A few years ago, in the midst of his diaconate studies, a friend was invited by a small parish group to discuss the journey that for him had been one of immense joy, albeit filled with hard work, fear, and wonder.
In the middle of his talk, he was interrupted by a woman who could not wait for the discussion period. She took deep umbrage at the fact that this man could be ordained, while she—a woman with an advanced degree and “just as many credentials” as he “and more than some priests!” was not “offered the same option.”
By mentioning her academic credentials, (“several times” according to my friend) the woman demonstrated that she had bought into our society’s over-reliance upon accumulated degrees as a measure of intelligence and talent—an infatuation that often undervalues the autodidact and frequently misses the original thinker in pursuit of an academic ideal.
Thanks in part to easily obtained, tuition-bubbling, future-strangling student loans, anyone can get a degree in America; one need only look at the number of college-educated but barely-articulate “occupiers” currently demonstrating in our cities to confirm it. Becoming educated is a very different thing; often it is the thing one does after one has satisfactorily parroted a professor’s talking points, completed a curriculum, collected a vellum diploma, and finally begun not simply to perform, but to think for oneself, and critically.
Critical thinking is essential, but it is something we no longer train students to do. We train students to “go along to get along” and we tell them that they are “special” and entitled, and that nothing should be withheld from them—except, apparently, instruction in reasoning.
Stipulating that I am not wholly out of sympathy with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement—I wouldn’t mind seeing a few bankers frog-marched, as long as the politicians and bureaucrats who colluded with them wear leg-shackles, too—it is nevertheless worth noticing that the very same people who were duped into amassing enormous student-loan debt at the behest of a government unable to project so simple a cause-and-effect equation as “easy loans equal tuition spikes equals more loans” are now advocating for greater government control over their lives. The street rhetoric roughly translates to: “the government is corrupt and too stupid to know how to write and administer student loan policies; let it manage everything.”
This is not a display of reason, keenly honed through education and discipline.
Nor, for that matter, was the credential-hawking of my friend’s heckler. I asked him whether the woman who interrupted his talk had spoken of feeling “called” to the diaconate. He could not recall, but it matters whether she expressed such a thought, or used that word, because callings are real; the idea of “callings” are something we should be exploring in and with our children, whether our interests are sacred or secular. Our “callings” bring forth our best selves, and when we discover and develop them we always want to share them. Callings, rightly answered, enlarge a shriveling world by shouting not “give me,” but “please take.”
But a calling is rarely mapped-out through standardized tests and strategized play dates, and it can’t be faked; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ruled out a run for the presidency because he said he did not feel “called” to it—without the call, his run would have been inauthentic; it would have involved too much of himself receiving, rather than his offering.
A sense of calling is an idea to which our children often lack an introduction. We tell students they can plot their futures based on test scores measuring information regurgitation; we have no means of measuring their imaginations or their dreams, yet is from these that their deepest and truest longings—and thus their vocations, the things they were born to do—are discovered.
Barely allowed to wander from their backyards or to play away from our social-engineering-fixated eyes—where genders are called relative and roughhousing must be nipped before things get “out of control”—our children are groomed from early ages to fit ever-narrowing norms of thought and behavior; where in all of that can they develop a sense of possibilities and callings, which often have nothing to do with control, or models or entitlement?
These are very strange days. Our youth have been brought up in an environment of parental, educational and governmental over-control, but they are demanding additional and expanded institutional supervision. They have completely digested a spoon-fed illusion that fulfillment can be compelled by some great Daddy or Teacher or Bureaucrat in the sky, who will make sure that everyone has precisely the same amount of everything. One degree equals this. Two degrees equals that. Everyone is special, so no one should have something different than anyone else.
And if some other institution, like a church, suggests that everyone
cannot have exactly what they believe they have earned—be that an
adoption, or a job, or a sterilization or a sacrament—because that
institution does not believe it has the power to confer it under God,
well, that same fecklessly-fair government is the Bully-Daddy who will
compel it, for everyone.
The young people sleeping in the parks and on the streets are calling for a revolutionary supervision of all our lives, and they trust that once it’s in place, they will be given all they want, and they will be happy because life will almost be fair. But when they realize that America has become the land of “give me,” rather than “please take,” they will perhaps, finally, comprehend their callings.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
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