I’m about to embark on my second decade of serving as a university professor, not counting the numerous years I toiled away in part time teaching positions. This present iteration finds me at the University of Jamestown in North Dakota. Jamestown is a quaint little community nestled between Fargo to the east and Bismarck to the west. We’ve been here all of two weeks and are still attempting to acclimate to our surroundings. This is the first time that Candy and I have made such a move absent our children (as they are now grown and starting families of their own) , friends, and extended family. It’s just us, along with our little dog Ryn. It is daunting to adjust to a new place, especially when looking around and seeing little that is recognizable. Notwithstanding those minor challenges, it is also exciting to be in a new place with all kinds of possibilities that await.
Jamestown, North Dakota, is the birthplace and childhood home of writer Louis L’Amour, so I’ve been reading his Education of a Wandering Man. L’Amour has a lot to say about education, including this observation; “If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breath of view, ease of understanding, tolerance of others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction. Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness.”
Of course, L’Amour makes the point that education takes all kinds of forms, and isn’t exclusive to the classroom. With this observation I totally agree, and think that to the extent that we meet the expectations of L’Amour’s definition of education, then as teachers we have done our job. There is a lot that is being said today about the cost vs. the rewards of higher education, and there is much to agree with given the state of our economy and culture surrounding the pursuit of education. But I still believe there is value in pursuing education, in whatever forms it takes -for all of the reasons eloquently articulated by L’Amour. “To live life well one must live with awareness,” yet there is too much in our current culture that invites us to close our eyes, to go to sleep, to escape or to forget that our lives do matter. How we live, what we say, what we think is important, and education gives us the tools to evaluate, sharpen, and sometimes change our perspectives. We call this growth, and all of us should be about the business of growth and change. For L’Amour his education took place in the accumulation and reading of books, for others it may involve the formalities of University classrooms or simply walking about the countryside and listening to the sounds of nature and the voices of others around us. To this end I work.
It was my Dad who first suggested that I become a teacher, and for a long time I resisted as I had been convinced that ministry or service to others could only take place inside a church and from behind a pulpit. Thankfully this profession wasn’t impatient. It is ironic that my Dad had the foresight to know better what I was suited for than I did myself, especially considering that life and circumstances denied him opportunity for any education beyond the first grade. Yet he was incredibly intelligent and skilled. Those traits coupled with his temperament and tenacity provided for him, and for us, a life that we all enjoyed. Life is funny like that, sometimes you end up in places you never imagined doing things you may have long resisted because you were ignorant of other opportunities and possibilities. But whatever road we take in life, all these roads have a way of leading us back to ourselves. Here we are, often eating the fruit of trees that we didn’t know we planted. This is education.
As Gene C. Fant Jr beautifully writes “Apples symbolized education long before records, computers, and smartphones came along. We know of the so-called apple polisher, the wiseacre student who tried to curry favor with a teacher through a simple gift, but perhaps the image has deeper roots. This kind of fruit is a worthy symbol, as it contains not only the meat that may be consumed in the present but it also contains seeds that may be planted to ensure a distant harvest in another time. In this way, education is represented as a continuous stream between the past (the tree), the present (the fruit’s flesh), and the future (the seeds), all bound up in a single image. Education embodies past discoveries, present-day explorations, and future applications yet to come.”
Or in the words of the Apostle Paul; “Some plant, others water, but God gives the increase” It is my hope that this year in education will see an abundant harvest of a “widening and deepening life.”