Sunday, February 21, 2010

When Education is a Mirage

Education can be a beautifully dressed lie. You can find it in this sentence from Google:
"At Google we believe information is the key to success"
Or in this eloquent idealizing from a much more conservative source, Hillsdale College:
Self-government is a challenge with the promise of a rich reward: liberty of the soul. A soul enjoys liberty when its passions are ruled by reason and its habit is virtue. Hillsdale College understands education as the path to this reward, and believes--as the founders of the College believed 165 years ago--that education is vital if we are to preserve "the blessings of civil and religious liberty and intelligent piety."
A little more in the same vein from their honor code:
A Hillsdale College student is honorable in conduct, honest in word and deed, dutiful in study and service, and respectful of the rights of others. Through education the student rises to self-government.
With respect to the valuable contributions that both Hillsdale and Google make in other ways to our world, I must state that their elevation of information and education is a dangerous philosophy.

It is dangerous because it is so appealing. It is appealing because it says our primary problem is mental, not moral. At core, it says, we are not depraved people, just ignorant. It is also appealing because it puts the solution to our problem within our own power. We can pull ourselves up to success (Google) and self-government (Hillsdale) by our own exerting and reasoning.

This idea is diametrically opposed to the primary message of the Bible, which is that our hearts are so desperately wicked that the only remedy was for Jesus to die on the cross. If education could have solved the human condition, Jesus was a fool to die.

Ironically, sometimes the Bible is invoked to try to support the "education is the solution" philosophy. The verse of the Bible most frequently used to support this is John 8:32:
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
When we look at the context of that verse, however, it becomes clear that education is not the panacea.
As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, {then} you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?"

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:30-36, NASB)
First notice that the freedom Jesus has in mind here is freedom from slavery to sin. This immediately refutes the idea that our core problem is not moral.

Second, notice that knowing the truth is not the cause of freedom, but an intermediate result on the way to freedom. Verses 31 and 32 contain one condition and three promised results to those who meet that condition. The condition is "if you continue in My word". The results are "you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free". In other words, if your goal is freedom, you don't start by learning the truth. You start by continuing in the word of Jesus. Knowing the truth will flow naturally as a result.

Third, note also the parallel between verse 32 and verse 36. Verse 32 says that the truth frees; verse 36 says that the Son (Jesus) frees. This makes me think of John 14:6, where Jesus says that He is the truth. We cannot be freed from sin simply by a philosophy or a teaching. Only a real, crucified, resurrected Messiah Jesus can rescue us from our plight. He not only can, but He will--if you will turn from your sins and from your futile attempts to atone for your sins, and trust Jesus alone to be your rescuer, master, and treasure.

Is education bad, then? Of course not. I could not have written this article (and you could not be reading it!) if we hadn't received education. Education is a tool that helps us get whereever we are headed faster. It is the accelerator and transmission but not the steering wheel or GPS. Knowledge can be used either for great evil (to control people) or great good (to serve people). Be saved by Jesus, know the truth, and the truth will set you free to use education well.


  1. Which part was confusing to you, Daniel?

  2. ah, well played sirrah. touche!

    so do you think the Jesus Christ of the Bible is the fully resurrected Messiah?

    NB. I think any discussion of 'truth' or education (and I went to Hillsdale, sadly, so I am a Hillsdalien) needs to start out with a careful definition of terms. I guess it just feels like you are retreading already well-worn ground here, to a large extent, albeit in somewhat original words.

  3. Hi Daniel, thanks for writing back. I had to look up "sirrah" and "NB" in the dictionary so I won't argue that Hillsdale did a good job of educating you! I'm not sure that I understand your question about Jesus, or why you asked it. I do believe that Jesus is alive and that He is the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament, if that's what you mean. The main point of my article was meant to be that education is not the core cure for the world's problems. Jesus is. If you can think of ways I could explain this more concisely or clearly in the article, I'd be grateful for your feedback. And if you'd like to chat off-blog some time, my email is my first and last name at (yes, just a q!). Or Skype me at BartschFamily!

  4. I'm pretty sure we went to school at the same time, Daniel, you look awfully familiar. I will hit you up at some point, by which I mean contact you in some other form.


    another daniel

  5. You look somewhat familiar too but I've never been to college. Maybe somewhere else?

  6. no, you write at a college level so I assumed wrongly as to your background. my apologies.

    i currently live and "work" in the Dayton, Ohio area.