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Thinking Out Loud

What is the Purpose of Education (part 2)

by Michael Jinkins | Sep 19, 2017

Purpose of Education 2Last week, we explored how a good education helps us learn and learn to keep on learning. It helps us to see the promise in threats and the opportunities in change. As important as adaptation is, however, education does even more.

Education can make living worthwhile.

Just having a steady job does not guarantee a life lived fully. There are many people who can make a good living but have no idea what makes a good life.

In her recent book, Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (Random House, 2017), author Sheelah Kolhatkar tells the story of Steven Cohen, a hedge fund trader who was either a money-making genius or a criminal mastermind of insider trading and stock manipulation. Or, perhaps, both.

In a review of Kolhatkar's book in The Economist, among the lessons that stood out to the reviewer was the "hollow life" led by Cohen. The reviewer comments: "Clad in a fleece, surrounded by 12 [computer] screens, masseuses, a manipulative wife, a hostile ex-wife and a cast of millionaire sycophants whom he periodically culls, Mr. Cohen cuts a sad figure." Undoubtedly many envy what he possesses, but few would exchange his life for theirs.

We know that financial wealth and a rich life do not necessarily go together, that fame really is an illusion and the adoring public is notoriously fickle. We know this in our heads. But too often we stand all-too-ready to sacrifice what is most precious to us for something that isn't real and a little more of what we know does not last. And we will find our culture only too ready to reward us in the short term in exchange for what we are willing to sacrifice in life's long game.

Our culture calls workaholism an addiction while praising it as a virtue, and many ministers, counselors, teachers, lawyers (the list could go on and on) begin every conversation by bragging about how overworked and overbooked they are in an attempt to prove their importance. I suspect planning calendars outsell Bibles, or at least get a better workout on a daily basis.

We all know people who spend their lives working every waking minute, even when they aren't "at work," because they fear stopping and facing themselves and what they may encounter in the emptiness of silence and solitude.

We all know people who, when the workday ends, must divert themselves endlessly with activities and entertainments to fill their empty hours before they return to the busy-ness of business.

We all know people for whom even their moments alone are either occupied with distracting chatter or the endless loops of mental recordings inside their own heads to keep up the false selves they spend their active hours projecting.

Others we know become addicted to substances or something else to distract themselves from themselves.

There's another category, of course, those who, when work is done for the day, plug what is left of their brains into a television set, shift their minds into neutral, sitting day-after-day on their couches waiting for God to collect their bodies.

The purpose of work is to make a living. The purpose of education is to make a life worth living.

Among the most poignant moments in the Gospels is that moment when Jesus of Nazareth turns down the devil's dinner invitation with those immortal words: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

There's more to us than our appetites. There's the need to be nourished in our spirits. And the purpose of this nourishment is to make of us the people God had in mind when God first imagined us. Wherever wisdom is to be found, God is its author. And human life is nourished by the words that originate in the heart of God more than by bread alone.

A good education opens us to this wisdom, makes us learned in this learning, and gives us the ability to think well enough to live before we die.

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