Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wisdom and Knowledge

I have a few thoughts about wisdom that I think are worth writing down. But instead of one large post I'm going to break this down into three. Here's the first.

We live in a culture that is enamored with knowledge. We realize that there are many things to know, and we want to know about all of them. It would be good if all this zeal to gain knowledge was altruistic. Some of it might be. But there are many who want to know so that they can advance beyond those who don't know. We can be very competitive.

One place where this push to know shows itself is in our ideas about education. What is it that we want for our kids? We want them to know. And so, in a multitude of ways, kids are getting their heads filled with all sorts of information. Education is about knowledge. And, again, for a goodly number of these, gaining knowledge is about getting ahead of others.

But is that what education is supposed to be about? Is the goal to have knowledgeable children - who can get ahead? I really don't think so. I have an alternative to offer. I actually think that education, the training of children, is supposed to be about wisdom.

I hope to say more about a definition later, but speaking simply, wisdom is the skill of living well. It is a skill that way too many never get anywhere close to mastering. It is a skill that is learned. And part of what needs to be learned are certain bits of information. That means that there most certainly is a place for knowledge in the education of children.

But there are two caveats. Knowledge is not the goal of education. It is a means to the goal. It is a means to the goal of wisdom. And those who are involved in the education of children need to keep that relationship between knowledge and wisdom clearly in mind. There are things that children need to know. But they need to know those things so that they can be wise, so that they can live well. This means that there are things that children don't need to know, at least not right now. The goal of wisdom determines the priorities of the various bits of knowledge.

Here's the second caveat. It takes more than books to gain wisdom. Knowledge can be gained by books alone. But not wisdom. For wisdom to develop, knowledge needs to be grasped in a particular context, the context of life. To grow in wisdom requires experiences, living out the knowledge that you have gained. It's in those experiences that bits of knowledge result in wisdom.

This has much to say about current ideas about the training of children. Too many have aimed at creating adults who are filled with much knowledge. And there are many of these who have gained much knowledge. And, from a particular perspective they are quite successful. But they are not especially wise. And that is sad. The goal is not knowledge but wisdom.

Hear, O sons, a father's instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
    do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
    tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
    he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
    keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
    do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
    love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
    and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
    she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
    she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
Proverbs 4.1-9