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Education For Joy

Kids start education full of wonder. And yet, they often end school eager never to learn again. Much of this is the result of a culture of entertainment. Deep pleasures require work and discipline, and consumer culture does not demand work or discipline. Education fights against the consumerist dullards to make bright, inquisitive souls full of wonder.

Charles Dickens in his novel Hard Times described the false school, the educators who had given in to atheism and materialism. The Gradgrind School was dedicated to facts without feelings and to making workers for the businesses of Coketown. The results were students incapable of true morality, piddling with small sins, and missing the joy God had set before them. Such schools are not schools, but factories of fear. The false school strips the student of the possibility of joy by grinding their noses in “skills” and “tests” and competencies . . . and losing sight of wonder.

We have created another sort of false school: the Hippie School. Here the student is never challenged to hard work, but given false praise and self-esteem based on nothing. Every student is a prize winner and the prizes come to have no value. If the students of Gradgrind School waste away for lack of pleasure, the students of Hippie School become bloated on too much, too soon, with too little effort.

Joy is the reward at the end of transformation. We mature and we grow. The good school facilitates this process and will produce meaningful challenges for the student. These challenges are often painful, but the pain is not the purpose as it is for Gradgrind. Instead, the pain is preparation for excellence, the kind of excellence that allows the highest pleasure.

One can have mediocre fun for very little effort. The appeal of small gains for little pain is so great that Apple is making even our television remotes simpler. The more mediocrity we consume the greater the temptation is to forgo a great time. A great time for an adult requires sacrifice . . . there can be no joy in a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary–and the joy can be very great–without first sticking out the seventh anniversary. Paradise, the best party of all, required the death of Jesus Christ to make our attendance possible.

For this reason, a school curriculum must not focus on training, or facts, or curriculum. The focus of education is a human being and making that human being capable of flourishing. This will be the same in some ways for each student, because every student is human. Every student requires dignified and just treatment as a soul created in the very Image of God. The education will be somewhat different for each student as each individual presents a facet of that great Divine Image.

This is hard work for the teacher, the professor, the administration, but it is the joy of the teacher, professor, and administrator to provide that education.

I have been in a college class where God took over and I was quiet while students discussed a great text. The souls of each were shining so brightly that I could not keep the tears from my eyes. Time? There was no time and class could go hours over without any of us noticing. We were learning and it was good.

These times were so good, so joyful, that is easy to forget that as a group we had worked for years to get to that place. We had read hard texts. We asked each other hard questions. We said all we had to say until there was nothing left within us and God’s quiet voice could be heard in our souls.

I cannot wait.

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