A widespread assumption about the purpose of education is that it prepares people to get a good job and make a lot of money. It’s there when a parent insists that a child go on to university after compulsory education ends. It’s there when a Chinese student intends to give aging parents a comfortable future. It’s even in justice work when activists insist that more access to education can end the poverty cycle.
It’s a misplaced hope.
There is nothing wrong with hoping a child will reach stability as an adult, or that parents will be well cared for as they age. It’s true that when young people have access to education, it alleviates poverty in a community.
However, the endgame of an education cannot be to land a lucrative job. That is by nature a competitive endeavor because there are limited fields that are well compensated. That means that those who have access guard privilege. Subtle decisions are made about who deserves to achieve, which nurtures a system that rewards the strong.
This is antithetical to the good news the Master Teacher spread, which is that the last come first, and the empty are filled. Some may want to protest that He wasn’t talking about finances and education, but we cannot detach the material world from the Master’s teachings by limiting his words to spiritual life. That negates the brilliance of the Incarnation. The Master models an integrated life.
Education as justice means integrating an individual who becomes a positive influence in their sphere however small that may be. It means being able to discover, develop and exercise human potential for good. People educated well make decisions from a broader perspective considering the scope of the impact beyond their sphere or at the very least recognizing that there is impact and caring about such things. They can follow leaders worth following and identify and resist the others.
Often these decisions are the opposite of lucrative. Gaining an education may not make people rich, but it can always make them conscious. With that aim, education is joyfully carried even to the uns and the outs because we’ll all be better off.
In a recent interview, Richard Rohr was reflecting on the current political climate in the United States, and he made the startling assertion that we have people that are educated, but not transformed. The ego is still fully in charge.
Rohr goes on to assert that teachers who follow the Master Teacher were supposed to create people who are larger than life: people like Mother Teresa, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Merton. We still do, he adds, but as the exception.
Education is just when it can create larger than life people from any background.
David Brooks said the same thing another way in The Road to Character:
We don’t become better because we acquire new information. We become better because we acquire better loves. We don’t become what we know. Education is a process of love formation. When you go to a school, it should offer you new things to love.