“Useless eaters.”  Nazis coined the phrase for mentally ill patients.  Indeed, the first people to die in the Holocaust were German World War I amputee veterans.[1] A naturalistic mindset (“there is nothing outside of this world”) births an evolutionary point of view (“only the strong survive”).  Then, a materialistic lifestyle (“matter is all that matters”) bends toward utilitarian ethics: personhood depends on productivity.  What has worth must have immediate benefit.

Views of life centered on usefulness have a deleterious impact on education.[2] Neil Postman warns

In consideration of the disintegrative power of Technopoly, perhaps the most important contribution schools can make to the education of our youth is to give them sense of coherence in their studies, a sense of purpose, meaning, an interconnectedness in what they learn. . . . [However] There is no set of ideas or attitudes that permeates all parts of the curriculum. . . . It does not even put forward a clear vision of what constitutes an educated person, unless it is a person who possesses “skills.”  In other words, a technocrat’s ideal is a person with no commitment and no point of view but with plenty of marketable skills.[3]

“When am I going to use this?!”[4] is the schoolroom mantra.  Pragmatism—a desire for usefulness—subverts the need for building a broad understanding of all of life.  Teacher conventions are noted for demonstrations and booths that unconsciously advertise the gnawing question, “will it work?”  On occasion it seems that this is the only critical question teachers ask.  “Pragmatism” works its wiles through “teaching tips”, “recipes”, and the call to “try this.”  The immediate and practical supplant vision and philosophy.  But “why” is more foundational than “how” one practices education.  Materialism spawns this deadly disease—where learning means earning—when the size of one’s wallet is more important than the size of one’s vocabulary.[5] Schooling becomes a means to an end.  Do what you have to and move on.  Utilitarianism—the false belief that consequences of any action should provide production and pleasure—raises its ugly head.

However, “A society too commercial in orientation might lose its sense that there is anything higher than immediate gratification.”[6] Consumerism, offspring of materialism, is not the intention of creational law through human stewardship.  Phrases such as “Human Resources,” something to be used and used up, do not befit a Christian worldview.  Business nomenclature, tactics, and ethos have made more inroads into The Church than we would like to admit.  Zenger and Folkman, for instance, regard changing attitude by changing behavior as high priority in The Extraordinary Leader. Again and again the reader is told that behavior develops character—not the other way around.[7] Behavior modification, training a person’s internal fortitude by external compulsion, seems to be the underlying belief.  As a consequence, the real interest is in results.[8] Indeed, an earlier book from Zenger continues to sustain the theme: Results Based Leadership.[9] Performance, production, profit, and pragmatism drive the quest for success.  While there is a genuine concern for developing and improving leadership, the ultimate measurement lies in the bottom line.

But when it comes to education, Proverbs is clear: knowledge is to be sought, acquired, and understood.  Study is accomplished in stages.[10] Anything worthwhile takes work.  Providential success is accrued over time, not over night.  Whatever we acquire, we have because God wills it.[11] Our ultimate goal is not for our own self-interests, but the glory of God and the good of people.[12] Telos is the Bible’s word for end, fulfillment, or completion.  Accordingly, Jesus is “the fulfillment of the ages” to which believers are to “hold firmly” with “diligence” and “perseverance” because He Himself is “the end.”[13] Our interest is not in the bottom line but the end of the line.

George Peabody, widely acknowledged as the founder of modern philanthropy, gave millions of dollars in gifts toward educational causes in the mid 1800’s.  Why?

Deprived as I was, of the opportunity of obtaining anything more than the most common education I am well qualified to estimate its value by the disadvantages I labour under in the society [in] which my business and situation in life frequently throws me, and willingly would I now give twenty times the expense of attending a good education could I possess it, but it is now too late for me to learn and I can only do to those that come under my care, as I could have wished circumstances had permitted others to have done by me.[14]

I once had a colleague in government schools who told me, “Mark, for the first time in ten years, I will be able to teach from the same curriculum I had last year.”  With our drive toward “what works” we have moored our hopes to the sinking ship of “what use is it?”  The mentality birthing the phrase “useless eaters” is subtly at work in educational corridors.  Biblical wisdom in study prompts us to value people over productivity.   Postman and Peabody knew the truth: our end has longer life.

Personhood is always more important than productivity according to Old Testament truths, which Mark teaches at Crossroads Bible College.

[1] Robert Jay Lifton. 1988. Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. (Basic): 98.

[2] See my article: Mark Eckel. “Selling the School: A Christian Response to the Consumer Education Model.” Christian Educators Journal February 2009: 28.

[3] Neil Postman. 1992. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Knopf): 185-86.

[4] See STUDY Part 5 “Whining” and Part 7 “Boring” for similar negative responses to study.

[5] Proverbs 20:15; 30:7-9.

[6] Tod Lindberg. “The Deepest Roots.” National Review 10 August 2009: 41.

[7] John H. Zenger and Joseph Folkman. 2002. The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders. (McGraw-Hill): 80, 186, 234, 260.

[8] Ibid. 63-65.

[9] Ibid. 14, 64-65, 232, 256.

[10] Proverbs 15:14; 18:15; 19:25; 22:17-18).

[11] Deuteronomy 6:10-12 reminds the people that God gave a land ready for inhabitation.  It is good to be reminded of the “you did not” phrases (cf. 8:10-20).  James 4:13-17 is clear.

[12] For example: Psalm 115:1; Matthew 25:34-40; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

[13] 1 Corinthians 10:4; Hebrews 3:6, 14; 6:11; Revelation 2:26; 21:6; 22:13.

[14] Quoted by Miles Harvey in The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime. (G.K. Hall, 2000, 2001): 24-25.

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