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This article has been revised a number of times to reflect my desire not to fall into the trap of sweeping generalizations. I know that there are schools and teachers that realize what the separation of church and state really means and keep that in mind when teaching their students. They allow for the free exchange of ideas but there other schools that don’t want to rock the boat or want to focus on just the basics these schools are the trend that this article is about.
Recently Kareem Elnahal graduated from high school. He was valedictorian of his class and “he graduated from a Blue Ribbon-awarded high school that ‘ranked 403rd among the nation’s top 1,200 schools in Newsweek Magazine’s ‘America’s Best High Schools’ report from August 2005.'” He had it all right? Great school, top of his class what more could a kid want? Well, he did want more, he wanted an education. But his school was an award winning school? He was going to Princeton, how could he not have received a top-notch education? At commencement he decided to tell his school just what he thought of his education. Here is part of the speech, read the rest here:
Education can be defined a number of different ways. For me, it is the product of human curiosity. Intellectual thought, as far as I can tell, is nothing but the asking and answering of questions. In my reflection, however, and I have reflected on this a great deal, I found that many of life’s most important questions are ignored here. What is the right way to live? What is the ideal society? What principles should guide my behavior? What is success, what is failure? Is there a creator, and if so, should we look to it for guidance? These are often dismissed as questions of religion, but religion is not something opposed to rationality, it simply seeks to answer such questions through faith. The separation of church and state is, of course, important, but it should never be a reason for intellectual submission or suppression of any kind. Ethics – it is what defines us – as individuals, as a society – and yet it is never discussed, never explained, never justified. Rousseau, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Aquinas, nearly every major writer I’ve encountered devotes time to the subject. And it’s not as if these questions are without practical concern, that they are less immediately relevant than science for instance. Our laws, our institutions, and all our actions are a reflection of our ethics.
Our own society owes itself to the writers of the enlightenment, but we never probe their work – we fail to espouse the movement’s central principle, doubt “doubt everything. We study what is, never why, never what should be. For that reason, the education we have received here is not only incomplete, it is an entirely hollow.
What’s more, this same lack of focus can be found in many of the subjects we do study. We approach history as though it were as story, endlessly cataloguing every major character or event. But the details of that story are insignificant- what is significant is the progression of ideas. A student of history should get some sense of how the society he sees around him developed from those built thousands of years ago, what ideas changed and what changed them. When humanist scholars looked to ancient Rome during the Renaissance, they searched for moral examples, for ideas. They didn’t mull of every single daily event. They were inspired, and they transformed society. History is not an end in itself; it should act as a tool for greater thought.
But it’s not only history. I’ve taken a literature class nearly every year of my life, but never has a question so basic as “what is good writing?” come up. Literary technique, what should be the focus of the class, is never discussed. How does an author develop plot? How can an author control mood or tone in his writing? What is the advantage of one author’s methods over another’s? Such matters are never discussed. We read for the sake of reading, to talk about our interpretations in class as though we were in a book club. But no attention is paid to why we read the books we do, what makes them so special. And this pattern, grade for the sake of a grade, work for the sake of work, can be found everywhere. Ladies and gentleman, the spirit of intellectual thought is lost.
He didn’t receive the kind of education that he believed he should have from a prestigious school. He understood that there was more to education than just getting into a good college and getting good grades.
“That was so hypocritical of him to make that statement”, Blake said. “It was an insult to everyone here at this school. . . he made inflammatory comments about the school in general.”
“He conveyed that he felt his education was worthless,” Blake said. “We have an outstanding education system here.”. . .
Blake said he heard some students cheering and applauding Elnahal’s comments.
“I truly don’t believe they understood what he was saying.” Blake said. “My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying. Whether it was intentional or not, he was belittling the diplomas of every one of those kids. . . He has a right to his comments but he shouldn’t have been using that pulpit to put forth his limited viewpoint,” Blake said. “Hopefully people kept it in context.”
What condescension and arrogance. He demonstrates exactly what Kareem Elnahal charges against the school, they are focused on academics but leave the larger issues untouched. Why can’t the kids from the school understand what their valedictorian says? Because they never addressed the larger issues? The principal’s statements are an indictment of his school. Kids not understanding the need to look at the larger issues of life? Why wouldn’t they understand that because it’s basic to our human existence.
What this young man observed in his classroom and then told this group of parents, teachers, administers and his fellow students about are the implications of removing God from our school system. If you didn’t want to advocate a religion, then you would not look too deeply into the standards of truth, justice, beauty, art, literature and the great philosophical questions that have plagued man throughout history. What is the purpose of life? Why are we here? How did it all begin? What happens when we die? Who am I? These issues can’t be addressed because we are afraid to see the face of God. Knowledge of the divine is terrifying, so we hide our heads in the sand and refuse to face the truth that is plainly in front of us. God proclaims himself in his creation and yet we ignore him. If we are afraid to advocate a religion then we can’t address these issues because God has to be addressed in any issue dealing with creation and existence.
When God is removed from science, what are we left with? When you look at the complexity and vastness of the universe and how it is all held together by “something,” how can we deny that “something” has intelligence? All cultures throughout the history of mankind have believed in some type of higher being. Inside us is this need to look outside ourselves and to look up to something beyond ourselves. We are instinctively thankful to something beyond ourselves when things are going good (birth of a new baby, nothing broken after a bad car crash, good news about our cancer treatment, etc.) The amount of people who deny the very existence of any type of higher being is minuscule in comparison to the rest of mankind and yet, it’s atheism that we are promoting. God cannot be a part of math, literature and science. He cannot exist in the classroom. And if you talk about ethics and morals, you would have to do so apart from any reference to Him and His commandments. Education becomes emptied of all references to God and His commandments. It would lack substance and become hollow since it lacks a core.
When we take God out of all the topics and we focus only on the essentials and not on the larger issues that govern life then why would we be surprised when a very perceptive young man recognizes that his education has been emptied of its content? That would make it hollow; there is a shell but nothing inside to make it substantial.
This young man may have put his finger on the very pulse of the problem with education today. I wonder where he got the reasoning skills necessary to make these observations and to reach his conclusions.
(Link to the CNSNews via Doug, my husband)