Serving a Profound God

I’ve been offline for the past week visiting with my family.   But, I managed to learn anyway…I downloaded to my iPod a couple books and some issues of Harvard Business Review that dealt with leadership and change.  I listened to Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s Good Business and Peter Senge’s The Dance of Change as I drove and took walks.  These two authors are some of my favorites.  They made a variety of points about what it means to work in what Senge calls a learning organization, and I was planning to post about what I felt was the most important message from both of them: the need for a larger purpose in business beyond making a profit.

Then, this morning, while I waited for a video to render, I opened Neil Postman’s The End of Education.  (A member of my committee mentioned that he always thought about Postman when he read Bruner so I thought I should take a peek at Postman’s book, which I read several years ago.)  There, in the first few pages, Postman really summarized what Csikszentmihalyi and Senge were saying, putting it in the context of education.  Postman writes, “Without meaning, learning has no purpose.  Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention” (p. 7).

In business, meaning must be more than simply making money.  Both Csikszentmihalyi and Senge encourage leaders to tell a story about a greater good that brings a larger meaning and purpose to the company.  Postman says the same for education.  Just getting kids to score well on a test is not real meaning.  It does not provide that larger purpose that makes education really worthwhile.  By focusing on a single metric as a way of determining success or failure, we narrow the story to a point where it becomes uninteresting.

Postman goes on to question the narrative that schools must help students succeed in order to make more money.  He quotes the Declaration of Independence, a document for which Thomas Jefferson could have been killed, and then writes, “It would not have come easily to the mind of such as man, as it does to political leaders today, that the young should be taught to read exclusively for the purpose of increasing their economic productivity.  Jefferson had a more profound god to serve” (p. 13).

I poured a cup of coffee and am going to escape with Postman for the rest of the afternoon as I consider what the profound god of education might look like.

(A final aside: I went to Amazon to make my links above and they are selling Postman’s book in tandem with a college admissions guide.  I wonder who made THAT pairing??)

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