I don’t know if I heard it from someone, or made it up myself, but I have often thought of education as a process of discerning our gifts to the community. In fact the degrees that we earn are themselves a gift to the community, and attempts to make the community better by discerning our own values and purposes within the context of that system.
But how the education system has turned inward, just a means to an envisioned end—happiness, joy, fulfillment? I’m sitting here at ASU, one of the largest—if not the largest—university in the country, watching students go from class to class. What are the goals here? A good job? To what end? To earn enough money to be “happy”? At what point will we be satisfied?
The ancient spiritual practice “retreat” teaches us that we do not go away in order to escape, rather we go away in order to discern a gift we are receiving so we might bring it back to share with the community. We go away in order to come back and re-engage more faithfully.
Jesus is seen in the Gospels as going away to pray and maybe to rest. Why? So he can continue to do what God has called him to do. At the transfiguration (Mark 9.2-9) Peter is ready to stay on the mountain forever. But God’s voice is clear that there is a purpose to all this, and it does not include hiding in a mountain. Jesus and his disciples are next found walking back down the mountain, back into the chaos, back into the chaos of bringing hope into suffering. Is this not the meaning of the Kingdom of God?
No, education is not for our own sake. It is for the sake of community that we teach our children and young people. We impart on them the values that hold us together, whether it be secular or religious education. At some point in that journey, it is up to them to discern how to articulate and embody what they have learned—for good or for ill.