I get it. I’ve been there. You are 45 minutes in to what seems to be an eternity-long course, hearing some chalk-dust-covered professor drone on about theorems, tangents, rock strata, ions, graphs and a world of other information you think you will never use beyond the midterm exam.
Here’s the truth about that information: You’re right. The vast majority of what you learn after the elementary basics applies to arenas of life where you will never set foot. At some point, you get to choose your classes and enroll in ones that seem to ring louder and peak your interest. But somewhere in the educational universe, a gauntlet has been handed down with hoops you must jump through, marks you must make, and levels of tasks you must complete.
So what good is a prescribed education if you are likely going to forget most of the information you learn anyway? A lot.
This is what they don’t tell you about school. Personally, I didn’t discover it until well into graduate work. School is about more than education. It is highly more valuable than we thought.
There are four key purposes for school. To assume or insinuate that one of these is the sole focus would be to err and create an unhealthy unbalance. To assume or insinuate one of these is not a focus at all would be to create just as unhealthy an unbalance.
Unfortunately, you are only graded in one of these areas. But school is much more. For the purposes of this blog, allow me to use the acronym, “SEAM” to join the four purposes of school they don’t tell you about.
S – SOCIAL – Yes you need to learn facts and engage problems. But you also need to do it in community. There is health in being under authority (teachers, administrators), working with others (group projects) and interacting with peers. We are social creatures. Boys need to know how to interact with girls. What the Bible teaches us about young men and women largely takes place among others – both in our peer groups and in authority structures. Sometimes it hurts, but school is an excellent training ground and arena in which we develop into socially adept beings. It’s where we meet friends, encounter enemies, and learn the difference. We need to go through the ugliness of junior high, the exposure of high school, and the freedoms of college with varying degrees of shelter and influence in order to understand how to wield those tools for good.
E – EDUCATIONAL – Before you go throwing your homework in the trash, an education is a tremendous focus of school. You need to know about things and how they work. You need to learn math to function in society. You need to be equipped with a wonder at the scientific processes, the intricate details, and the theories of how and why things tick. Expand your mind. Train and equip yourself. You never know what you will need down the road so pack well.
A – ATTRITION – Attrition is the idea of wearing away on a surface or weakening by continual attack. It is the way a potter tears and molds clay; the way water slowly erodes a hard surface; the way a blade is sharpened by continual exertion against a rock. Attrition. Friction creates formation. This applies to us as well. There is a reason we call math work, “math problems.” It is not necessarily a bad thing for you to be overwhelmed with assignments. You should take classes that don’t necessarily interest or entertain you, because in them you have the opportunity to grow. Far too many students give up on a class because of “irrelevant” subject matter. But basically all they are doing is backing down from a challenge. The people that make it farthest in this world are those who learn to do what they have to do in order to do what they want to do. Not everything is fun. Work is often work. But the knife that cuts only butter is least useful in battle. As Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
M – MISSION – For the Christian, we understand our places, circles of influence, and times are not random happenstance, nor even the plan of some detached board of people who don’t “get you.” They are given from the hands of a sovereign and good God. This God has given you a mission. This mission is to share the gospel and make disciples. Increasingly, schools are becoming places limited to gospel influence. Youth pastors, college ministers, organizations and pastors are feeling the collar of freedom tighten around their neck. They can only go so far. But you know one thing they can never take out of schools? Students. And students can carry Christ among their peers, respectfully to teachers and those in authority, and create discussion in class where worldviews contrary to Scripture are being spouted as truth. Speak up. Stay alert. Every class, every seat, every semester is dripping with meaning and purpose in God’s mission.
So be careful before you dismiss a class or yearn for graduation too early. Just because a class may seem irrelevant on the educational level, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. The classes least promising in educational value are often the ones highest in attritional value. Those with limited attrition (easy classes) are often ripe with social opportunity. Every class has mission implications, and you never know how you might grow by offering views, discussing with peers, and learning to relate with those who agree and disagree with you.
As a classy Garfield poster hanging in a classroom once taught me, “Don’t fail to learn or you will learn to fail.”