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Education: It’s Not All About You

The following is the manuscript of a speech I gave to my students at the start of term. Enjoy...

"They built a school and placed you in the middle of it. Mom got up, made sure you got breakfast, asked you if you have done your homework, and drove you to school. Dad goes to work; he sweats and toils. Then he pays your school fees. For the whole day, the teacher talks to you and looks at you.

You might think: "This is all about me."

It is common to think this way. And sometimes it seems that way. But it is not true.

Your education is not all about you. 

Your education involves you, obviously. It is not not about you, but it is not all about you. So, the question I want to answer this morning is: what is education all about?

First, education is about grasping great ideas.

Ideas, truths, and discoveries do not depend on you in any way. They are no less great if you don’t know about them. The rules of grammar don’t diminish if you sleep during the class. The laws of logic don’t stop applying if you want them to. No amount of fooling around in class is going to make the laws of nature stop working.

In fact, the value of these ideas is not dependent on what value we give them. They are valuable even when we don’t think so. It is our job to appreciate the value of great ideas. It is not our job to determine their value.

A teacher’s job is not to see what you like and then follow you. A teacher's job is not to see what everyone likes at any given time and then teach that. We don’t have a vote on what books are great, which math problems are better, or what languages you want to learn for your summer vacation. Instead, a teacher wants you to discover the value of things that actually have value. When they look at you, they are asking themselves not what you value, but do you value what you ought to value? Can you see it? Can you recognize the greatness of what you are learning?

The ideas you are taught in class are like nuggets of gold that you and your teacher dig up and marvel at. And these nuggets you get to take home with you.

You see, education is not all about you. 

Second, education is about practicing proper powers.

I want you to consider the humble carrot. What is the purpose of a carrot? Eating, yes… growing, yes… making a snowman’s nose, yes… using as a weapon, yes. These are all uses to which a carrot can be put. But is there a function that is more important than the others? And is there some use we could put it to that would be improper?

Most of us think the carrot’s proper function is food. A carrot has done its job well if it has fed us well. It has some function that is appropriate to its kind.

The same is true of human beings. We are designed to function properly. And a proper function implies that though we have many choices in life, the kind of thing we are is not one of them. However, we often think education is all about our choices about what our proper functions are. We say things like, “I’m just not a math person” or “I am not a writing person”. While it might be true that you are not as good as others at certain subjects, it is not true that you are a completely different kind of person.

This is because you are designed to function as a human being, and human beings, just like the carrot, have proper powers. You are designed to think. God gave you the capacity to reason, to think things through. You are designed to memorize sentences, words, and concepts. You are designed to speak, to articulate your point of view, to write, to influence people around you. Just like the carrot, you have proper powers, powers that you ought to be using. You might get to choose what those powers are used for, but you don’t get to choose which powers that are appropriate to the kind of thing you are.

This is why teachers don’t let you skip a subject because it’s not your kind of thing. It’s why we don’t want you to be lazy, to focus on one skill and ignore the others. We do this because we know what kind of thing you are and we are in the business of training you to become the most excellent of your kind.

You see, education is not all about you.

Third, education is about repairing the ruins of the world.

The reason your education is difficult is not because the material is difficult. Rather, work—of all kinds—is difficult because we are sinful.

Our trouble with authority is rooted in our rebellion against God. Our lackadaisical attitude is not merely due to poor sleep and diet, but due to our human sinful propensity to be lazy. Cheating on a test is not what one must do to get ahead. It is what one does because one is self-centered, proud, and focused only on what one can get out of life.

Education is part of God's plan to sanctify us, make us holy. He does this through using teachers to train you to obey the Lord. Sometimes teachers do this by challenging you. Sometimes, when they have to, they do this by disciplining you. A good education is less concerned with allowing you to be happy than with serving to help you be good.

Moreover, the world is a place filled with people born with the same problem – sin. It is broken, busted, ugly, and deeply hurt. And it is into this world you will go. And the Lord will use an educated person to bring His righteousness into this broken world.

The better your education, the more benefit you can be to the world. Starting with your home and church, you will be of benefit to the world around you. In the church, a well educated person will teach the best Sunday schools, share the most resources, and give the most time. In the world, a well trained person will argue the best case in a courtroom, build the best bridges, and have the most courage in their convictions when their faith is challenged.

Many people are educated merely to conform to the world around you. A good education will train you in such a way that you will be of benefit to the world around you.

You see, education is not all about you. 

Finally, education is about worshiping our sovereign God

When you discover amazing truths in your classes, the proper response is to praise God for his greatness. The wonder of mathematical truths points to the wonder of God’s thoughts. The greatness of scientific discovery points to the greatness of God’s design. The incredible events in history point to the incredible providence of God over his story.

When you actualize the proper powers you have, you will discover that those powers are all designed to glorify God. Some people use the powers God has given them to deny God, or rebel against him. But these powers are not designed to glorify you. Instead, you are being trained to use your powers to give glory to the Lord.

When you take what you have learned to the world around you, you are inviting the people around you to join you in worship of the Lord. You don’t invite people to see your greatness, but his greatness. Your education is not supposed to make everyone see how great you are but how great He is.

You see, education is not all about you."