an analogy between religion and education

I’ve been out enjoying my Friday evening, eating my oriental chicken salad at Applebee’s (and chatting with a guy studying in the College of Pharmacy), picking up some office (thesis) supplies at Staples, and browsing Borders CD collection (but not buying, of course — too expensive). I found this post earlier tonight from Glen Gatin’s blog Critical Pedagogy.  I like the analogy he sees between religion and education, pointing up the way both gradually become calcified, artificial, and inhibiting.  Fortunately, both institutions are amenable to prophets — sometimes.

Thanks Glen!


I’m always drawn to analogies between religion and education. What strikes me is the understanding that religion is the institution that is supposedly facilitates the human need for spirituality. Similarly, education is the institution that is supposed to facilitate teaching and learning. Just as it is possible to be highly religious but not able to connect with natural spiritual power, it is possible to be highly educated but not able to teach or learn, both natural functions of homo sapiens.

Mary Baker Eddy the founder of Christian Science discussed the problem with the institutional church. Although she eventually became a victim of her own conclusions her analogy is still apt in my mind. She described the scenario where a traveler is crossing a desert and has run out of water and is about to perish. He comes across a damp spot in the sand, digs down and discovers water and is saved. In his joy at being saved and in consideration for others who might find themselves in similar dire straights, he erects a cairn of stones around the damp spot to make it more discoverable by others. Over the ages the experience is repeated by others, each adding a little more to the edifice that is being built around the source.

Eventually, the edifice is so large that it actually begins to obscure the source and people begin to parish because they can not slake their thirst on fine cut marble or stained glass and the attendants and priest control the access to the life giving source, manipulating it for their own purposes. The agents of religion have developed many sophisticated ways to capitalize on their control of the structures of churches and religious philosophies, each one intent on convincing the largest number of people that their religion is the one and only true keeper of the source. While claiming to help people realize their spiritual potential, they skim off considerable social benefits for themselves, power, prestige, control and resources.

Ivan Illich described a very similar scenario for education. Humans as a species have a natural need/desire/propensity to teach and learn. We have figured out that there is a life giving and life sustaining potential in socially constructed knowledge and we recognize that it is our own best interest to teach and learn. In modern society it seems clear that we have the same problem as we have with our natural spiritual urges; the very institutions that are supposed to facilitate the natural process of teaching and learning are obscuring the life sustaining features in the interests of control and personal profit.



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