by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jessica Hooten Wilson writes for the Martin Center about a Christian approach to education.
When I question students at my Christian college about how their faith affects their learning practices, they stare blankly at me or scribble a note about being motivated by the true, good, and beautiful. But studying (and education) for Christians should look different than a secular approach, though many students cannot articulate these differences.
To clarify the connections between their beliefs and education, I teach Simone Weil’s “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” (1942), a great essay with an unwieldy title. …
… Weil argues, “The Key to a Christian conception of studies is the realisation that prayer consists of attention.” If Christians desire communion with God, they should pray. For Weil, prayer is the practice of self-emptying, much as Jesus Christ did when He descended from the Godhead to the earth and then to the humiliation of the cross. When we give our undivided attention to something, we are practicing what Weil calls kenosis. This posture prepares us for prayer, enables us to pray—and may, in fact, be a form of praying. Thus, studying leads us to commune with God. School studies are sacramental exercises; with the right motivation, learning can be sanctifying.
For Weil, Christian students should be more concerned with their ascent on the spiritual plane than their success within the earthly realm. Education, to her, is a spiritual exercise. Studying for geometry, for example, is less about the right proofs and more about perfecting the practice of attention. Weil does not denigrate the benefit of geometry or other courses; instead, she assumes and acknowledges their intrinsic value.