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The Key of knowledge

Without it, fads become dogma


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You may not think much of New Testament Pharisees, but spare a little sympathy for the one who invited Jesus to dinner and spent the evening being insulted by his famous guest (Luke 11:37-52). After ­listening to Jesus pronounce woes on the Pharisees for their hypocritical piety and misplaced priorities, a lawyer spoke up in solidarity: “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.”

Glad to oblige: “Woe to you lawyers, also!” Their specialty was loading the people with obligations they themselves did not deign to carry. “You have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

What did He mean by “the key of knowledge”? The term reminded me of an article in the web magazine Quillette called “The Emptiness of Constructivist Thinking.”

Constructivism is an intellectual trend that overtook the university around the middle of the last century. Deconstruction, postmodernism, and critical theory (with its many offshoots) are its ideological spawn. Even if you’re not familiar with those terms you may confront them daily, because constructivism became the foundational doctrine of today’s education establishment.

Think of “construct” and you have the gist: that “knowledge” is not an objective value but rather is ­created by individuals reacting to the information they receive. That information has no reality or meaning in itself; only as the individual perceives it. What earlier ages understood as common sense, constructivism takes to be merely a “social construct,” or a majority of individuals perceiving the same way.

Constructivism owes its philosophical root to the idealism of George Berkeley, an 18th-century Anglican bishop, who posited that reality did not exist outside the individual’s ability to comprehend it. But Berkeley believed in an ultimate Mind, to which all human minds should conform. Constructivism defers not to Mind but minds: millions of them, all constructing their own knowledge. If opposing thumbs or photosynthesis or binary sex don’t fit into an individual worldview, they don’t exist. Nor does the truth; only my truth.

It’s obvious that each person perceives differently, depending on a multitude of factors. But constructivism seems to confuse knowledge with learning. Learning is a personal process; knowledge is the pool of human understanding collected over centuries. Or so it used to be.

Constructivism imagines the student in a world without form—and void until he or she creates it. Hence, the “emptiness” of the theory. In reality, no one is equipped to make up meaning for themselves—by ­definition, meaning is found outside the self. If people don’t find it in tradition and faith, they “construct” a grab bag of the latest sociological fads.

And here’s where constructivism comes full circle to bite itself. A society doesn’t function well without some prevailing notion of virtue and value, so fads become dogma—the latest being our obsessions with gender ideology and racism. Why are medical-school professors side-stepping such loaded terms as “man” and “woman”? Why do time-honored qualities like punctuality and hard work get labeled as white supremacy? Education has lost its way because, in subjectivizing knowledge, the purveyors of knowledge lost the Key.

My grammar check thinks I’m using the wrong preposition. Don’t I mean “key to knowledge”? Well, no, MS Word—when Christ used that preposition He was talking about himself, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). True knowledge has a source, and a beginning, the fear of the Lord. Bypassing the Lord to make knowledge all about Me leads to arrogance, solipsism, and ultimately, delusion.

Christian parents are shocked when their kids start identifying themselves with preferred pronouns, but that’s just the latest manifestation of manipulating knowledge. We may need to start asking ourselves where we left our Key.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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