As discussed in the last post, stewardship is about using your gifts and abilities well, not only for oneself, but for others as well. Committing to that kind of stewardship, and acting upon it, is agape – the kind of love that finds its expression in charity. Charity is about providing to those in need what they need. This is much broader than the focus we have today on simply providing for the poor. It is within that broader focus that we find a relationship between stewardship and education.
We’ve mentioned several times that education is likely the most important responsibility that a society has. This is because freedom, like our faith, is always only one generation away from being lost. We are not born with the knowledge or virtue necessary to keep them, but we are equipped to acquire what we need to maintain both. That is why the education of our young is so important in an individualistic society. It provides them with the tools necessary to exercise their free choice as to what path they will follow, but that can only happen if they learn both the languages of reason and faith.
So why does this matter? A society cannot perpetuate itself if it does not understand its history or its purpose, and education is the only means by which we learn how to learn – this is critical as it is our only means of discerning the true from the false. In the words of Augustine,
‘It is by this capacity the soul drinks in wisdom, and becomes endowed with those virtues by which, in prudence, fortitude, temperance, and righteousness, it makes war upon error and the other inborn vices, and conquers them . . . For over and above those arts which are called virtues, and which teach us how we may spend our life well, and attain to endless happiness . . . has not the genius of man invented and applied countless astonishing arts, partly the result of necessity, partly the result of exuberant invention.’
-The City of God, Book XXII, Chapter 24
A secular education is simply not enough. In the words of Edmund Burke, such an education is, ‘founded in a knowledge of the physical wants of men’ and ‘progressively carried to an enlightened self-interest.’ The focus on man inherent in a secular education is simply inconsistent with inculcating virtue and, without virtue, not only do individuals suffer but a society suffers as well. Paraphrasing Augustine, the dominion of good men is profitable, not so much for themselves as for all of society. But the dominion of bad men primarily hurts themselves, for they destroy their own souls; while those they rule are only hurt by their own vices. For those who practice good all the evils imposed on them by unjust rulers are not punishment, but the test of virtue. Therefore the man of virtue, even if he is a slave, is free; while the man of vice, even if he reigns, is a slave, and not simply the slave of man, but, what is far more hurtful, he is a slave to as many masters as he has vices (The City of God, Book IV, Ch. 3).
A lack of virtue within individuals results in the common (public) good not being supported, and without the support of the common good there can be no people. Instead, society becomes unsettled. In the words of Jonathan Edwards, ‘The public good here mentioned is a settled, the calamity is an unsettled, state of public affairs. While public affairs are in an unsettled posture, they are continually liable to be shifting and altering; and this a great calamity to the land.’ In Edward’s day the public good not being supported was the result of ‘the state of public affairs of a land being in a changeable posture, whereby a people are exposed to lose their rights, privileges, and public blessing which they enjoy by virtue of the present establishment.’ When man is focused on himself, there is much strife as man seeks the use the material things of the world to satisfy his own self-interest. Does this sound like what we are facing today?
Again, in the words of Edwards, this strife is exists because:
‘Rulers are not so deeply engaged in seeking the public good. They don’t act with that strength and resolution, their own circumstances being unsettled and uncertain. And rulers, not being united among themselves, don’t assist and strengthen one another, but rather weaken one another’s hands.
‘Such an unsettled state is commonly attended with abundance of strife and contention, with jealousies [and] envyings. Rulers are divided into parties, and so the whole land with them. The distemper becomes general, so that the devil hereby gets a great advantage to promote his kingdom amongst one to another. And while all are engaged in contention, justice and righteousness is neglected. The suppressing of vice and wickedness is neglected, and they take advantage and prevail without restraint.
‘Rulers, instead of discouraging and suppressing vice, do rather encourage it by their own unchristian behavior in their heats and debates. And commonly at such a time the wealth of a people is greatly wasted and consumed. While a state is unsettled, its strength and wealth consumes, as the health of the body natural under a sore disease.
‘And such an unsettled state, if continued, tends to a people’s ruin. It tends to its ruin from within and from without. The commonwealth is exposed, to become a prey to the ambition and avarice of men in its own bowels, of those that should be its fathers.’
-The State of Public Affairs
Without reason and virtue, we are not equipped for our own journey, and if we are not equipped for that journey we cannot help equip others, nor will we acquire the knowledge or wisdom necessary to truly help others.
So what have we accomplished in our stewardship of educating our young?
· We’ve managed to simply throw money at the problem. It is seldom that money is the answer, but more likely that it is a part of the problem.
· We’ve improved neither the education process nor the outcome since creating the Department of Education.
· Our education system produces students who lag many other developed countries as reflected in their assessment scores.
Instead, we’ve followed the easy path by allowing others to take responsibility for things that we are responsible, and accountable, for; and we’ve believed the lie that they would be more effective stewards than we should be.