Darrow Miller and Friends

EDUCATION for Freedom vs. TRAINING for Slavery

education leads to freedom

The human mind, bestowed by a Divine Creator, has developed remarkable technologies. How ironic that this rise of technical innovation could lead to the demise of the mind that invented the technologies in the first place!

We have written elsewhere about Technologia, an educational concept birthed by the Puritans and the Reformers. They envisioned the idea of a liberal education for everyone; it was liberal in that it was grounded in reason and revelation and it prepared people to live life as free men and women. A liberal education stands in contrast to the siloed, specialized and technical education of the modern era.

One of these was John Amos Comenius (1592 –1670). Comenius was a Czech teacher, educator, and writer. In his Didactica Magna – The Whole Art of Teaching, Comenius introduced the pansophic principle. Pansophic is an unfamiliar term more easily grasped if we break it up:

–          Pan = the union of parts into a (whole) group

–          Sophia = light, understanding, wisdom

–          Thus pansophia = an integration, or coming together, of all wisdom, no matter where it may be found, into a unifying framework

In short, the idea of pansophia is, in many ways, the opposite of the movement toward specialization education in the modern West. Comenius believed that everything must be taught to everyone! The reformers, and later their Puritan offspring, brought to the world the concepts of unified knowledge and universal education.

Early scientists understood that God revealed himself through his creation and his word. Truth is found at the intersection of Reason and Revelation. It was this Judeo-Christian frame of mind, and view of the world, that allowed for the development of science – thinking God’s thoughts after him, and technology – using science to solve the problems of natural evil in the world.

For more on this see Pearcey and Thaxton’s remarkable book, The Soul of Science.

John Milton, the Puritan poet, writes of the purpose of education:

The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate Him, to be like Him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue …. I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously, all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war.

But the modern world has lost the concept of liberal education. We are less and less productive with our minds; we have less creative and analytical thinking than in the past. We are less interested also in the cultivation of the heart. We seldom ask moral questions, rarely seek the beneficial use of creation for the health of the larger community.

Today a technological transformation is sweeping the world. With that change, the demands for education are more pragmatic and less moral. We are less concerned with the underlying truth or ethics of an idea. Now we are concerned merely with technique. Now we only ask, Will it work?

In “Declaring Our Independence Through Education,” Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, argues for a return to liberal education in order for students to be equipped with the minds and hearts necessary to live in the future.

Roth writes of the failure of modern education to prepare people for life after college:

 Traditionally, a college degree has been a marker of independence as graduates embrace the opportunity to stand upon their own two feet, but today those receiving degrees are often riddled with debt and with doubt. When these graduates wind up back in their parents’ basements, when they feel clueless about how to enter a challenging job market, when they have no idea how to convert their classroom experience into action in the world, they exemplify the failure of the American promise that education makes you free and self-reliant. We in higher education must renew that promise by demonstrating how pragmatic liberal education provides students with greater independence and capacity for productive work well beyond graduation day.

Roth goes on to reference the thoughts of two of America’s founding fathers, beginning with Thomas Jefferson.

It would be hard to find an American figure more devoted to a broad, liberal education than the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. He argued that the health of a republic depends on the education of its citizens because only an educated citizenry can push back against the tyranny of the powerful.

Roth then quotes from John Adams regarding the necessity of the larger community to take responsibility to see that all her people are educated: “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it.” But in our modern, technically oriented, specialists’ world, parents are demanding a different kind of education. Roth explains what parents are demanding in their children’s education. He also warns of the unintended-but-predictable consequences of meeting these demands.

In a quickly shifting economic landscape, it is understandable that some parents and pundits are calling for streamlined learning to train people quickly. But gearing education only to meeting current economic conditions is a ticket to conformity — and also to economic and cultural mediocrity. We need intellectual cross training of the whole person — not nano-degrees in commercial codes and tactics (no matter how digital) sure soon to become obsolete.

Unfortunately, demands for a more efficient, practical college education are likely to lead to the opposite: men and women who are trained for yesterday’s problems and yesterday’s jobs, men and women who have not reflected on their own lives in ways that allow them to tap into their capacities for innovation and for making meaning out of their experience. Under the guise of practicality we are really hearing calls for conformity, calls for conventional thinking that will impoverish our economic, cultural and personal lives.

Go here to read Roth’s thoughtful piece.

–          Darrow Miller

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).

1 Comment

  1. Randy Uthe

    October 10, 2014 - 5:30 am

    I agree completely Darrow. I have watched how the West has been slowly moving away from liberal arts education towards a more market driven specialization approach. I have watched for 3 1/2 years now how this has affected Malaysians and other Asians who have been using these types of education systems for a long time. There pretty much is no such thing as a liberal arts degree in Malaysia. There are tons of private, corporate and market driven colleges and universities abounding. The level of innovation within these specialties is great. The problem comes as you raise entire generations who have absolutely no ability to think critically or morally about what something may or may not do, or even within ones personal life the ability to think beyond simple pragmatism, which is engrained in the culture already, to the larger pictures in life. I see how an entire country is trying its level best to become a “high income nation” without realizing the psychosocial and emotional intelligence that SHOULD come with such an agenda. I pray we never let this happen to our civilization, but alas; even within the US, the ability to think through things critically seems to be fading. I hope I am wrong.