything along the lines of: “Those who honor God and keep His commandments?” Do our schools teach, whether explicitly or implicitly, reverence and respect for the “aged” and those with “length of days?” Too often, listening well to the “old folks” or the old books or the ancient wisdom is considered passe, unoriginal, or close-minded. We worship youth, and this filters into the public school gestalt.

There is a kind of wisdom that comes through in official secular agnosticism. Certainly students are taught how to acquire a vast number of facts. But what are they taught to do with those facts? Are they taught to use them in order to “set their minds on things above, not on things on the earth?” (Col. 3:1-2). If not, the students are not learning wisdom. They are learning pragmatism, utilitarianism, and how to “make the best of this life only.” It is a virtual certainty that students are not being instructed in how to “number their days.” (Ps. 90:12). Thinking about one’s own brief life, and the reality of one’s death, is about the last thing we want to talk with kids about, and this is true in Christian education as well. It’s morbid and depressing, we say. Yet God says that it is crucial to our gaining “a heart of wisdom.”

Wisdom can be acquired by sources other than the Scriptures, of course. As Daniel Fuller once said, reading Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People” can provide the godly person with wisdom. Fuller also used Mortimer Adler’s “How To Read a Book,” as part of his curriculum. This is right and proper, and thus, as I said, there is a kind of wisdom that the public schools provide. The difference is, Fuller’s admonition was mixed with the fear of the Lord. He could therefore say that “thinking abut what is true, honorable, noble, right, just, and praiseworthy” will bring wisdom.

We too often confuse wisdom with “acquiring facts and knowledge.” Significant reflection on ancient wisdom, even though allowed in public schools, has largely been jettisoned in favor of faddish modern “voices.” After all, we consider that the ancients were not as “enlightened” as we are. This by itself shows the lack of wisdom in our public educational system, for the fruit of that system is now running the system and calling the shots. Wisdom has to do with knowing the true, the good and the beautiful. All such assessments must start with the God who creates, with a frank acknowledgment of the reality of human sinfulness, with God’s work of redemption and character transformation in human hearts, and with a view towards the ultimately end of humanity, namely, the resurrection of all persons unto judgment or unto eternal life. This is the true wisdom that should be shot through the educational curriculum. It matters not that “not everyone believes this.” As one of my good friends intimated, truth (and wisdom) is not determined by that which garners the most applause.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

September 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm

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