In 1941, philosopher Mortimer Adler wrote a short, but impactful article for the Journal of Educational Sociology titled an “Invitation to the Pain of Learning.”  Adler argued that thinking/education is one of the highest and most rewarding pursuits of man; unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult and painful.  As a result, genuine education is being abandoned for what some have called “infotainment.”  Education has become a passive enterprise, in which teachers provide students with information dumbed down so that it is entertaining, fun, and pragmatic.  But education should be an active enterprise in which we engage ideas and subjects that challenge our mind and shape our character.  Adler calls both people and educational institutions to focus on the short-term pain of educational learning for the ultimate satisfaction of a transformed life.  Here are some great excerpts that are worth your time to read:

One of the reasons why the education given by our schools is so frothy and vapid is that the American people generally – the parent even more than the teacher – wish childhood to be unspoiled by pain. Childhood must be a period of delight, of gay indulgence in impulses. It must be given every avenue for unimpeded expression, …and it must not be made to suffer the impositions of discipline or the exactions of duty, which of course are painful. Childhood must be filled with as much play and as little work as possible. … Heaven forbid that learning should ever take on the character of a serious occupation – just as serious as earning money, and perhaps, much more laborious and painful. … It must all be fun. It must all be entertaining. Adult learning must be made as effortless as possible – painless, devoid of oppressive burdens and of irksome tasks.

[T]he fundamental activity that is involved in every kind of genuine learning is intellectual activity, the activity generally known as thinking. Any learning which takes place without thinking is necessarily of the sort I have called external and additive – learning passively acquired, for which the common name is “information.” Without thinking, the kind of learning which transforms a mind, gives it new insights, enlightens it, deepens understanding, elevates the spirit simply cannot occur.  Anyone who has done any thinking, even a little bit, knows that it is painful. It is hard work – in fact the very hardest that human beings are ever called upon to do. It is fatiguing, not refreshing. … Far from trying to make the whole process painless from beginning to end, we must promise them the pleasure of achievement as a reward to be reached only through travail.

I do not know…whether it [radio and television] can ever do what the best teachers have always done and must now be doing; namely, to present programs which are genuinely educative, as opposed to merely stimulating, in the sense that following them requires the listener to be active not passive, to think rather than remember, and to suffer all the pains of lifting himself up by his own bootstraps.

Unless we acknowledge that every invitation to learning can promise pleasure only as the result of pain, can offer achievement only at the expense of work, all of our invitations to learning, in school and out, whether by books, lectures, or radio and television programs will be as much buncombe as the worst patent medicine advertising, or the campaign pledge to put two chickens in every pot. 

I particularly like what he says about teaching over people’s head.  While this practice is usually condemned, Adler argues it is absolutely essential to good education:

[W]e must have no fears about what is “over the public’s head.” Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up the ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles. The school system which caters to the median child, or worse, to the lower half of the class; the lecturer before adults…who talks down to his audience; the radio or television program which tries to hit the lowest common denominator of popular receptivity – all these defeat the prime purpose of education by taking people as they are and leaving them just there.

I couldn’t agree more.  People need to be intellectually challenged if they are ever to grow intellectually.  That’s not to say we should speak in words they do not understand (at least without defining those words for them), or that we do not appeal to their existing knowledge base, but it is to say that we shouldn’t always be covering the ABCs.  It’s appropriate to move on to higher letters in the alphabet.  Christians need to be weaned from theological milk, and learn to eat some theological steak.  Otherwise, they’ll be condemned to being Peter Pan Christians for the rest of their lives.