March 9, 2012

Regents Daily News:
March 9, 2012

Service and the End of Education

Why are you seeking an education for your children? I’m not asking about mere penultimate motivations (learning how to read, getting a high SAT score, landing a job, earning money, etc.). I am asking about ultimate motivation. Why education at all?

Over seven hundred years ago, Bernard of Clairvaux taught that love is the greatest motivation for education. “There are many,” he suggested, “who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity. There are others who desire to know in order that they may themselves be known: that is vanity. Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable. But there are some who seek knowledge in order to edify others: that is love.”

And love – to be love – must be expressed in tangible ways. St. Paul said, “Through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). This is to say that to love your neighbor is to serve your neighbor. If our children will be educated in order to edify and serve others in love, then service should be just as much a part of the curriculum as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Students should be trained to serve their fellow students, their teachers, their families, and ultimately their community. Their training in service will habituate them to look beyond themselves and their own narrow concerns to the concerns of others. This is what our Lord modeled for us in His life and commands us in His Word.

Author David Hicks wrote in his classic work Norms and Nobility that “the purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” Knowing is not enough; knowing needs to eventuate in doing, in serving others, whether that service is holding the door open for a fellow student or raking the school’s lawn or entering the U.S. military or becoming an architect.

Peter H. Vande Brake, in an article titled “Cultivating the Affections,” wrote,

If we want students who will be servant leaders, then we need to train them through a liturgy [a practice that shapes our habits] of servant leadership. We need to give them the opportunities to serve others. We need to find ways to help our students practice humility and instill a strong work ethic. We need to give students the chance to lead their peers in authentic ways. In order for students to act in accordance with what they know, they must be trained to know how to act. This involves the mind, but it also involves the will and the body. If our schools are only interested in training the minds of our students, then we are cheating them out of the most important facets of an education.

I hear a warning in that last sentence: beware chopping education down to a merely intellectual endeavor, but instead see true education as affecting the whole person.

The BIG Serve is not an optional add-on to our children’s education, as if the real thing deals with the head but what students do with their hands is not really education. Rather, this day of service is a signature event in our school’s total program that aims to cultivate a certain kind of character in our children and a certain vision that sees beyond their own concerns to a larger purpose for their lives.

“Blessed in Giving.” We really mean it. We are blessed when we give. God calls us to live our lives and also to educate our children as if this is true.

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