What do you want?

The below teacher-student narrative is inspired by actual conversations, but is fictional in its composition. 

Student: Mr. Slonaker, my parents wanted me to talk to you about my grade in Philosophy class. I need to get my grade up.

Me: Do you agree with your parents’ assessment?

Student: I know my grade isn’t the best right now.

Me: I agree. What do you think is the problem?

Student: Well, I know I have several missing assignments from the book we are reading.

Me: Why is that? Is it too difficult?

Student: No, I can read it ok. I just don’t have time and to be completely honest, Mr. Slonaker, I’m not really interested in it.

Me: Did you like the previous book better?

Student: No, not really. I didn’t care much for that one either. I don’t really like philosophy at all. No offense, but school is just really boring to me. You can’t expect us to actually like the things we do in school. It is schoolwork--it is supposed to be just something you get through each day.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that. Well, I guess you had better be off to your next class then.

Student [taken off guard]: Wait? What? You’re not going to help me?

Me: I wish I could.

Student: What do you mean? I have to get a better grade. You are my teacher--how can you not help one of your students?

Me: So you just want a better grade?

Student: Yes.

Me: Can you tell me why you want that?

Student: So I can pass your class and get my GPA up.

Me: And why do you want those things?

Student: So I can get into a good college.

Me: Why?

Student [growing increasingly exasperated]:  So I can get a good job and eventually have a good life.

Me: How will you know when you have achieved your "good life"?

Student: I don’t know. When I have nice things and am happy, I guess.

Me: So what you really want is just more stuff and personal pleasure?

Student: When you say it like that it sounds bad. Don’t we all just want to be happy and enjoy our lives? I don’t see how this conversation is helping my grade.

Me: What do you think your life goals should be?

Student: I know what I am supposed to say--I am supposed to say that I am going to live for God to be conformed to the image of His Son.

Me: You don’t sound like you want that, though. Am I right?

Student: Not at all.

Me: Then there is nothing I can do for you.

Student: What? Just because I want to be happy in life means that you can’t help me do better in your class? I would really like to know how that is related to my problem.

Me: I could give you a philosophy lesson about it, but I know you are not interested in hearing it.

Student: But I do want to know this.

Me: You claim that you do, but I am not sure that is true. Your grades are poor because you are disinterested. You are disinterested because you claim to want to know the truth, but only for temporary and self-serving reasons and not for its own sake. You do not value your education because you do not love or crave the truth. You want the wrong things out of life. You have settled for the bankrupt goals of materialism, hedonism, and leisure, and I can't help you reach those goals.


“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This oft-recorded expression from Jesus does not read “He who has ears.” This implies that simply having the correct anatomy is not sufficient for one to truly hear or understand Jesus. Luke 8:8 records this expression just between the Parable of the Sower and the explanation of the four soils. Indeed the parable itself is about the condition of the hearers of Jesus’ teaching.

Most modern progressive teacher education programs indoctrinate young teachers with the mantra that “all students can learn” and by implication “the teacher is to blame if students fail to learn.” Their intentions may be admirable in wishing to instill idealistic hopes of transforming even the toughest of students into lifelong learners. Indeed, the role of the teacher is critical and the Scriptures have much to say about the heavy responsibility upon teachers. However, the teacher does not bear sole responsibility in the learning process. The receptivity of the learner is also required. Not all learners are in a position to receive the truth despite how adeptly and enthusiastically I as the teacher (or parent, or coach, etc.) am prepared to impart it to them.

“The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’” (Luke 8:10)

Jesus says that the very reason he teaches in parables is to draw in those who have "ears to hear" and to confound those who have itching ears to seek teachers who will cater to their preferences. (2 Timothy 4:3) 

Humility and a hunger for the truth are the prerequisites for learning. A student who already knows everything cannot learn; nor can the student who has exchanged the love of truth for idols (lies).


Student: Mr. Slonaker, I have been thinking about our conversation from last week. I was kind of blindsided by a passage from our homework.

Me: Oh, yeah? Which one?

Student: The part at the beginning of the chapter where he talks about education being meaningless if all it is for is to get more money… which the whole reason for that is so that you can buy nice things and send your kids off to get a good education. It is nothing but a vicious cycle. The book said that if this is all there is, then there is no meaning for education or for man.

Me: Yes, it reduces education to just a means of attaining more goods and that prosperity as a means of wealth and better education for his offspring.

Student: It sounds like something out of Ecclesiastes.

Me: Yes, it does -- "futility under the sun".

Student: I don’t want that anymore. I want…. No, I need to get this right. I know there is more to life than just being entertained and acquiring more junk. I am starting to see how silly all of that sounds.

Me: So you don’t just want a better grade anymore?

Student: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that too! But improving grades without actually loving the truth and allowing it to become part of who I am is just a waste of time. I want more than that. I have so much I need to learn.

Me: I would love to help you with that.


"To give truth to him who loves it not is only to give him more plentiful reasons for misinterpretation." -George MacDonald

"Education is to train the heart to love that which deserves loving." -John Hodges 

"The essence of education is repentance. It is recognizing that we don’t know what we ought to know. We don’t do what we aspire to do. We make up a thousand excuses as to why it is that we’re not all that we were called to be." -J.R.R. Tolkien

"It is a universal law-- intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility." -Aleksandr Solshenitzyn