A Free Education
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Such is the wisdom one can expect to find on a car’s bumper. Wisdom, however, is found in God’s Word, which, surprisingly, says not a peep about “education.” Yet it does call us to seek wisdom, even as it calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. It does speak of truth, and it speaks this truth — that Jesus is the truth that sets us free.
Education, once upon a time, was understood paradoxically as that which both grounds us and sets us free. It has now become that which sets us loose and costs us everything. And all because we serve the false god of mammon. Consider first how a modern, or should I say a postmodern, education sets us loose. As Allan Bloom taught us in The Closing of the American Mind, the great majority of colleges and universities in the West is firmly committed to the notion that there is no truth and no right and wrong. Ninety-eight percent of all incoming college freshman enter the hallowed halls persuaded of relativism. Over the course of four years, that assumption is systematically entrenched. Thus, students walk away from their college educations utterly adrift. But they are not free from another perspective. Students pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for the privilege of learning the truth that there is no truth to learn.
Why would anyone make such a trade? Foolishness. We have been taught that a college education is the key either to a well-paying job or the key to a better graduate school, which in turn is the key to a well-paying job. We need a well-paying job so that we can afford either private education or at least be able to live in the “good” school district, so that our children can get into the best colleges, so that they can get into the best graduate schools, so that they can make the money to keep the process going for our grandchildren. I call this “hell’s hamster wheel,” and it is time for all of us to get off.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with learning a set of skills that increases our productivity. Studying toward a trade or a profession can be a good and healthy thing, a tool to help us fulfi ll the dominion mandate to rule over the earth. This is not, however, why the university was created. education once aspired to be “liberal.” Liberal in this context isn’t intended as a political designation for those who we desire a bigger and more intrusive state. Neither is it intended to describe theological liberalism, which denies the truthfulness of God’s Word. Instead, liberal here refers to the liberty of the graduate. A liberally educated person is one who is equipped not for a mere job but to think God’s thoughts after Him, to see His world as He would have us.
A free man, for instance, is not given to accepting the status quo, assuming that four years down at the state university is an undiluted good. A free man is not given to buying into a deadly nostalgia that assumes his alma mater hasn’t changed in the twenty-five years since he went there. A free man is not simply going to accept the wildly implausible notion that sending his son or daughter off to Vanity Fair for four or more years is a great way to bless his heirs. A free man is wise enough not to buy into the lottery-like unspoken pitch that if you don’t spend a hundred thousand dollars on an “education,” your child will starve. A free man thinks deliberately about his own future and the future of his children. A free man finds wisdom where God keeps it, not in the knowledge of the experts but in the simplicity of the Bible.
As a father, I worry. A sound, biblical education may prepare my children for heaven, but how will they live? Steeping my children, as they prepare to enter adulthood, in God’s Word will surely feed their souls and adorn them with beauty, but how will they find food, clothing, and shelter? It seems I am not the first to struggle with such worries. I suspect I won’t be the last. Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:31–33). I need this truth to set me free. I need to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God such that I know our daily bread, to mix a metaphor, is the fruit of God’s provision through hard work, not the result of my wisdom in pursuing specialized training. Better still, I need to be free enough to know that I am, with my children, a slave of Jesus Christ. He, and not the priests of higher education, is my Master. Such means that I am free. Such means I am called to raise my children to live free as well.