Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Ends and Means of Education

When we are speaking about ends and means, we are speaking about the goals and the processes by which it takes to achieve those goals. Mortimer Adler in his book Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind says this about approaching any particular thing that we set our hand to do:

“In the solution of every practical problem, the basic terms are ends and means.  The end of medicine is health; the means are the various procedures of prevention and therapy.  We solve a practical problem, so far as thinking goes, by determining the ends to be achieved and the most efficient means for achieving them....Now since the means are to be chosen and used for the sake of the ends to be reached, the ends are the first things we must think about in the order of practical thinking, even though they are the last things we reach in the order of action itself.”  [Mortimer Adler Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind  Ed. Geraldine Van Doren (New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing, 1977]

That last part is critical!  The means can only, and should only be determined by the ends.  The means exist for the sake of the ends, and not for the sake of themselves.   In other words, we start with the end in mind in order to determine our starting point.  Once we determine those things, our path to proceed, or our means are illuminated.   So we need to ask:  What is the proper end of education?  What is the end of this accumulation of knowledge?  Is it just so that our children can gain a good career?  So that they can be producers in society? So that they can take care of their future families?  Those may seem like high ends, but they are in fact circular.  ‘We educate in order to perpetuate society, in order to raise the next generation in order to educate them, so that they can in turn do the same.’ That is circular.  This is to confuse subordinate ends with the ultimate end.  Subordinate ends are those things we aim at in order to get to a higher and more ultimate end.  Take the cross of Christ for instance.  What would you say is the ultimate end of the gospel? It is not Jesus hanging on the cross. That is subordinate to the ultimate end which is to bring us into perfect fellowship with Him.
Education is no different.  We do want our children to have good careers and to help perpetuate society and to raise up the next generation.  But those are not ultimate ends, they are subordinate.  What is the ultimate end in education?  Many answers have been given.  Unfortunately some have even come out of the modern classical movement that have not been good.  One book that has been touted as an apologia for classical education is Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons.  Mr. Simmons gives his answer for the proper end of education in this manner:  

“Knowledge is to be sought for its own sake, irrespective of immediate and material gain.  Any other attitude to knowledge betrays the servile mind...“Such is the constitution of the human mind that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward.”  For only “liberal knowledge...stands on its own pretensions, is independent of sequel, expects no complement, refuses to be any end,” [Tracy Lee Simmons Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia For Greek and Latin (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2nd Paperback Edition 2012), pg. 35]

       That is a sad view. ‘Knowledge is to be sought for it’s own sake, and refuses to be informed by any end.’  That view of knowledges makes it god. It specifically makes our knowledge god.  Not only is this view of education entirely too small,  it is blasphemous.  (Consider how Paul refuted this view to the secular philosophers in Acts 17:16-34)
The only proper end of knowledge or education, is simply this:  praise.  Praise is the ultimate end of knowledge. We put knowledge into our minds in order to fuel our hearts for worship.  Knowledge finds it’s end, it’s ultimate end, in praise.
       The founding verse for our academy is Psalm 111:3 “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.”  We acquire knowledge on every subject under the sun because they display the works of God.  In studying the works of God, we find ourselves studying Him.  And when we study Him and delight in what we see, this brings Him glory.  So we could say that the proper end of education is for the glory of God.  Consider this syllogism.

P1.  All things were created for God’s Glory (Rev. 4:11)
P2.  Education is a thing.
C.  Education was created for God’s Glory.

If God’s glory is the proper end of education, then it must inform our means.  God’s glory must be the chief determining factor in how we choose what subjects to teach, how we determine curriculum, and how we integrate it all together.  If the glory of God is the proper end of education, then it must control every aspect of how we do our education.  We must resist the temptation to be informed by any other end.  Whether that end is smuggled in by the culture, or whether  by our own anxieties that seek to dominate our hearts. There is no other ultimate end in education,  than the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 

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