The education explosion is positively terrifying. More and more people are acquiring more and more degrees. All over the world there is a fascination with the business of building schools and putting people through them. Employers are demanding higher standards of general education for even menial jobs.

The tendency is not without its critics. For example, some in Australia have recently asked whether it is a good thing to shut such large numbers of our youth in schools for such a large proportion of their youth. They ask whether it would not be better to let them get out into the world of commerce or industry with less formal education and more opportunity to adjust to the area in which they will make their careers while they are still at an adaptable age.

At the outset let me make it clear that I am on the side of the educators. Whether this be the result of powerful independent thought or whether I am simply repeating by rote what many educators have put into me, I am for education. I want to see more and better education.

But I recognize that the phenomena of the modern world are forcing us to ask questions. We ought not to hold unthinkingly that education in and of itself is good. We must ask ourselves what we are educating for and whether our education is succeeding in securing those aims.

For the fact is that in the world into which all these better-educated young people are pouring, problems are multiplying. It is true that on the one hand technology is enabling us to produce more attractive gadgets than ever before. Our lives are more comfortable than ever. We have more attractive ways of wasting our time than any previous generation. But on the other hand we are not happy. It is a time of great student discontent. My students offer me more free advice about how to run my college than my generation did its mentors. It is, of course, fair to retort that my students have more to put up with than I had. But that is part of the problem. I, too, have been educated.

But it is not only students who have troubles. All over the world troubles loom large. The energy crisis has brought many problems to a head. The nations seem unable to solve the problem that the rich nations grow richer while the poor grow poorer. Vast amounts are spent on armaments while millions of people live in starvation conditions. One could go on.

Life is a complex affair, and I do not want to fall into the trap of oversimplifying. There is more to it than education. But certainly one thing we would do well to keep in mind in this age is the old accusation that our universities habitually shirk the really significant issues, that they concentrate on means and neglect ends. To the extent that this is true there is a serious lack in all our educational systems.

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And that there is a considerable amount of truth in it is undeniable. Our educational institutions (the problem is wider than the universities) are usually good about the production of tools and skills. They can tell us how to make airplanes and how to fly them. But they say nothing about whether we should use them to drop bombs on our enemies or to run a flying doctor service for people in remote places.

As S. Barton Babbage puts it, “If you want a bomb, the chemistry department will teach you how to make it; if you want a cathedral the department of architecture will teach you how to build it; if you want a healthy body the department of physiology and medicine will teach you how to tend it. But when you ask whether and why you should want bombs or cathedrals or healthy bodies, the university is dumb and impotent. It can give help and guidance in all things subsidiary but not in the attainment of the one thing needful.”

One can understand this in part. Too often institutions of learning have been used as means of indoctrinating students with the accepted religion or set of values. It has been an inevitable reaction that we must keep the educational process free from the taint of indoctrination. So no religion is taught. And as religion goes out, so do other studies that might be thought to impose a scheme of values.

The unfortunate result is that the student is largely on his own when it comes to learning how to live. To cite Babbage again, “what he should do with his chemistry or languages when he has acquired them, whether and why injustice and cruelty and fraud are bad and their opposites good, whether faith in God is a snare and a delusion or is the only basis on which human life can be lived without disaster—all these things the students must find out for himself as best he may, for a university education can do nothing to help him.”

In this situation we in the churches are apt to sit back thanking God that we are not as universities. We flatter ourselves that we realize the barrenness of mere knowledge and the importance of values. We teach men to believe. We introduce them to a life of faith.

Sometimes our performance matches our profession. But more often it does not. We are so involved with running our institution that we confuse faith in Christ with membership in the church. A sense of values comes to mean having a high regard for institutional religion and all its works. We call for commitment to Christ and settle for conformity to a conventional code.

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We run educational programs of our own. But in our smugness we do not notice that often they are just as bad as the programs in the secular institutions we love to criticize. Our preoccupation with the institution and with the mediocrity that is all we have come to expect of ourselves has blinded us to the fact that we no more than the universities are giving men the education we speak of.

All too often we have withdrawn from the community. We have opted out of life. We read with a pleasant glow in our church history that there were times when the Church gave men a lead in solving social problems. We think of great Christians who have left their mark on whole communities and whole eras. And then we sink back comfortably into our isolationism.

I know that this is not true of the whole Church, just as it is not true of all universities that they fail to give men education in the areas that really matter. But there is enough truth in both to give us cause furiously to think. It cannot be said that this is an age when men give much time to ultimate questions. We in the church of Jesus Christ ought accordingly to be taking seriously our responsibility to our Lord and to our age. We need greater readiness to grapple with life as a whole, life in all its breadth and depth. We must not content ourselves with life in the sanctuary.

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