John Livingston

A Wise and Educated Man


There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. I listened on the radio to the Idaho PBS broadcast of the testimony of a President of an Idaho University before the Idaho legislature (JFAC) committee. The testimony started out with a flattering discussion that 91% of the legislators had attended college and at least 81% had received an associate or bachelor’s degree. The implication was that if one were to succeed in life like the legislators certainly have, that a college degree was surely the ticket to a successful life. After acknowledging that neither Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates had graduated from college she continued to without any nuance or insight wax eloquent about higher education. She rightly noted that in order to attract businesses, that a technically oriented work force would have to be a priority for higher education.

Very little was mentioned about focusing on science—technology—engineering and math (STEM) studies. Wise people have a discipline that forces them to always look to the future by seeing if the goals they created for themselves yesterday are being met today. A wise person would ask every day—what is the purpose of education? Are we fulfilling that need? Are we creating value for the cost being paid for the product? Asking questions takes knowledge to its derivative—wisdom. If you don’t ask questions, you can never become wise.

Early leaders in American education like Daniel Webster, George McGuffey, and Booker T. Washington were all consistent in their beliefs about the purpose of education. First it was to create citizens that could govern themselves. History and the humanities were important in this regard. Second, it was to give students the tools so they could make a living. Math, writing, and science especially and including agricultural science and mining and engineering were emphasized. The Morrill Act signed in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln established Land Grant Universities. “The mission was to focus on the teaching of practical agriculture, science, military science, and engineering without excluding other classical studies”. Historically, the practice before the Civil War in higher education was to focus on religion and the liberal arts.

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Having recently retired from teaching young surgical residents in a military setting I can attest to the quality of the minds of these young doctors. They have become so focused on their specific disciplines since high school, that their grounding in history, the advances of Western culture from Jerusalem and Athens to the present, and in economics is no better than what they had when they graduated from high school 12 years earlier. Their grounding in faith and religion and political philosophy is at a prepubescent level. They are prescient enough to recognize in themselves their own deficiencies in this regard—at least most are. They have told me this many times over. At this stage in their professional lives, they yearn to read literature and history. They just haven’t had the time since they started taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in the tenth grade. Maybe today’s young people would be better served if they stopped accelerating into the basic sciences early in their educational lives and read some Dickens or Tolstoy or the Torah or The Gospels. They may come to the realization that the numbers (the laws of physics and thermodynamics) and The Old Testament words in Genesis tell the exact same story.

Our system of higher education is fractured. We aren’t educating enough students in (STEM) studies, but the ones we have, have little exposure to the “Humanities”. We are giving them the tools to work and find a good job, but we aren’t giving them the perspective of what it means to be a good citizen. Or even understand the connections between science and faith.

On the other hand, is the great majority of students who if you ask their professors shouldn’t even be in college because all they want to do is get by and punch their ticket. Many in this group would be better off learning a useful trade. Tradesmen are never “rent seekers” and will always be valued for what they do, not what they say. Going into education for example is a noble trade. We need good people who are teachers. But are we spending so much time “teaching how to teach” that we forget that giving these future educators the proper perspective as they move forward is every bit as important? I have been told on numerous occasions by teachers in my family that the most important part of their educational experience was their “student teaching” experience. Practical on the job training with a mentor— An apprenticeship. Booker T. Washington was one of the first to recognize the importance of such practical teaching experiences and he incorporated his ideas into all parts of the curriculum at Tuskegee and Hampton Institute.

The educational theory classes today in most land grant colleges are used as a tool of indoctrination for woke ideologies and Critical Race Theory (CRT) dogma. Fall out of line with “the program,” and your ability to progress and graduate may be hindered—in all disciplines. I heard last year from a pre-med student at BSU who had received straight A’s in all her basic science classes that she was going to get a “C” in a required sociology class because she didn’t “toe the enlightened line”-her words.

Beyond educating students to become good, informed citizens so they can better rule themselves in our Constitutional Republic, and to give them technical skills so they can lead productive lives and support their families, there is one other important piece to the puzzle of higher education—we must teach students to think critically—discernment is something that is seldom talked about in higher education. Through the enforcement of a humanistic dogma through curriculum and pedagogy critical thinking is discouraged and our children are encouraged to obey to advance. The experts know what is best. This is precisely how they themselves have advanced in their careers—”toe the party line.”

So here is another important reason to better educate our children offered by G. K. Chesterton—surely an educated man he!

“Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” Words from an “educated but most importantly wise man”.

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2 replies on “A Wise and Educated Man”

I have an uncle by marriage who was a professor at a small liberal college in Missouri. Though raised in a Christian home, he attended Baylor (back in the 1960’s) and left there an agnostic who once told us he is “smarter than God”. He is the “most educated” member of the family and he attempted to lord that over his siblings and their families yet he is the most disagreeable, argumentative, and least happy member of the family. Needless to say, none of us have been impressed by his level of education. I don’t think any of us take him seriously.

Being “smarter than God” must be a full-time job. No wonder he is so disagreeable. I would be too. Above my pay grade. Being accountable only to oneself and creating one’s own rules for living must be simpler than committing to a higher standard and a higher power. Pray for him and that he might seek to find joy instead of pleasure, love instead of acceptance of others, pray that he opens his heart to God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness so that he can give that back to God and his family. “Self-love” is always unfulfilling. I too have family members that have chosen such a path. “Free will” without humility is a bad road to go down. As Blase Pascual opined, “there is a hole in every person’s heart that can be filled only by God”. We spend much of our lives trying to fill that hole with the wrong things—self pride, drugs, money, power, sex, the list is long. There are many smart people that fill that hole with worldly knowledge instead of wisdom. As G. K. Chesterton wrote–“the problem with not believing in God isn’t that one believes in nothing, it is rather that you can believe in anything”

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