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Knowing What We Don’t Know

I was shocked recently when I saw on Facebook reactions to a report on the educational attainment of the residents of the 50 U.S. states. After viewing a couple of dozen comments posted by people viewing the data, I would say nine out of 10 wrote comments belittling the value of higher education.

Typical were statements – I would guess mainly from people who never attended college – saying that education is next to useless, provides few benefits, and doesn’t make you “smarter” or wise.

The last comment I can agree with. Education doesn’t necessarily make you more wise – defined by the dictionary as “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.” In my view, education may help knowing what is true or right but doesn’t necessarily result in “just judgment.”

Substantial Benefits

But study after study shows that a higher education, on average, results in more financial, social and career success. The College Board’s “Trends in Higher Education,” for instance, shows that higher education has substantial benefits for individuals and for society.

(Wikipedia describes The College Board as “an American nonprofit organization that was formed in December 1899 as the College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) to expand access to higher education.” As such, it’s not exactly objective about the benefits of higher education, but I trust its data. And trusting and understanding data, as opposed to thinking by the seat of your pants, is one of education’s benefits.)

“Although obtaining a college degree can mean forgone wages during a time when a student is also paying tuition, by age 33 the average bachelor’s degree recipient will have recouped those costs,” says a research scientist at the College Board. “In 2018, the median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients age 25 working full time were nearly $25,000 higher than those of high school graduates.”

The study also found significant increases in rates of volunteerism and voting among college grads.

Lifetime Learner

Ok, so college grads earn and participate more, but I believe the most important benefits of education, including higher education, is the increased ability to appreciate art, music, literature, science and history, and in the best case scenario, to become a lifetime learner. And above all, learning how much we don’t know.

Not knowing what we don’t know results in learning stagnation and increased confusion about how to interpret the world.

Many agree about the benefits of higher education. They value science and the arts, but what about religion and spirituality? I believe, and research confirms, that for many their knowledge of religion, even their own religion, atrophies in their youth – including in their college years.

And I believe the search for God is greatly hampered by this lack of knowledge. Seems to me that many of the current objections to “organized” religion (Would critics prefer “unorganized” religion?) are based on commonly held misconceptions.

Closer to God

This is nowhere more evident than in knowledge about the Bible, not so much about its content – because many remember Bible stories – but about its historical development and how to interpret its contents; and, that the Bible is a mix of historical and non-historical narratives, all of which are meant to help us come closer to God.

If the phrase about “knowing what you don’t know” applies to education in general, it especially applies to knowledge about religion. In my view, the place to start learning about religion is with your own, or the one you may have abandoned. The history of religion, especially one’s own, is especially important. And it should be read from a reliable source, not one that has an axe to grind.

It’s true that religion and spirituality is not entirely knowledge-dependent, but “doing” religion on your own, or being guided in your views about religion by instinct, handicaps the search for God. There’s good evidence that God not only created the universe but created religion as well.    

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