Love of God is the Reason for Education

If education does not lead us to God, then it is pointless.

William Holman Hunt, “The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple,” 1854
William Holman Hunt, “The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple,” 1854

I plopped down in my desk chair. Our first day of homeschool for the year was over and instead of my normal hurry to get to my afternoon work, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment in having taught my children well, and gratitude that I have the means to be their educator. All of the careful planning I had done over the summer — the choosing of curriculums and books, the detailed planning of the school year — was beginning to bear fruit. 

We have the rest of the school year ahead of us, and it is my job to teach kindergarten, second grade, fourth grade and sixth grade to four very unique children. I began to reflect on the experiences of my friends had shared with me when they were thrown into distance learning last March and the struggle of discernment they went through about this school year. I considered the careful planning done by schools and youth programs to make education possible and doable this year. 

And what I saw was this: while it was all extremely hard and often tedious, this work of educating children is a worthy task and one in which we should feel humbled to take part. For this task of education is never for the sake of knowledge itself but is for the sake of knowing and loving God. If we do it well, the children we educate will have grown in knowledge, virtue and holiness. If we do it well, what our children learn will fill them with a love of God and wonder of his creation. 

Pope Francis in his recent apostolic letter on sacred scripture held up St. Jerome’s life as a model for scholars, and I would say he is a model for young students as well. St. Jerome never stopped his pursuit of knowledge, but always held the love of God as the end goal. Pope Francis explained that, as St. Jerome did, scholars “should always keep in mind that knowledge has religious value only if it is grounded in an exclusive love for God, apart from all human ambition and worldly aspiration.”

He quoted St. Jerome who wrote about his own struggles with learning and how pursuing his studies helped him grow in virtue. Looking back at his youth, St. Jerome wrote, “But I thank the Lord that from this seed of learning sown in bitterness I now cull sweet fruits.” (Letter 125.12) My sixth-grade daughter’s composition curriculum has been teaching a similar lesson as she is learning how to write essays based on sayings and proverbs. Her first assignment was to write on the proverb from Greek educator and orator Isocrates: “The root of education is bitter; the fruit is sweet.”

Teaching is often extremely hard — just ask my husband how often I end up in tears. Being taught requires much effort and exertion — just peek into our home on a school day. We all remember wishing that we could put a textbook under our pillows and wake up knowing its contents. Or perhaps we wish for the divinely-infused knowledge of the angels. Yet, when it comes to becoming educated, we humans have to do the leg work of instructing those who need to learn and making the effort to learn the information. It is such hard work that it takes up the entirety of childhood and continues into our adult lives. This is what Isocrates and St. Jerome would call the bitter part of education.

Then there are the times when our learning comes to fruition. A child is suddenly able to read chapter books on her own. A math concept that was once impenetrable becomes clear. One makes a connection between what one is learning in history and something that is happening in the world. A child has become disciplined and virtuous because those in charge of him have taken the care to guide him in his education — both to grow in virtue and to grow in knowledge.

But most importantly, a child will recognize that in all that they learn of earthly knowledge, there is the highest end that they are going toward — that of Heaven. And in this recognition, they are filled with the love of God. 

The way we follow this path is by faithfully doing what we are called to do each day, by focusing on studies or teaching and taking time to pray. Their education also points them to a higher wisdom, the gift of wisdom, which is the highest thing of all.

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her. I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases. (Wisdom 7:7-10)

If education does not lead us to God, then it is pointless.

Whether we have discerned it best to educate our children solely at home or enlist the help of a school, it is helpful to keep this end in mind as we focus on the tasks of each present day. It may seem like a long haul, looking out at the years of raising a child, but by diving into the day-to-day, especially the bitter parts, we will slowly form ourselves in virtue and love of God and guide our children to it as well. The souls and minds of these little ones are worth all the effort.