Carne Levare

Know Other People

Out of Education

Posted by Remy on April 2, 2010

In the ancient world, education was only for the citizen; slaves were excluded. Not only was it considered a waste of resources, but educating slaves could only mean trouble. Imagine how an oppressed group of slaves, who could be beaten and killed without trial, would respond to reading Hector’s words from the Iliad:

“Come, now for attack! We’ll set all this to rights,
someday, if Zeus will ever let us raise
the winebowl of freedom high in our halls,
high to the gods of cloud and sky who live forever–
once we drive these Argives geared for battle out of Troy”

Or their response to the historian Thucydides when he said:

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”

Rome lived in fear of a slave revolt and for good reason, the slave population toward the end of the first century has been estimated to be between thirty and forty percent of the population. The Spartans were outnumbered by their slaves seven to one. Julius Caesar alone brought back half a million slaves from Gaul. The revolts, when they did occur, resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

With the rise of Christianity the world was changed. Rather than the oppression of the weak by the strong, servitude became the guiding principle. Friedrich Nietzsche, that great militant atheist, called Christianity the triumph of the slave’s morality, a morality not determined by the whims of the strong. Education was no longer banned from slaves.

The Latin for “book”, “freedom”, and “children” are all related (liber, libertas, and liberi), the word for “game” and “school” is the same (ludus), and our word “educate” comes from the Latin meaning “to lead out”. Judging from this education seems to be an exodus, whose result is liberty and enjoyment.

Ex ducate is in the imperative, a command to lead out, and not only that, it is plural, meaning “you all lead out”. Education is a communal activity, not a role given to a few professionals. The phrase often attached to schools is in loco parentis, meaning “in the place of the parent”. The original intent had to do with schools educating on the authority of the parents, but sadly it’s become sine parentibus, schools educating “without the parents”. As one scholar put it: “a child educated only at school is an uneducated child.” Rather than in loco parentis I would propose apud parentes, meaning: alongside the parents. The entire community plays the role of Moses.

But if education is an exodus, what is that Egypt from which the enslaved are led? This is important because the starting point of education, where the process of education begins, affects the goal of education and how it is accomplished. It’s analogous to the importance of history: failing to learn the lessons of the past dooms one to repeat them.

For example, the starting point cannot be ignorance. For at what point is ignorance exited? At what point does education end? What amount of learning is sufficient? To ask this puts us against the question of what is the goal of education.

The modern world answers a career and a high salary, therefore education ends after whatever degree of training is necessary for that job. If education is an exodus from ignorance, it ends at graduation. For Christianity the goal is different, careers have been replaced by vocations and the goal of education is salvation.

Career is related to the word carrus meaning chariot. Salary comes from salt (e.g. salacious, from the Latin salarius), stemming from the Roman practice of paying soldiers with a salt stipend. Vocation comes from the Latin word vocatio meaning a calling and salvation comes from the Latin word salus. Christians are called to serve, not to advance themselves, as in a chariot. Christians labor not for the salary, but for the purpose of spreading salus, salvation. If this is the aim of education, then tracing backwards we can eliminate ignorance as Egypt. A calling doesn’t end after formal education ends, it begins. Education is lifelong.

So the question remains, what are we being led out of in education? Perhaps, considering the set up of the article, the answer might be “slavery”. Lord Brougham said, “Education makes people easy to lead, but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave.” And while it is true that a lack of education puts one at the mercy of any number of authorities, real and perceived, it suffers from the same problem that “ignorance” fell into, that of limits. At what point are we free? When are we not slaves?

The key, I think, is found in one of the supreme bits of poetry written by man, the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q: What is man’s chief end?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

The brilliance of this answer is that man’s chief end is never ending. Man is called to glorify and enjoy (notice the singular: end, not ends. Glorifying without enjoying or enjoying without glorifying does not fulfill the requirements). Man’s chief end is something that constantly pushes us into the future. This is the answer: education leads us out of the present and into the future. Education is ongoing and oriented to the future, toward serving in the kingdom come.

As the great Christian thinker Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy has said:

“At the center of the Christian creed is faith in death and resurrection. Christians believe in an end of the world not only once, but again and again. This and this alone is the power which enables us to die to our old habits and ideals, get out of our old ruts, leave our dead behind and take the first step into a genuine future. That is why Christianity and the future are synonymous.”

Education, as we learned above, is an exodus, leading to liberty and enjoyment. All through our lives we are called to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Christian education and the future are synonymous.

Having no starting point has caused education to be looked upon as the foundation. In the history of the world, salvation through education has been a constant threat. Education apart from the Savior becomes the savior, education apart from slaves becomes the master, the end in itself. But Christians are the servants of the world and in their service they become free. Education for the purpose of career and salary is the new Egypt and we must be led out of education.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: