Sunday, July 24, 2016

What's Missing from Modern Education... in Two Commercials

Just recently I attended a seminar at Notre Dame on the relationship between science and religion. It was spectacular. I had the opportunity to listen to several preeminent scientists, as well as some incredible theologians, all of whom helped elevate my understanding surrounding both subjects. I took notes like a starving man scarfs down a meal. It was great to be back in the classroom as a student again, especially a student like myself who loves theology and philosophy. Education is wasted on the young, I tell you! OK, maybe it's more accurate to say that it was, to some degree, wasted on me.

While I am mature enough to appreciate this now, when I was in high school, I was not. Perhaps it is the nature of education today, or maybe it was my lack of maturity, but I believe that when I was in my teens my time would have been better served learning a trade. The truth is that while I enjoy transmitting important information in my capacity as a teacher, I feel- in a sense- an absence, especially as it relates to my capacity to create and fix things as a man.

Man is, by his nature, both a creator and a redeemer (simply consider the nature of the majority of the jobs out there), for he is made in the image and likeness of God. And while I am not a fan of the cynical (and simplistic) adage that states; "if you can't do… teach",  I do sometimes feel that there is a lot to be said for a saying like this in a world that is as abstracted as ours. Unfortunately, for the past several generations we have created a kind of one track system of education, suited primarily to an office-cubicle kind of world. Consequently, it is not only me who feels this longing for a more "physical" brand of education, but many of my students as well.

My students often complain of what they like to call this "race to nowhere" education, wherein they are made to jump through any number of hoops in order to satisfy the latest demands of college administrators. While some of this problem can be solved by a more purposeful and focused education- wherein teachers and administrators grasp the deeper motive for education, and where subject matter in one class works in harmony and dovetails with other subjects (as opposed to existing in hermitically separate containers), there is something more at issue here.

What I am getting at is more than just the importance of kids playing a sport, or involving themselves in some sort of extracurricular activities. All of this is essential, but certainly not off the radar as far as educators are concerned. The larger point here is about the kind of education imparted by St. Joseph, a master carpenter, who happened to teach our Lord how to employ his holy and venerable hands in the art of creating and redeeming.

This is not a criticism of those who do good work in the field of education today; rather it is an encouragement for our culture to return to the noble and necessary work of learning a trade, or rather to return to the "carpenter's bench" once again. Consider St. Paul, for example, who studied the Law as a Pharisee, but who also learned a important trade (he was a tentmaker).

The following commercials to a large extent reveal what's is wrong with our mentality today, celebrating cleverness and technological superiority over craftsmanship. These commercials exist for the general purpose of making light of our ancestors and their retrograde mentality, but what they reveal, in my opinion, is something quite to the contrary:

The ironic name given to this "backward" family are the "Settlers". Obviously it is meant to be a double entendre, and the humor is well taken, but there is also a reverse humor, and I wonder if the makers of this commercial actually see it. We as a society have also become "settlers", but in an entirely different sense. So great is our obsession with technology that we actually have the nerve to mock people that are in reality better fit for long term survival in this world than ourselves.

In truth, we have built our various DirecTVs on the back of craftsmanship and innovation of our ancestors, who all too often worked their fingers to the bone to create a world stable enough for the leisure that we assume is our right today. We live in technological castles in the air, while they chose to build their lives on the rock of things fashioned from the earth. In any other age of the world- these so called backward "Settlers" would not only have been the ones who survived, but also those who serve as the backbone of society. By contrast, the "superior" family next door would in all likelihood have wound up becoming some sort of Darwinian casualty.

In the following GE commercial, similar humor is employed (i.e. prior generations can't seem to appreciate the technological savvy of the current generation). However, by the end of the commercial, as you will see, one is left wondering whether this kind of physical impotency is really a good thing after all:

It is possible that these commercials are attempting to make light of both world views, and truth be told, that is my take away- even if it is not intended by the company. However, in terms of real world application, it is hard not to come away from these ads thinking that we have lost something along the way far more than essential our "boiled clothes" or our "grandpappy's hammer". Indeed, creatures made from the soil of the earth after all, and the more we neglect that aspect of ourselves, the more we imperil future generations by placing undue focus on only one aspect of our being.

Do you genuinely believe that the young man in the above commercial would survive in a world of even slightly harsher conditions? Obviously, we need all sorts of people to run the world today, but right now with all of the "tablet toddlers" and "computer kids" out there, could anyone possibly argue that what the world needs now is a greater proliferation of screens with eyes glued to them?

And so it may be that the kings and queens of the future world are the plumber and the tentmaker, the carpenter and the cloth merchant. For if we need the above technology at all (and I believe we will), it will certainly not be for the purpose of useless entertainment, but rather for the kind of technological advances that allow us transmit the necessary means and methods of survival across the face of the earth, much like the monks' were able to do during the Dark Ages of Europe.

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