Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

The Power and the Danger of Education

“I began to see that true religion was seated in the heart, and that God’s law extended to all our thoughts as well as words and actions.”

This quote from John Wesley marks a significant change in his young adult life (1725), as he awakened to a new yet crucial dimension of faith.  No more would he be satisfied with going through the motions.  He had begun to taste that “something more” about faith that exposes to our self-scrutiny the gap between behavior and intention, between the outside and the inside.

I work in higher education and I’ve been troubled for some time by the lack of sufficient awareness given to how the heart is formed in education.  We so emphasize conceptual (or speculative) knowledge and practical skills that we do not recognize how these efforts also shape the rest of the whole persons we call students.  This two-fold emphasis is a holdover from Enlightenment rationalism that I think we should and could shed.

(Qualification: By the previous comment I do not suggest that we should somehow dump the Enlightenment project, just that we should recognize its limitations.)

It’s unsettling, then, to ponder this tertium quid that Wesley begins to see in the heart, but, for starters, if we simply recognized the following: When we teach people to think critically, we help them to draw good, true and useful conclusions (we hope).  When they draw conclusions, they start making commitments and, if we’ve done our teaching jobs well, those commitments will flow from hard-won values.  Whether we recognize it or not, analysis does lead to synthesis, which leads to some form of action, even if that action means lack of action.

Wittingly or no, therefore, when we engage in education, we are teaching people what to love.  Education is a matter of the heart.  Even the most cerebral of experiences turns out to be a matter of the heart.  This is the power and the danger of education.


March 16, 2011 - Posted by | Education

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