Philosophy of Hope: responding to a student

James Sharpe, the student I am responding to in this post, is one of my favorite people on the planet. I first met him when he was 15, and it waswhat-is-a-lvmr6on’t long until I began to meet with him to discuss Jesus and philosophy. He was a groomsmen in my wedding and his last name is punny because he is very sharp in wit and writing. I am grateful for his friendship and passion for learning he brings to the Kingdom in the world of Philosophy.

He and I are releasing this article as an attempt to release to the world the start of a body of work that will be called: “The Philosophy of Hope.” James and I both subscribe to the continental school of thought and enjoy post-modernism and the desire to make truth recognizable in real life. First, James. Second, me.

I once made a joke in my AP English IV class during senior year. I don’t remember the joke, but the important bit is that I mentioned Heidegger. I was poking fun at so called “hipsters” and it seemed to go well. A few kids laughed, anyway. My teacher, on the other hand, responded in perhaps the worst possible way.

“What’s a Heidegger?”

This is the state of education in America. The students are reduced to sardonic jokes about the uselessness of precisely that thing which is meant to equip them for life (Education), and teachers are basically powerless, if not actually oblivious. Don’t get me wrong. Are they not vindicated in their dissociation from their job? Who in the world would put in the time and effort to master complex material and the incredibly delicate art of teaching when the government is perfectly willing to do it for you (National Core Curriculum)? Besides, there are products to be bought, things to spend money and time on, and they’re far more gratifying. In fact, they’re instantly gratifying.

“We’re consumers too!” cry the teachers. And the students can’t complain with that. It’s really perfectly reasonable. Yet the pain and confusion of a difficult education that doesn’t seem to live up to its promises remains. What is there to do but joke about it?

Meanwhile, the students who haven’t the stoic weakness to commit acts of sardony find in themselves the impossible strength to self-injure. They cannot cut through the confusion with their wit; they can, however, cut themselves to distract from it.

“You really must take your schooling seriously,” says the administrators, “I don’t mean to make you feel guilty” (yes they do) “but we work very hard to provide this service for you.”

“Of course I would!” shout the students “if my schooling only took me seriously! I work very hard just to get out of bed in the weary mornings, to brush my teeth and to show up on time.”

So goes the cycle. The irony of education like this is that it commands us, the students, to thrive, and condemns us for failing. (Yet, thriving has always been considered an achievement, not an expectation. The Greeks thought of it as an elevation of the soul, and it was an incredible achievement to them. Why can we not be afforded the same grace?) Are they not aware that mere survival is the primary drive for all animal life on earth with the one exception of humans? What really distinguishes me from a dog, anyway? The Education System seems rather comfortable treating me like one, you know. “here, here, Jamesy—room 135. Good boy.” We are taught—are we not?—to navigate a maze according to a chiming of bells, to drool for the next intellectual meal.

But forget all this pet-talk. They promised us fire. They told us we would come alive if we only paid attention, if we only found it in us to be interested in things, we only “cared.” And they judged us intensely when we could not find “it” in us, when we made the mistake of thinking that school was supposed to help us find “it”, not presuppose “its” presence from the outset. Silly us. We were more concerned with survival—many of us are not sure, after all, that we’ll make it to the end of each week, you know—than with the philosophical implications of WWII. How selfish of us… really.

Is it a wonder that we’ve been reduced to sardonic jokes? It’s all a cry for substance. It’s T.S. Eliot’s whimper. Nothing is real for us, we the monkeys of the education system, and nothing is interesting to eyes closed for fear of opening up to an empty, meaningless, cruel, purposeless, groundless, utterly broken world. The next generation will listen to God if only because the world will have gone completely black by then. There will be no other option.

In the end, History cannot make wisdom interesting to me; Science cannot make nature interesting to me; all the literature on earth cannot make me interested in words and worlds. Philosophy cannot make Truth interesting to me; Art cannot make Beauty interesting to me; Theology cannot make God real, much less interesting, to me.

Help us. We are afraid of death—but not as much as we are terrified of life. And this is not our fault. We were thrown into this world, as the sparks fly upwards. The root word of “Education” actually means to “lead forth.” Go before us and beckon us to follow. We need leaders. We need mentors. We need guides, not guidance counselors. Risk yourself for us. We, the stoically weak and the impossibly strong, the humorists and the self-harmers, need teachers, not curriculums.

Were it a lack of information, frankly, we’d be set. We’re much better at googling things than you are, you silly curriculum writers. If we had fire in us, we could set you alight. As it is, the education system seems content to drown us in multiple choices. Why do you think we’re so indecisive? -James Sharpe

Here we go.

Some very important points have been made here. My primary question is this: Are students severely lacking in intelligence or do they see through the pretense? The administration look at the students and see the primary problem as motivation, but other than material gains and a plea to societal duty, there isn’t an effort to expand the minds and hopes of a generation. “I’m just stupid!” is what I hear all the time, but it’s not that there is a deficit in smarts, but a deficit in imagination and vision.

Here is the fundamental problem: Students have a hard time accepting their role as sheep neighing for the institution when they don’t know why. Actually, money is not the best motivation. “Give us socialism!” is the mantra of a generation. Not because they want control, they are simply finished  with sacrificing their souls at the altar of duty and economy. Why are students not caring?

Education trains students the way animal trainers teach the animals: responding to promises of appetite fulfillment and verbal recognition. Students who learn to obey rather than create. Why? There is a deeper motivation recognized by leadership but no ability to mine the students need: Hope. Just like animals, so many of us were taught to survive rather than thrive. The WWII generation didn’t deal with violence in a certain way, or the trauma that was caused which alienated the kids of that generation. They became traumatized and the greatest minds of the smartest men made a bomb that could level whole nations.

You ask when we will listen. Only faith, which transcends the reasonable, is fit to deliver us into the hands of God. Education was supposed to lead the way, but their is no prophetic imagination in the majority of school systems today. Yet this is exactly what God does in Jesus Christ: Hope puts on flesh and blood and begins to lead as the Good Shepherd. Hope is not the “good manager,” but the one out in front. God is a shepherd, not a manager. In front of us, not on top of us. Giving us an example to follow, not a rule of propositions to be crushed under. James, knowledge that is above us fails time and time again to set us free. But knowledge that is ahead of us can be experienced, and this leads to true freedom. The Kingdom works in this way in the school system:  a teacher decides to fulfill their own dreams and give themselves over to their passions. This impacts the students as the shepherds of a generation rise up to make a difference.

Lastly, these systems of men we create do not ultimately deliver or set us free. We are not interesting because of these categories of art, math and science. We are interesting because we carry hope and a passion for engaging the present with a beautiful vision of the future.