Trust Your Vocation

This time of year begins the ritual of school starting up again (yes, I’m late on this, but it’s close enough).  Having been in and around academia all my life, I’m pretty attuned to this ebb and flow of the year.  Having children in school also reinforces this (even if they’re schooled at home).

Undergraduate degrees are now considered in many fields to be a baseline consideration for being hired.  But this isn’t really a necessity all too often.  I thought this was a great article that really examines the dynamics of college education and asks whether or not it’s really as good a system as everyone assumes it to be.  Does everyone really need to get their undergraduate degree (or advanced degrees)?  
There’s definitely a stigma now associated with not completing college-level study.  But that isn’t based on anything other than an artificially created expectation.  While I’m a huge proponent of education, to assume that such an education must come from a collegiate degree is bizarre, denying the myriad of factors that make education in some ways a unique experience.  While there should be a system to ensure that people who are paying for a higher education get their money’s worth, to assume that a university is the only valid place to acquire necessary knowledge, skills, or culture is dangerous.  Abraham Lincoln – a self-taught lawyer and president – would have fared pretty poorly under our current system that would exclude anyone who hasn’t jumped through very specific, prescribed hoops.  
Is there more to the push for higher education?  I think there is.  Ideologically, having everyone go through an additional four years of school at a typical public (or private, in a majority of cases) university exposes students to very specific ideological opinions.  They are more likely to take the things they are told and taught at university as ‘truth’ (that’s what they’re there for, isn’t it?).  At a very basic level it can be additional programming, additional time to make sure that people think a certain way on certain issues (evolution, tolerance, sexuality & gender issues, revisionist history, etc.).  And at least to the extent that this is often part of the goal of a typical university, we need to really consider whether or not this is a healthy environment for our kids.  The church often wonders at the stunning levels at which kids who were raised in the church leave it all behind in college.  Is this just coincidence?  I seriously doubt it.  Is this the sort of expectation we want to set for ourselves, our families, and our society?
How do we make sense of expectations such as this as Christians?  Is there a way of thinking about our lives and what we do to contribute to society and support ourselves that would help us feel good about decisions we make, regardless of what expectations the world claims?  Is there anything that would help us think outside this box of undergraduate education as a mandatory experience for even entry-level positions and work?
There is.  It’s called the doctrine of vocation .  It’s the ennobling assertion that we are created by God, and that herein lies our intrinsic value, and that this value is then expressed in love and service to those around us.  We are gifted and called in a variety of ways to support ourselves, our families, and to contribute towards the well-being of our neighbors in the larger community around us.  For some people, that will require some very specific and specialized education and training.  For others, this isn’t necessary.  The importance isn’t whether or not we attained the arbitrary marker of a diploma or not, but whether or not we’re living up to our created potential and utilizing it in productive and meaningful ways.  Does everyone need to go $25K or more in debt to do this?  Hardly!  
We need to work within the frameworks of our culture and society, but we shouldn’t assume that what is pushed towards us is unchangeable or ultimate wisdom.  Those who need a college education should by all means get one.  But we shouldn’t stigmatize those who don’t need it, don’t want it, and are every bit (or more!) contributing members of society without it.  We ought to expand our concepts of education in light of the idea of vocation.  

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