The religiosity of education

I suffer from no delusion that a lot of Laurier students desire going to university for great philosophical reasons. Some have pragmatic reasons — to follow a certain career path or earn a certain amount of money, for instance. Others appear to lack any sort of reason, with partying taking precedence over studying. And still, others may not know why they are in university or are only there because their parents want them to be.

The partier probably does not see much value in a university education besides having a four-year period to get drunk while living off of parental and/or OSAP money. The pragmatist certainly seems to have a praiseworthy cause — finding decent work in which to employ one’s skills in an ethical way ought to be encouraged. Yet I find it horribly unsatisfying to assign nothing more than a practical value to education. If one fails to achieve a career in the area of their study, then it would follow that their education had not been altogether valuable, when they may have benefited from it in some other way. A true evaluation of university education must look beyond merely economic concerns, as important as they are.

How, then, do we establish the value of a university education? Cardinal Newman, in The Idea of a University, decided to look toward what the ultimate “end” of university is in order to identify its purpose. The “end” that Newman identified was knowledge and thus the value of a university education is acquiring knowledge. To Newman, knowledge did not merely have a value as being an end to some earthly good such as wealth, but is by its nature good.

An obvious objection to Newman’s claim is that just because people have acquired a wealth of knowledge does not mean they will use it for good purposes.

Some may even use knowledge to achieve bad or even evil ends. Yet, this does not disprove that knowledge is still a powerful and important tool.

A person of a more skeptical viewpoint and a lack of belief in God may challenge the claim that goodness is inherent in knowledge. My belief in God and Christianity justifies, in my mind, the idea that knowledge is in and of itself a good purpose for education. Those that fail to recognize the accumulation of knowledge as a key facet of university are forced into choosing from the unsatisfactory philosophies of pragmatism, hedonism or agnosticism with regard to the purposes of education.

Now that I have stated what the potential value of a university education is, I would like to make some suggestions to my fellow students to make the most of their degree — especially to those who have just started their education, many of whom may feel thrown into a new world.

My first suggestion is to challenge the predominant views of the student body. The student culture is very accepting of what can be called liberal morality, and Christianity is not in style. When I mentioned Mother Theresa in a class of mine, one student snarled about her being religious. Show courage and criticize your fellow students’ presumptions. When I anger people, I often take it as a sign that I was right. If anything, as you seek to criticize false philosophies on campus, you too should grow in knowledge as you learn about the issues you are debating, gaining knowledge at university from sources other than your professors.

My second suggestion is to remember that your professors are not always right and do not always provide a complete picture of the knowledge you need. I was once taught in a classroom about a Catholic Archbishop of Montreal whom, my professor claimed, was relocated to Victoria after a controversial action of his.
The impression given was that he had been given a smaller diocese — a demotion.

I looked into the matter myself and discovered from a contemporary Time article that the archbishop had not been demoted — rather, he had retired. As for the relocation to Victoria: it was to a nursing home.

This does not mean that my time taking that course was a waste.

Yet if we relate it back to the root of education, Newman writes, “[The university] educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.” While there was a failure to communicate the story exactly as it happened in that particular class, I was nonetheless motivated to discover the truth of the situation.

The overarching lesson is that in your university experience, you should actively seek out your own knowledge, take the knowledge you gain and use it to do great things.

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