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Machen on Education for Personal Fulfillment

“I think the man who above all others should be pitied is the man who has never learned how to amuse himself without mechanical assistance when he is alone. Even babies are sometimes taught to amuse themselves. I remember when I was at Princeton I used to watch the baby of one of the professors on the Seminary campus. That self-reliant little mite of humanity would spend the entire morning in the middle of that great green expanse, all by himself, and yet in the most complete contentment and in the most perfect safety. He was early learning the great lesson how to use his leisure time. He did not need to have anybody else rattle his rattle for him. Thank you, if he needed a rattle at all he could rattle his own rattle for himself. He was getting a good preparation for life. A person who can rattle his own rattle when he is a baby is very apt to be able to paddle his own canoe when he becomes a man.

“The average American, however, remains a baby all his life. He is unable even to rattle his own rattle. He has to have somebody else amuse him all the time. Leave him alone for five minutes, and he has to turn on his radio. It seems to make very little difference to him what the radio gives forth. All he wants is that some kind of physical impact shall be made on his eardrums—and incidentally on everybody else’s eardrums—just to keep him from having one moment to himself. Turn off his radio even for a moment and the appalling emptiness of his life is at once revealed.

“What is the explanation of this emptiness of American life? The explanation is that the average American is not educated. An uneducated man shrinks from quiet. An educated man longs for it. Leave an educated man alone, and he has, for one thing, the never-failing resource of reading. He has that resource in his home; he may even carry it around in his pocket. Mr. Loeb has done more for the cause of true education with his pocket editions of the classics than have the founders of many universities. Even more truly educated is the man who does not need even the prop of pocket editions, but can draw at any moment, in meditation, upon the resources of a well-stocked mind.”

— J. Gresham Machen, from Education, Christianity, and the State, excerpt reprinted in “Men versus Machines,” The Freeman, Sept. 1992.

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