Education: Freedom or Bondage?

As of Monday, subsidized student loan interest rates have doubled. You can read about it here and here. I’ve often reflected on my own journey through college and seminary (graduate school) and the cost I have accrued. I’ve said it before, but if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have done community college then a state school and then seminary. Not only for the changing tides from Christendom to post-Christendom and the need for an employable skill set outside of the Church, but also for the cost. Private, religious education doesn’t come cheaply.

But besides the financial restraints that come along with education, we must be aware of what sort of character bondage are we falling prey to. Institutions of education, whether public or private, faith-based or not, high school or college, are places of formation. They do not only make impacts on our wallets, but also on our being. They – along with everything else in this life – hand us stories and practices resulting in identities comprised of both character and skill: being and doing. If we aren’t walking through life with eyes and ears attuned to these stories and practices, we will be formed in ways that we are not cognizant of. And not always for the best.

So, in many ways, I wonder how education has either brought freedom or bondage to our lives.

Norman Wirzba brings this to our attention with the following quote. Notice how he ties together our financial costs to our current primary way of identification, namely as consumers. In a world deeply marked by individualistic consumerism, we would do well to ask in what manners education is forming us to become just that: individual consumers. As we perpetuate and participate in consumeristic stories and practices, our identities are subtly, yet profoundly, shaped to the point where consumerism simply oozes out of us. And, as inwardly bent consumers, we are often blinded by prices, efficiency, and ease; the very things which keep us buried beneath “ignorance and incompetence.”

In the end, we must begin to wrestle with the inextricable tie between all areas of life. We fool ourselves when we think our economic decisions (doing) don’t flow directly from our character (being). In a world striving after the proper credentials, we need to be strident in our simultaneous cultivation of our character.

Freedom or bondage?

Though we may produce remarkable communicators (often communicating little of value) or efficient managers (often managing sites that are exhausted or degraded), the fact of the matter is that current education does precious little to develop in us the basic competencies of life – growing and preparing food, raising a family, judging quality, maintaining a home, practicing hospitality, or making a toy – that are vital and indispensable to a healthy and successful life. Because many of our educational agendas are driven by “the career of money,” most basically in the form of corporate funding and in the promotion of the most lucrative (especially to corporations) fields of study, we should not be surprised that the most essential skill graduates must learn is how to write a check or lay down a credit card. Education, rather than leading us to freedom, fosters various forms of bondage as we move further into economic debt (beginning with our educational costs!) owing to our collective ignorance and incompetence.– Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, 134. 

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