What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: sheikha85
What is the purpose and aim of a modern education? Or, put more simply, why do people go to school? Young children no doubt attend to their studies in part due to compulsion, but what of the majority of young adults who sacrifice time, money, and other pursuits to attend the educational institution of their choice? For whatever reason, it seems to be a common attitude that the summum bonum of education is to become successfully and lucratively employed.
Like any general observation, this one is not without its exceptions. But go to any university, stop a few random students, and ask them why they go to school—their answers will, almost assuredly, detail the career they intend to pursue (and by corollary, the amount of income they hope to receive). Hugh Nibley made such an observation over two decades ago:
People were horrified when General Barrows, at the time president of the University of California at Berkeley, bluntly proclaimed at a commencement exercise, “The only reason anyone goes to college is to increase his earning power.” I was petrified by the statement, little realizing that the time would come that it would be treated by everyone as a universally accepted truism and even an idealistic proclamation. (Hugh Nibley, via Quoty)
This false truism and secular proclamation leads to the compartmentalization of an individual’s life. Students by and large cast aside the distractions that would deviate them from their goal of receiving a diploma and landing a good job. They then go to work, and work hard. They save in their 401k, put in late hours at times, all for the goal of an enjoyable, easy retirement. Then comes the glorious day when they can finally quit working, and relax. Retirement has come—now what?
As Stephen R. Covey has noted, retirement is just one more secular compartmentalization of life that shifts our focus from things of eternal importance:
There’s not much place in the Lord’s kingdom for “retirement.” In fact, the idea of retirement is, in my opinion, a sick, secular notion. We may retire from an occupation, but we retire to serve missions on both sides of the veil.
Since life is not a career but a mission, there’s no better retirement concept than the gospel: the work goes on, we’re in a constant learning mode, and we continue to grow to the very end of our lives. Every person has enormous capacity, and we must not lose our opportunity to contribute as we get older. (Stephen R. Covey, via Quoty)
By looking at life as a set of phases through which we progress—preparing for work, working, and resting from work—we lose sight of what we should really be spending our time doing. Hugh Nibley further commented:
“The cares of the world” (D&C 40:12), said the Lord, have taken many away from the real path, the real work, for the cares of the world quickly become our sole concern. Brigham’s favorite word for Satan’s trick was “decoy”—the work ethic decoys us away from the work we should be doing. Mammon is a jealous god and will not tolerate a competitor. But we get the idea that the only virtues are business virtues. (Hugh Nibley, via Quoty)
Gone, it would seem, are the days when education was an end unto itself; when great mental sacrifice was made to learn and understand, not just to memorize and pass tests; when one’s life was dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. In a day when people are dedicated to working 40 hour work weeks for 40 years of their life, yet 25% don’t have the time or desire to read a single book (and of those who do, an average of four are read per year), it would seem that our priorities are a bit askew.
The Lord’s idea of an education—the eternal kind to which we should dedicate ourselves now, and carry with us into the hereafter—is far more expansive and broad than what is provided in a 120 credit course at the leading universities. When He counseled us to seek wisdom out of the best books, he wasn’t referring to textbooks:
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:78-80)
Our failure to continually and broadly educate ourselves has led us into what President Hinckley termed in 1997 the “age of utter mediocrity”. The “idealistic proclamation” to which Dr. Nibley referred has, in recent decades, become the conventionally accepted purpose and aim of education.
We as Americans don’t care about education for intelligence‘s sake; there is evidently no incentive to learn without an economic purpose and promise behind every assignment and test. Sadly, while an education today will help students make a living, it does little to help them make a life.