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Malnourished Souls & Unskilled Hands

Malnourished Souls

“Money isn’t everything seems to be a truth we feel compelled to confess without really believing. In our cultural context, money is the dominant indicator of “success.” By this definition, the same teachers who are counted upon to prepare young people for success are utter failures themselves.

Such an irony is lost on most, but more significant is the trouble that comes from aiming at wealth, job title, degrees, or any other such accomplishment – they all grow wings and fly away. Proverbs 23:5 says, “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” 1st Timothy 6:10 more bluntly states, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

What, then, is actually being done to those whose education is preempted for career preparation? If true education focuses on the nurture of the soul (and it does), then what happens to those souls who are merely prepared for college, career, and the pursuit of money? They are not only uneducated, in the truest sense, but their souls are malnourished.

Thus, parents and students are told to make a choice in the false dilemma: full soul and empty bank account or malnourished soul and wealth. Rarely does it occur to anyone that Wisdom carries length of days in her right hand and “in her left hand are riches and honor” (Proverbs 3:16). As I noted in a previous post, by aiming at the development of wisdom and virtue, one can also achieve high test scores, college acceptances, and open career doors. But, when we aim short of wisdom and virtue, we will always hit it; and a high salary is a poor consolation prize.

Unskilled Hands

As if malnourished souls were not enough, the modern industrial approach to education also fails to produce skilled hands. As Wendell Berry observed:

“Young people are being told, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ This is a lie. … A high professional salary is not everything. You can’t be everything you want to be; nobody can. Everybody can’t be a leader; not everybody even wants to be. And these lies are not innocent. They lead to disappointment. They lead good young people to think that if they have an ordinary job, if they work with their hands, if they are farmers or housewives or mechanics or carpenters, they are no good.”

Because we define success in dollars, certain occupations are relegated to the realm of “no good.” Those occupations almost always involve working with the hands. As a result, developing skilled hands becomes a waste of time, energy, and intellectual promise. Have you ever wondered what would happen to one of your students if they got a flat tire on the way to school? If a button popped off their shirt, would their only choices be to take it to someone or throw it away?

In other words, students know how to take tests, but they are not given understanding or wisdom. They are trained for careers, but not to work. They are taught to make money, but are not self-reliant.

Self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, executed i...

Self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, executed in red chalk sometime between 1512 and 1515 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Renaissance man” has been Romanticized and idealized, but too few consider that Leonardo da Vinci spent many of his days covered in sweat and sawdust. We love the idea of producing Renaissance men, but the reality escapes us. Leonardo was a painter, sculptor, inventor, writer, carpenter, and metal worker. We train young people for one career.

Now, in a desperate attempt to bring cohesion to my ramblings, I offer some questions for your consideration. I anxiously await your comments.

  • How can schools better minister to parents when concerns over college plans and careers arise?
  • Classical education concerns itself with the whole man, but how do we do so successfully within our cultural context?
  • How can classical schools better teach skilled hands in a time of “sit down and listen”, indoor classrooms? What role, if any, do schools play in teaching students to use their hands as well as their minds?
  • Who are some great Renaissance men that could serve as valuable models for us and our students?
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