Beliefs and Education
Is religious belief a contributing factor to success in education? It’s a difficult concept to measure, but worth thinking about because religious beliefs pre-date inquiry by reason or science, which are recent channels for human learning. With careful examinations, the range of religion’s influence can be established, shedding light on whether religion really makes better students. The writer Darren Sherkat does not find a direct relationship between religion and college excellence, yet consents that indirectly many factors could be at play where it has influence. Of these, the most profound is if religion can quell the human anxiety which Richard Miller describes in his essay “The Dark Night of the Soul” – an anxiety which he argues may be the intellectual consequence of the educational system itself.
Many factors can influence students: how couldn’t it be, with the ever-growing cultural, intellectual and geographic diversity of college campuses? However difficult it may be to pinpoint solitary benefits attained through religion but several can be argued. For example, “Alcohol and substance abuse is the top predictor of negative educational outcome.”(Sherkat). Alcohol as well as any substance abuse goes directly against most conventional religious and moral codes. As the Bible tells us, “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these, I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”(Galatians 5:21). Demographic data also show that religious students tend to be “older, often married, more likely to have children as well as working outside of school”(Sherkat 2), factors which all happen to correspond to better academic performance. Both behavioral and demographic factors statistically benefit religious students, but an even more profound impact may have been found by Richard Miller.
Richard Miller writes that there is an “inescapable fact that the hierarchical, exclusionary environment of mandatory schooling fosters feelings of rage and helplessness that cannot be contained. The law drives everyone into the schoolhouses; the educational system then sifts and sorts its way through the masses raising expectations and crushing dreams as it goes. Eventually something has to give.”(Miller 422). These ideas of rage and helplessness are the premise for his “dark night of the soul” which he believes affects just about every student to some degree. It’s a form of desperate anxiety which can motivate rash and harmful responses from people. Another underlying cause for the dark night can be that we “live in an Informative age and all the information is telling us that whatever we have done, we are doing and whatever we plan to do will never have any lasting significance”. With such a loss for self-worth, many a student may find struggling with the SAT’s a pointless task. The oldest response to the “Dark Night of the Soul” and its corresponding helplessness is found in the great books is faith. Faith which has been established in the student may counter educational anxiety to perform. Confirmation of this is found in Ms. Barbara Walvoord’s study of Introductory Theology and Religion courses in sixty six public and private institutions. She found that “Over one half of students identified their ‘own spiritual development’ as essential, or very important, goals in taking their course.” This makes spiritual classes peculiarly attractive to students who seek answers from them, or at least some foundation of truth. Rene Descartes searched for this foundation of truth, and at a moment of true despair he is said by Miller to state, “The only way out of this bleak environment that is haunted by malice demons and illusionary reports of the senses is to posit the existence of a firm foundation which…Descartes designated ‘God”(Miller 434). Thus we can recognize the ubiquitous search for the will to know, to believe, and to...
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