“When you consider how many problems around the world are attributable to the lack of education, that is very good news. Let the revolution begin.”
Yesterday I offered those words to a gathering of students, faculty and friends of Wheaton College, making the point that human beings throughout history assume a relationship between education and vocation, between learning and life.
Whether we agree with Thomas Friedman’s reading of the world—here an op-ed from Sunday’s NY Times about Stanford University professors creating courses offered online in every country and continent – colleges and universities the world over exist because someone somewhere believes that one of the best ways to address the hopes of history is to invest in education, in fact institutionally embodied in a particular kind of education.
Historically, every college within the Oxford and Cambridge universities has this backdrop. For a thousand years colleges have been founded with certain reasons-for-being. A theological rationale, a political perspective, an economic vision, and on and on—from Christ College to New College to Magdalene College to the Said Business School (Oxford’s MBA program). And the same is true of our oldest institutions like Harvard, Yale and William & Mary, onto the land-grant schools across America like Kansas State University onto the host of liberal arts colleges like Wheaton.
Always and everywhere, there is an integral relationship between visions of education and visions of vocation—whether we are self-conscious of that or not. In a thousand different ways we hope that the world will be a better place, if students go to “our school,” characterized by particular visions of what matters for human flourishing and what doesn’t matter, of what is important for the common good and what is not—whether that is a Texas A & M, a Baylor University, a Georgetown University, a George Washington University, a Penn State, a Geneva College, a Cal Berkeley or a Westmont College.
I began my lecture yesterday with a question, one that I have been asking for a long time: do you have a telos that is sufficient to meaningfully orient your praxis over the course of life? Is what you say matters most to you, the way you actually live? In its own way it situates the individual within the institution, asking a student to reflect on what his or her life is about, its raison d’être, in relation to what the institution is about, its reason for being. More simply put, it is this: why do you get up in the morning?
And of course it is larger than that because it is a question that is probing what life is about, pressing the student to more self-consciously connect the point of one’s learning with the point of one’s life, the telos of learning with the telos of life.
Sometimes we get that right, and sometimes we don’t. Not surprisingly, I drew in Walker Percy once again, remembering his wisdom: it’s possible to get all A’s and still flunk life. That of course is a danger lurking around the corner of everyone’s learning, everyone’s life.