3.23.2009

The Idolatry of Education


You'll not find a more pro-education person than me. Growing up in an immigrant family, the value of education could not be embedded more deeply in me. You can do no wrong, education, for you are the solution to many of our domestic ills, the hope for a better life, the way out for millions otherwise destined to very marginalized lives.

And yet. I wonder if I and others are guilty of the idolatry of education, or else that education is complicit in other, damning sins of ours. We may not return to the outward racism of the 50's and 60's when faced with the possibility of our children sharing their classroom with their black and brown friends, but our protests are equally vehement and equally effective. Much of the neighborhood-level opposition surrounding higher-density developments as a solution to suburban sprawl and a way to more effectively capitalize on transit infrastructure is a veiled fear of having to make room in our schools for the children of "those people." And it is commonplace for even the most radical of city-loving urban transplants to yield to the pressure to move to the burbs, ostensibly to provide their kids with a better education; willing, it seems, to endure hardship for the Kingdom - except when it comes to their childrens' schooling.

You can see the nervousness in opposition to school district consolidation plans. School districts have become so powerful that they can even stop the readiest of shovels, even those wielded by the second most powerful person in the world. And let's not get started on the whole cottage industry that has sprouted up to feed parents' insecurity about getting their kids into elite universities, as well as the even more elite preschools (!) that are promised as a necessary on-ramp to those universities.

The importance of our childrens' education is so important than otherwise moral friends of mine have not only cheated to get their kids into a better school (by providing a false home address) but consider such an act to be not wrong and in fact very right. For who can argue with doing whatever you can to give your kids the best?

It is easy to identify and shun idols that represent things that are impotent, destructive, or ignoble. It can be more difficult to accept and let go of idols that are honorable, good, and edifying. And yet. These are the very idols that we are most in need of saying no to as gods. I wonder if education is one for us well-educated, high-achieving, good-intentioned believers of this generation: something God deems very good but that we have chased after, defended, and hidden behind to the detriment of our commitment to His truths, His rules, and His values.
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