Inspecting educational privilege and academic competition


Reading this article earlier tonight really made me think about how I’ve been blessed to grow up where I have, and come from my background.

I’ve written about it various times, but Lawrence, Kansas is probably one of the most “unexpectedly cool” places on earth (to quote a guest pastor who recently preached at my church). With a hip and hustling art, music, and food scene, it almost makes you forget you’re living in Kansas. We’ve got educational resources you can really sink your teeth into, with Haskell Indian Nations University, the University of Kansas, and an excellent public library. Growing up in a cocoon of students from various countries who were my classmates as their parents went to school at KU, I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted the real world. On campus, I interact with many international students, so I’ve never felt all that isolated from the outside world, as many Kansans might. We’ve got a lot of different perspectives here, and politics is only the cherry on top of what makes Lawrence exceptionally weird.

With my family closely tied to the KU, it was always a given that I would go to college. I played clarinet until the end of high school, and my parents helped me pay for lessons on both clarinet and occasionally bari sax (Jazz Band). Competing in regional and district solo and ensemble festivals, singing in choir, and being in Girl Scouts all sharpened my academic skills and were decent ways I spent my time. I was depressed for years and years, but looking at my GPA, I did alright. So many of my teachers were good and were good people. It makes you wonder whether you’ll be like them someday. For years and years, I was protected from a lot of opportunities to fail not just because of this town, but as part of a middle class family.

And yet, many of my classmates still act as if there is so much more to prove than having the benefit of going to college. Recently, the amount of striving in academia has been a subject of conversation between me and a good friend. There are a lot students who are also in KU’s Honors Program that are a lot more competitive than I am. I’ve had a lot of diverse experiences that have significantly impacted my world view before and during college, but it feels like all people expect is for people to compete for a crown of “Who is the Smartest” while they are in undergrad or various other striving circles in life, and I don’t believe in doing that. I don’t always test very well, and truth be told, I may not be as cut and dry intelligent as many of my Honors Program peers. I can craft a discussion between groups of people that will have the effect of being meaningful, which given a choice would be an instant no-brainer over doing a paper. Am I lazy if I would prefer to have a really rich discussion of something intricate or beautiful or upsetting rather than all the competition? It just seems like name-recognition shouldn’t be the factor we are trying to go for when we try to relate to other people. It’s vanity, and it doesn’t leave much for other people to benefit from.

On a baseline level, I will always prefer conversations over writing in order to solve problems, which unless provoked by a life-giving conversation can often feel like a dead art. Whether or not that makes me less intelligent in the eyes of a system that already rewards based primarily on race and class is irrelevant. What bothers me on an even more basic level is the idea that doing a bunch of work for the sake of proving yourself is shrouded in a positive light rather than seen as striving. Are the people who disengage from the competition lazy? Do we know better, or less?

These attitudes affect theology and the study of scripture also. The only difference between theology and philosophy is that with theology, we supposedly have to relate what we claim to God. That doesn’t always happen. I would bet you that people have passed through Seminary with the expectation that their studies are validating their identity before God. I would be willing to bet a fingernail on it.

What does it say if the only people able to consume God are highly educated? Do we really want to invest in more layers of educational stratification, and become Pharisees in that we relate the truth in the gospel to vain constructs of striving? I don’t think there is such a leap between how we view what we are learning as self-righteousness and how we try to justify our faith (our faith justifies us). Among many mostly men who have been highly educated leaders in the Church, using your mind for Christ can go both ways, just look at pre/post-conversion Paul. If a trait like knowledge can be either good and bad, then it is one of the characteristics of the world that can also pass away. True food and nourishment comes from the body and person of Jesus Christ, who puts no stipulation on anyone’s amount of learning.


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I am a second-grade teacher and pastor-to-be who loves people. I spend my weekends with friends or wandering the museums of DC alone and with a journal, trying to put words on the places of the soul that still feel wordless. I spent most of my days at school trying to learn patience through my students and running on sheer nerdy passion. I follow Jesus Christ, and savor that as my most important identity--that I am a child of God, as are infinite others, regardless of their other identities. Christ is my one thing.

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