busy busyness

Education and the Danger of "To-Do"

6:00:00 AMCatherine Yanko

I have had a week to rest yet I remain restless. Spring break was the time when I was finally going to catch up on my schoolwork. The remaining length of my to-do list is absolutely infuriating. It was not until I sat down and took a deep breath to write this post that I realized why I am dreading my schoolwork: I have reduced the value of my education to a matter of things “to-do”. In this labor of efficiency, I have forgotten that education is meant to be a vehicle of enlightening my mind to my final happiness. To the call for knowing truth, I answered with another check off of my to-do list.

Amidst this vicious cycle common to nearly all college students, I was reminded of Cardinal Newman’s role in the creation of the University College Dublin. Starting off classes as a lecture series for working-class men to attend at night, Cardinal Newman began a trek to reclaim education’s role in strengthening the person. This betterment of the person is directly caused by education’s being concerned with truth. “And, truth is not to just be a matter of the intellect but also of the heart. You have begun your mental training with faith and devotion; and then you come to us to add the education of the intellect to the education of the heart” (455). As a student, I cannot reduce the matter of education, especially of the heart, to a simple to-do list, for it eliminates the role of the person. No matter how busy I get, I must make time to be an active receiver of this truth.

One definition for education is “an enlightening experience”. This definition requires an active experiencer, an object that is enlightening, and a source of this enlightening. The notion of this experience implies a shift from what was darkness into light, or what was unknown to be consciously understood. It is a positive notion. For something to be enlightening, it must deal with truth since it is only truth that awakens a sound understanding. Therefore, education is concerned with knowing truth.The source of the enlightening, that is the source of all truth, namely God, must then play an active role for it is from Him that all truth originates. In education, one establishes a relationship with the Source of all truth. To be educated, one must actively walk in this light of truth that was shed. The value of education is therefore obvious since it is by education that man comes into contact with God.

But, even in the face of seemingly highly valuable academic endeavors, such as philosophizing over the intersubjective nature of knowledge or understanding the notion of kingdom in the Old Testament, why do I still dread the work of education before me? Why do I continue to respond with groaning and ideas of what better things I could be doing with my time? I would argue that it is because in today’s society has not cultivated a heart that is willing to be educated. Cardinal Newman describes an educated heart in this way: “slow, silent, penetrating, overpowering effects of patience, steadiness, routine, and perseverance” (447). How counter-cultural is that! How many products of today’s culture are concerned first and foremost with efficiency of time instead of quality of product? The whole fast food industry is concerned with this as well as our fast-paced technology industry. This mentality has surely played a huge role in American education today. Think of all of the times that you go to google something for the sake of immediacy, the times you ask your professor a question instead of trying to come to a conclusion for yourself, or the countless times you ask a friend in your class for the answer because you do not want to spend the required amount of time on whatever you may be doing. If I truly wish to experience this “enlightening”, then I must transform my “get it done and be done with it” attitude into the one described by Cardinal Newman above. Surely, this is not the “easy” way, but if I wish to know truth, this is the only way.


In his essay, “The Role of Reverence in Education”, Hildebrand says, “This basic attitude of reverence is therefore already indispensable for any adequate knowledge. The depth and plentitude of being and above all its mysteries will never reveal themselves but to the reverent mind”. Reverence is vital to education. When I sit down to study, I must always remind myself of the need to remain reverent, so that I may come to know truth. This eliminates the solely efficient mentality, as it does not allow the proper space for values to enlighten us of their importance. If I wish to be educated, I must reject my attitude of “to-do” for one of reverence.

The sleepless nights of a college student are ones to be remembered. But, even in this exhausted delirium, I can rejoice at the fact that I know truth. As I go forth in the semester, I will remember the words that Cardinal Newman said to his students to remind me why I came to university and continue to stay up late into the night reading, writing, and learning for my classes: “You have come, not merely to be taught, but to learn. You have come to exert your minds. You have come to make what you hear your own, by putting out your hand, as it were, to grasp and appropriate it [truth]” (443).

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