What Is The Point of Schooling?

In my rabid posts on home schooling (here, here and here) I kept repeating that such and such ignores the point of schooling. But, poor writer that I am, I allowed the readers to wallow in their presuppositions without ever explaining what I meant by that term. So what is the point of schooling anyway?

Quest For Clarity
What do most people mean by “the point of schooling”? Native Iranians would think schooling’s purpose has to do with Shia Law; diametrically different from any Westerner. Some westerners would say that Education is an end in itself. Some would say that it is a means to an end, that being a good career. Others would scoff while rightly pointing out that education should be doing something more than contributing to a cycle, while never really pointing out what that something more is.

The consistent meaning though seems to tie education to knowledge acquisition.

Bygone Learning
Why does education get winnowed down to intellect bolstering?1 An educated person, back in the day, was not only reared in science and language, but also the philosophical underpinnings that gave science, and the world, meaning. Education was communal and interactive, formulating a proper person (depending on socioeconomic class) within the culture and a representative of the belief systems which defined his life. Even in a rural society, the information and care of specific vegetation was coupled with an understanding of the gods—they did their part but the gods did the rest.

The mind was not often a secret compartment separate from the person (well, at least until Platonism and Neo-Platonism and later Gnosticism). The mind was part of the entire person.

Hard Questions
If education is only about knowing stuff, then we should teach everything and allow people to make their own decisions (some readers agree). Except, we don’t consistently teach like that.

We teach World War 2 with an emphasis on Hitler being wrong. But on what grounds was Hitler wrong? Where do we get the idea that Hitler was a mistake of the past (a past we would be wise to know) that ought not be repeated?

Or what about The Bomb? We can stuff a mind with all the data to make a nuclear bomb, but isn’t understanding “ought we use this weapon” equally, if not more, important?

And besides the untaught ought what about the notion of beauty? Not merely that some people like blondes and others brunettes; some things transcend taste and exemplify beauty in their own right. Light through a mist. A Waterfall. An infant’s hand around an adult finger. How can any amount of data convey that which is worth admiring?

Today, society often draws hard lines. The “ought” comes only from the home or Religion; the data comes only from the instructor; the sublime comes only from personal preference; books are good when one derives pleasure; hand-work is only for the handy.  In the name of knowledge, we’ve lobotomized the humanity from education creating intellectually broad, ethically emasculated, self-pleasure seekers.

C.S. Lewis explained this as building men with no chests. The rest of the stuff that constitutes personhood atrophies, resulting in monsters with no satisfaction but that which succeeds during Darwinian cage matches. When things happen—like Columbine, Virginia Tech, sexting, or whatever else—we scratch our heads and wonder “what’s wrong with today’s youth?”

This unstated definition (that the point is to learn stuff) has resulted in catching Christians saying “What’s more important: getting our kids smart or getting our kids saved?” as if the two were antithetical.

The Point
The point of schooling is not found in a single aspect of education: be it knowledge, socialization, a career, wisdom, whatever. It takes in every aspect of personhood and ultimately presents the educated as a complete, fully responsible Person2. Solomon writes “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”(Prov 4:13) then again “Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.”(Prov 9:9). Paul, speaking about his ultimate mission says that he wants to proclaim Christ, “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col 1:28). Yes, I know Paul’s point in writing that, but my point here is that Paul doesn’t divorce understanding, knowledge and complete personhood from his mission of preaching Christ (Col 2:2-3)

I reject the notion that the point of education is to launch a person into real life, leaving their schooling behind. No, education is to make a person realize that they are always in need of instruction and growth in their personhood. Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:4) says it this way: “A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction.”

The point of schooling is to get people to understand their Personhood and live it out.

That being the case, every form of schooling must be examined. If the form of schooling isn’t focusing on the point of education, then we should be stepping in and reinforcing the form. If it is a home schooling environment, we’re solely responsible for making sure that this point of education is remembered. If we’re private schooling, we’re to be actively involved ensuring that the point of education isn’t being subsumed. If we’re public schooling, we’re to be actively involved, ensuring that that which is lacking is properly addressed.

No matter what form of schooling (be it private, public or home) you choose realize that your kids are persons already, you’re trying to build up the full breadth of what that means. Feel free to go here for reading on personhood.


1 Even though things like Gym or Music Class aren’t presented as intellectual pursuits, they are generally presented as not being equally important.

2 Two summarizing statements from my post on personhood. Negatively speaking, a human Person is not defined by: (1) what one can or cannot do; (2) those currently in positions of power; (3) the finite (be it culturally finite, or a finite individual). Positively speaking, a human Person is: (1) made up of his full humanity; (2) transcends the biological and physical processes; (3) reflects God who created persons.


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