The Monster of Materialism

Having mapped out a large number of possible motivations for learning, and having then blogged my way through the external motivations, and having started in on the internal ones by addressing the fear of ignorance, I pick up now with a second fear, that of materialism.  By this I mean the fear most of us have of not having enough money to meet our needs, followed closely but differently by the appetite to consume ever more things to find happiness.  The fear of not having enough is dealt with here; the appetitive issue of consumerism will come later.

I believe many students are motivated to learn in order to earn.  I am often faced with the question, “How will I use this in a job?” which is loosely translated into the modern vernacular as, “How can I turn this into money?”  The student is motivated by the earning power of his learning.  To the extent that he is dealing with the fact that they want to grow up and become self-supportive, this is a good motivation.  But it is shortsighted at best.  Some learning is designed to make one a good wage earner, but we used to refer to these abilities and studies as the servile or manual arts.  And they did not require a college education.  They required apprenticing to a master who already knew those specific arts.


The kind of learning that once upon a time sent young people up into the university was the kind which demanded they pursue the liberal or freeing arts: those studies that suited them to professions of leadership, and yes, often good money.  Somewhere along the line we got confused and started thinking a college degree meant better money.  More on that later.

For now it is enough to contemplate that real learning can occur when a student wants the reward of a good job.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be paid well enough to care for himself and those dependent upon him.  But this is a lower goal than that of seeking learning for other even higher and nobler reasons.  These internal motivations will bring about a life that should be able to “make a living” even while living for something more than a paycheck.

As far as it goes, fear of this sort is helpful for keeping a young person focused on his studies, but only as it brings obvious progress toward a good paying job.  The teacher will continue to hear the questions about how learning is associated with earning as long as this is the prevailing motivation for his learning.  Calling the student to something higher and nobler seems the best way to help both student and teacher move the lessons beyond the mere “color of money.”  Our next contemplation will be on the fear of other’s expectations.


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