Training, Education and Learning

Training, Education and Learning

An article on C. S. Lewis and other writers in the “Inklings” group in the magazine Christian History (highly recommended) reminded me how Lewis can state an insight with elegant simplicity. The author drew upon a little known essay that I had not read for many years called “Our English Syllabus,” a brief talk on education, and particularly education in the school of English literature at Oxford in the middle of the 20th century.

Lewis reminds us that education can be understood as having three related goals. The first is “training” by which we gain the ability to practice a particular occupation or profession. This kind of education may be of higher or lower intellectual content, but in each case it is training in something we do. It may be the training of a lawyer, doctor, nurse, accountant or psychologist on the higher or more conceptual end, or of a mechanic, plumber or bookkeeper on the less conceptual end. Each may be a very technical form of training, and the less conceptual may pay as much in some cases as the more conceptual. In a democratic age where many must be educated to support themselves and their families, this form is necessary for almost all. Few have the luxury of being independently wealthy.

At Fresno Pacific we know our students must be able to support themselves and their families, as well as contribute to their communities and churches. We have many undergraduate majors and graduate programs that provide this necessary form of education. We may not offer training in all occupations (training as a mechanic is done more efficiently at a community college), but we train nurses, accountants, psychologists, kinesiologists and social workers, and prepare students for advanced training in law and medicine. A Christian ministries program is another technical training specifically for service in the church. Even our students in the classical liberal arts think about what they can do with their field of study (a lot…).

At a master’s level university like FPU, we pursue as well the second form of education Lewis discusses, which he calls simply “education.” Following John Henry Newman, he emphasizes that education’s purpose is to encourage the development of a “good” citizen, member of society and person. The liberal arts are at the core of this study. Education teaches morality or ethics—we are ethical animals to the core of our being—but also has an element of good taste, manners and other elements of “civilization.” “Civilization” refers to a society that has a good and just social order, nurtures health and wholeness and understands the perils of history. It contributes to something we call good “taste,” the ability to judge the superior compared to the mediocre, the beautiful from the ugly, as difficult as it may be to conceptualize the difference. The educated person of “culture” in today’s global, democratic world (Lewis doesn’t emphasize this) also understands multiple cultural groups, and can function as a world citizen.

In the past this “education” produced leaders in government and church, if not business. In today’s world we emphasize that education is necessary for all kinds of leadership—in government, church, school, business, professions, community and family. This education prepares us broadly to be citizens in our various communities—of the city, of the state, of the “city of God.”

The final category of education Lewis calls “learning.” This is an interest in knowledge for its own sake. It is what we hope some students will be inspired to pursue. All in our educational systems must be trained, and we can encourage “education” in all simply by the range of courses they take (general education), the activities they engage in (student development and leadership opportunities) and the breadth of the majors we construct. But learning has to be willingly and enthusiastically chosen. It must grab a student, shake them up and draw them toward something greater, when the everyday world does all it can to focus our sights on the immediate and necessary.

Learning too can have lower and higher ranges. We each have unique gifts and may be drawn to music, to poetry, to physics, to history, to ethics or to knowledge of the Bible. Theologian Bernard Lonergan explains that our desire to learn can have an unlimited horizon. We may struggle to understand what we cannot comprehend, but which our experience tells us is there. St. Thomas says we know God is, but we cannot grasp what he is. The Psalmist adds, speaking of God’s understanding, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

Lewis has grasped the work we have before us in distinguishing these three forms of education. We must train students for occupations and professions that require higher education because all must support themselves, their families and their communities. This is how people are raised out of poverty, and offered opportunity for greater learning.

We want also to educate for citizenship, leadership and personal and spiritual maturity. We desire that FPU students know what is good, how to serve, that we do not live by bread alone and the essence of truth, goodness and beauty. We hope our graduates will be “cultivated” and “cultured,” with deep understanding of the world, how they are a part of it and how they can contribute to the good of all. Central in this pursuit for us at FPU is knowledge of Christian faith, and what God calls us to as leaders and as his people.

We also hope students will be grabbed by the desire to learn, and to know the truth in depth to the limits of their understanding. Not all will be drawn to such a difficult task. Being a professor does not guarantee that one has this desire for learning. We hope for learning that shows itself in wisdom from the depth of our souls.

Lewis offers a clear and useful outline of what we do as educators, as scholars and as a university. We can clearly measure how well we are doing in training students. Education is more difficult to assess, but we can gain a good sense of who emerges from the process as educated for leadership, and how that education has lead them toward higher things. Learning is more difficult. We see it when our students are passionate about knowledge, passionate about the call they feel on their lives and passionate about the God who is beyond our training, education and learning.

Steve Varvis

Steve Varvis

3 responses to “Training, Education and Learning”

  1. I find Steve Varvis’ comments above quite enlightening and will ponder the concepts of training, education, and learning more deeply. It is encouraging to see so many in our community who treasure all three aspects of our ministry of education and display it well for the world to see: students, faculty, staff and administration.

  2. Good thoughts. Balancing those three aspects of learning-teaching is what makes an FPU graduate more employable, a better citizen, and a deeper follower of Christ.

    Keep up the good work.