Looking for Leaders
Education Alone Cannot Save Us
by Gregory K. Hollifield
Americans are an optimistic lot. Given enough time and resources,
we believe there is nothing we can’t accomplish.
Looking out across the globe today, we clearly see a world broken—nations at war, economies in freefall, and despair rampant. Evils, both natural and moral, abound. We fear time is running out for the planet, that we can’t continue this downward spiral. Love for self and neighbor urges us to do something, to confront and fix the problem. Popular thought promotes the promise of education as the greatest hope.
As a young man, Plato shared this optimism for education’s ability to cure the world’s ills. In early dialogues, he referred to evil as a consequence of ignorance that might be eliminated through education. By midlife, after perceiving the irrationality of evil, he concluded that no amount of education would dissuade certain people from harming themselves or their world.
During his final years, Plato declared evil to be a revolt against the conditions of man’s creation, an affront that spreads rapidly through society with its flawed cultural standards. He believed the final solution rested beyond education in a reordering of society’s standards—restoration through legislation.
Aristotle accepted evil as an intrinsic part of human nature, an unfortunate pathology. He envisioned every person on a continuum of evil. He prescribed moderation for those who hadn’t fallen prey to corruption, urging them to manage this darker side of human nature.
Despite their differences, both philosophers respected the role of education in society. They agreed that radical human change after childhood is unlikely, making early childhood education essential. On the whole, neither man held a particularly optimistic view of humanity or the prospects of repairing our broken world.
The Bible shares this respect for education and makes it clear that education alone is not a panacea. Like the mature Plato perceived, the Bible portrays humanity in full rebellion against the conditions of their creation. Like Aristotle, Scripture recognizes inherent depravity and a twisted inclination towards self-destruction.
Marriage and the home. Children should come to understand themselves, learn self-discipline, and acquire respect for authority in the home. Today’s broken and failing homes cannot help but breed generations of undisciplined adults groping blindly to find their place in the world. In a word…lost.
Government. God established humanity as the governors of creation. Without proper governance, things naturally devolve into disorder. (Keep an eye on the vacant house in your neighborhood for a vivid example.) What is true in nature is also true in society. The antediluvian world devolved into moral chaos. God sent the Great Flood in response.
After Noah’s family left the ark, God laid out terms for capital punishment, teaching that societies must be governed lest chaos once again prevail. In other words, the primary job of government is to guard against disorder, termed lawlessness in Scripture.
God intended government to be neither enemy nor savior but to enforce just standards. Human government becomes problematic when it enforces unjust standards or, in a democratic society, oversteps its authority by enforcing standards without consent of the governed. Government was never designed to replace the home but to enforce the standards taught there.
The Church. God intended the Church to be a messenger and model of the life God wants in society. She is supposed to function as a picture of the world to come and a prophet to the world that is. The Church maintains that mankind’s greatest need isn’t education or government regulation but personal transformation—change from the inside out. As government was not ordained to replace the home, the church was not ordained to control the government. Each has its own sphere of authority and responsibility.
Those who believe—like young Plato—that mankind’s problems are intellectual and can be eliminated through education overlook examples like the late Chuck Colson, a highly educated man situated in the nation’s highest political office. Imprisoned for his role in the Watergate scandal, he came to understand that man’s real problem isn’t ignorance or forgetfulness. The real culprit lies in his own sinfulness, from which no amount of education can save him. Thankfully, Colson ultimately found salvation in Jesus Christ.
I joined him in April of 1980 when I also accepted Christ as my Savior. Thirty-three years later, as a professional educator (and proponent of education), I still believe He is the world’s only true hope. Education alone cannot save us.
About the Writer: Dr. Gregory K. Hollifield is a professor at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a member of Cross Creek FWB Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi.