Educating for Ignorance
Written by Gabriel Rench on June 28, 2017
Schools of all types desire an interdisciplinary education. Secular education strives for it, and liberal arts assumes to be the master of it (Newell, 2007; Edutopia Team, 2008). In order to be truly interdisciplinary, subjects must be united around a central theme or pedagogical goal. Most schools face a continual struggle to integrate topics across the curriculum, but Christian education is naturally interdisciplinary: all subjects are united in Christ. A well-educated Christian student can see connections between biology, Calvinism, auto mechanics, and postmodernism, because all those studies fall under Christ’s authority.
On the other hand, secular education has no uniting principle of knowledge. While public education strives for an interdisciplinary approach, academics are actually penalized for pursuing it, see here and here (Jaschik, 2013; Byrne, 2014). This leads to subject specializations and the glorification of “experts.” As these experts unite around Science or Philosophy, their knowledge becomes even more disjointed. Often, loyalty coalesces around those who are masters in the field. Without God as the center, education becomes man-centered, where each individual is an expert in their own speciality, with no cooperation between the disciplines. A population of well-educated solipsists rule the university.
Amazingly, these highly educated individuals actually know very little about the world outside their own specialty. Like a professional arm wrestler with a weakling body and a beefy right arm, they have a distorted view of the world around them. This is obvious when the educator is highly outspoken, such as Bill Nye, but is actually a common problem in academia.
Firstly, academics may assume that their own particular field of study applies across the board. Since they are unfamiliar with other disciplines, they assume that their discipline is the standard everywhere. One of my former professors asserted that all good scientists should be agnostics, because they properly follow the scientific method. Thankfully for him he didn’t follow a similar plan in his marriage.
Another problem is the resulting ignorance in any field other than your own. I was once in a discussion about creation and evolution with another professor. This man was a good scientist and is well known in his field. We were having a productive argument until he asserted, “I have no idea how Christians can believe in a book that wasn’t written until thousands of years after Jesus was born.” When I questioned this idea, he re-stated his argument, “The King James Version of the Bible was written in the 17th century. Jesus died over 1,000 years before that.” This intelligent, highly educated professor with a Ph.D. honestly believed that the King James Version was the first time in human history when the Bible was written down.
Last is the confusion that results in speaking of other disciplines. A couple of years ago I overheard a Master’s Degree candidate discussing with another graduate what a creationist believed. He stated, “They are the Birthers who believe in the Tea Party.” This confluence of politics, religion, and theology would be hilarious if it wasn’t also tremendously sad.
“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). Secular education wants the fruit of a fully integrated education, but without a unifying principle will continue to struggle.
Answers in Genesis 2014. “Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham.” February 4. https://answersingenesis.org/countering-the-culture/bill-nye-debates-ken-ham/
Byrne, Sarah (February 19, 2014). Interdisciplinary Research: Why it’s Seen as a Risky Route. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/feb/19/interdisciplinary-research-universities-academic-careers
Edutopia Team (2008). Why Should Schools Embrace Integrated Studies? It Fosters a Way of Learning that Mimics Real Life. Edutopia. October 6. https://www.edutopia.org/integrated-studies-introduction
Jaschik, Scott (2013). Interdisciplinary Penalty. Inside Higher Ed. October 31. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/10/31/study-finds-phds-who-write-interdisciplinary-dissertations-earn-less
Newell, William H. (2007). The Role of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Liberal Arts. LiberalArtsOnline. January. http://webshare.northseattle.edu/IS/readings/The%20Role%20of%20Interdisciplinary%20Studies%20in%20Liberal%20Arts.htm