Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What Does it Mean to be Educated?

What Does it Mean to be Educated?
            Schall states that education “is not a thing (Life of the Mind, 32).” He states that education comes from the word educere which “means to bring forth, or to complete something already begun by the very fact that one is a human being” (32). In a lecture given at Faulkner University a few years ago, John Mark Reynolds stated that there are long-road students and short-road students. Short-road students want to get out of college as soon as possible to get to work or start their career. Long-road students see learning as an end in itself. They want to pursue the life of the mind for its own sake. Mortimer Adler in an essay, “Labor, Leisure, and Liberal Education” argues that the “end of liberal education. . . lies in the use we make of our leisure” (2). In this essay he distinguishes between labor and leisure. He believes vocational training is “training for work or labor.” In contrast, liberal education “is education for leisure; it is general in character; it is for an intrinsic and not an extrinsic end; and ultimately it is the education of free men” (4). Leisure is what we do in our free time. Basically, we spend one third of our time in sleep, one third of our time at work, and one third of our time in leisure pursuits. Adler defines leisure activities as “such things as thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity” (5). Adler defines education as a “process which aims at the improvement or the betterment of men, in themselves and in relation to society” (2).
            Adler thinks there are two ways men and women can be improved. First, they can be improved in their functions and talents. Second, they can be improved in the “capacities” and “functions” they share with other humans. These two ways lead to two different kinds of education. One type of education will emphasize in training men and women in respect of their similarities with other people. These two types of education can be distinguished as general and specialized education. Adler thinks we can identify specialized education with vocational education and general education with liberal education.
            If we were only workers or slaves, it would make sense to receive only vocational education or vocational training. It is more accurate to call it training since that is what it is doing. It is training the worker in specific skills for a particular job. What is the problem with vocational training? Adler would probably say nothing is wrong with it, but that it is better done on the job, not in a school. He think schooling is liberal or general education.
            A second problem with vocational education is that a person will change jobs and careers many times in a lifetime. Many people who graduate in a specific discipline work in another field when they graduate. It seems that a liberal education would serve them better than a vocational education. The reason is that a liberal education cultivate skills of writing, reading, thinking, speaking and other skills that would be applicable to many fields. The employee will easily pick up the skills needed for the job with training on the job.
            The third problem is what we are to do with our leisure time. Vocational education does not provide the skills needed for pursuing leisurely activities. Since men and women are more than workers, it fails to prepare them for lifelong development. Many people waste their free time on frivolous things that do not improve themselves. I had a friend who had his days free because of a disability he could not work anymore. However, he could still get around and his mind was still sharp. He was helpful to others, but spent much of his time watching television. I wondered, what if he spent thirty minutes to one hour every day at the library reading on some topic that was interesting to him? What would his life have been like after doing this for thirty years? Maybe, he did not receive the type of education that would have equipped him for life long learning.
            Reynolds did make an important point. The intellectual life is not for everyone. Some are short road students. They want to get out of college as quick as possible and start their career. This is fine. They still need a liberal education to be able to participate in leisurely activities: thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity. Liberal education prepares them to be free men and women. I think of my life as a long road education. My college education prepared to pursue the life of the mind.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Philosophical Reflection from the Book of Ecclesiastees

Philosophical Reflections from the Book of Ecclesiastees
Human Developmentalists divide human life into different stages. Some of those stages are birth, child, youth, young adult, adult, middle age, old age, and death. The philosophical reflections of the author of the book of Ecclesiastees imply some of these stages, but it considers these stages more as seasons. Some of the seasons of life implied in Ecclesiastees are birth, youth, middle age, old age, and death. Besides the theme of the seasons of life, the reader can identify two other themes in this book. The first one is the brevity of life and the other one is to find joy or pleasure in ordinary pleasure. This essay will analyze these three themes in the book of Ecclesiastees.
The philosopher, teacher, or wise man seems to be in middle age or mid-life. He seems to be writing to the youth of his day. He asserts, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die . . . (3:1-2). The author seemed to have  tasted all that life offered in his youth. He tasted the pleasures of wine, women, and wisdom. He is now in middle age and he is reflecting on his experiences. He has certain regrets about the past. It seems his relationships did not turn out well. In his search for wisdom and the meaning of life he experienced much sorrow. He asserts, “So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done” (2:12). It seems to him that life is a never-ending circle. Whatever he does has been done before. There is nothing new “under the sun.” In his reflection he is struggling with the idea that life lacks meaning and purpose.
The philosopher reflects on both his past and future. He thinks whatever he does is temporal and it will not last. He understands that the days he has left on the earth is short. He does not seem to have the hope of life after death. He believes that life in this world is all there is. The brevity of life is a major theme of this book. It acts as bookends to the book. In the beginning he asserts, “vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2). At the end of the book he observes, “vanity of vanities, says the preacher; all is vanity” (12:8). The term vanity seems to imply the brevity of life. No matter, what we do, death hangs over us like a cloud. All we have is today. Tomorrow is not promised to us. How can one find meaning and purpose in this life if all they do is futile, striving after the wind? The author offers hope. He believes that we can find joy in the ordinary, and this is a gift from God.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Theology of Middle Age

Richard P. Olson, Mid-life: A Time to Discover, A Time to Decide: A Christian Perspective on Middle Age. Judson Press, 1980. 160 pages. ISBN: 0-8170-0859-4

I came across this book while browsing the shelf. At the time Olson wrote the book he was Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Racine, Wisconsin. He wrote Mid-Life: A Time to Discover, A Time to Decide because he personally experienced a mild mid-life struggle and taught a men's group on the Mid-life crisis. I found this book to be quite helpful in dealing with my own mid-life adjustments. The author has chapters on the seasons of life, health, life planning, being single, married, or remarried, being a parent and a child, the inward journey, the outward journey, and a theology of middle age. I will summarize his chapter on a theology of middle age.

First, a theology of middle age is a theology of providence and finitude. During middle age we have a growing awareness of our own death. In addition, we know we have limited time to fulfill goals not completed. We understand that we have a limited time on this earth, so we want to make the best of it. We can view middle age from the perspective of faith. As believers we have the promise of eternal life. We also know that our times are in God's hands and we know what we do is not futile because God can make it endure into eternity. AS Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die. . .

Second, a theology of middle age is a theology of pilgrimage. Our prime example is Abraham who obeyed God when he called him to leave his home to travel to a place he did not know where. Olson states that pilgrimage "implies two subimages, the journey and the destination." At one time when one talked of the Christian pilgrimage they thought of the destination.  This is death in this world and life with God. The author asserts, "We are moving through life, from God, with God, to God, within God's purposes." There is a destination to our journey. On the other hand, we must not forget that the Christian pilgrimage is also a journey. The author states that though there are "jars, shocks, surprises, sudden turns, all of the journey is to be treasured." I have always been attracted to this idea that life is a journey. It is also prominent in our literature-- the Odyssey, the Pilgrim Progress, The Divine Comedy, and others. This idea of journey also implies that there are seasons to a life. God will guide us through all the stages of life.

Third, a theology of middle age is a theology of managership. This is a term middle-agers should understand since so many of them are managers in one way or another. We manage both ourselves and others. Adults have many responsibilities during middle age. The Bible's word for manager is steward. We tend to think of stewardship as only dealing with money, but it is a much more richer concept. Jesus spoke of the parable of talents. This could be gifts, talents, opportunities, skills and many more. WE are to be faithful stewards of all God entrusts to us.

Fourth, a theology of middle age is a theology of new birth and becoming. The poet Anne Sexton said that women are born twice. They experience a rebirth when the kids leave the home. Jeus spoke of a new birth in the Gospel of John. Barclay asserts, "To be born again is to undergo such a radical change that it is like a new birth; it is to have something happen to the soul which can only be described as being born all over again." Many people experience something similar in middle age. Some lives are completely transformed during middle age. I can attest to this idea from my own life. The last three years I have undergone major changes, even a complete transformation and it is not over yet.

Fifth, a theology of middle age is a theology of grace. Ken Mitchell states, "The theology appropriate to a middle-aged-person is a theology which recognizes plainly and with considerable joy the freedom that comes in knowing that whatever we do will not save us. I am convinced that childhood and adolescence and young adulthood are all deeply touched by works righteousness, as if we could, by using our gifts, buy time and save ourselves and defer any thought of there being a limit." Mitchell is correct in what he says. In middle age we began to let go some of the myths that we carried around. Olson believes we can began to experience the "paradox of grace" in middle age. He writes, if you accomplish something worthwhile, you sense it is because of God's grace working in you. If you fail, you have more peace, sensing that your justification by God depends on grace, not achievement." It does seem in middle age we are more realistic about what we can and cannot do. In addition, we realize we are completely dependent on God's grace. In addition, we are more self-accepting.

Sixth, a theology of middle age is a theology of fellowship. The author thinks that some of us during middle age are more able of entering and maintaining "human community with each other." It is that this time we are more likely to prize human relationships. In middle age we all need the support of caring friends. It is important to cultivate close friendships during middle age.

Seventh, a theology of middle age is a theology of hope. The Bible teaches that God's pan will ultimately work out. We can trust in His providence. As related to the middle-ager's journey, hope is displayed in two ways. First, we have the hope to face our own death. The comfort that God has been with me during my journey and He will welcome me at the end. Whatever my current situation, "I hope to know times of celebration, rejoicing, peace, and creativity again in my life. And the God of hope holds before me that possibility as well." It is good to know that God will walk with us all the way. He is our God even till the end. He is also the living God. Because He lives, we shall live also.