reprint of the Mar/Apr 1993 Free Minds Journal
by Earl Hulbert
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has recently reversed another of its long-standing positions. This author has researched the Society's publications and found that, as far back as 1890, they taught that education, especially "higher" education beyond high school is undesirable and a waste of valuable time. Those publications cite a number of reasons to avoid a college education, ranging from allegations made in 1890 that education increases criminal behavior, insanity, and a higher poverty rate to more recent warnings of the dangers of being found overqualified for employment. Witnesses who allowed their children to attend college have been looked on as "spiritually weak" and may have been limited in privileges or associations with other members of the congregation. The following quotations are typical of the dozens of articles the Watchtower has printed on the subject.
Higher Education Not Helpful
The first quotation demonstrates the common Watchtower belief that wisdom gained by education is not helpful to one's abilities to be a minister of Jehovah.
College Education Distracts from Preaching Work
The next quotation is typical of many that express the worry that education and exposure to college influences will lead one to seek a highpaying career and the material things that money can buy. This would mean one would put less emphasis and time into the work of preaching Watchtower doctrine and distributing their literature. Parents are cautioned about contributing to this attitude, too.
Young people, for example, are easily influenced by the materialistic outlook of the world around them, and especially is this true if their parents are inclined to value highly the ability to command a big salary in the business world. As a result, they may set their hearts on the education that is offered by the world's institutions of "higher learning." Their desire is not simply to learn a trade so that they can work with their hands and not be a burden on others; no, they want to be in an upper income bracket. But what is wrong with that? Jesus frankly said that it would be more difficult for a rich man to get into the Kingdom than for a camel to get through the eye of a sewing needle. Rather than being content with "sustenance and covering," those who devote themselves to getting a "higher education" usually want to be able to enjoy the "rest of the things" that money can buy. 2
"Higher" Education not Needed in God's New Order
In the June 8, 1967 issue, the Awake! magazine printed an article on pages 38 entitled "Second Thoughts About a College Education." This article painted a sorry picture of inadequate teachers and courses, financially strapped colleges, violent and immoral climates in schools, heavy drug use, and atheistic attitudes prevailing in colleges. It went on to say that job opportunities for college educated people were very poor, with work not requiring higher education often paying more. This article was written during the push for 1975, and along with many other articles written between 1966 and 1975 highlighted the idea that the end was so near that education would be a foolish waste of time. Education would not be needed in the new world. With the end so near, trades would be more useful in the new order than education. Here is a quote from that article:
Higher Education part of "Devil's Propaganda"
The following quotation from a 1969 Watchtower article hints at how strongly the Society opposed higher learning. Making something of yourself is here classed as "Devil's propaganda." Notice the continuing theme that time is too short to waste it on education. They, claim that the only work with a future is Watchtower service.
1975 Sees a Softening in Watchtower Position
After 1975, college being a waste of time because of the "nearness of the end" is not stressed as strongly. Instead, warnings of the dangers of college are made over and over.
In 1987, the Awake! magazine "From Our Readers" section printed a letter which commented on the above article. This letter contained the following disapproval of college education:
In the late 1980's the Society again began using the shortness of time as a reason to avoid further education. In a 1988 Awake! magazine "From Our Readers" letter, the question was whether to pursue a college education or not. The Watchtower's answer included the following:
The following article, which was also used in the book, Questions Young People Ask Answers That Work leaves little doubt about their opinion of the value of a college education.
Young People Encouraged to Shorten Time at High School
The Watchtower Society even encourages young people to spend less time on their normal high school education. The following is one of several articles they wrote that suggests shortening the school day to allow more time for the Society's interests.
Oops, New Light: College Education is OK!
All this disapproval of a college education has now been replaced with a conditional approval of higher education. In The Watchtower of November 1, 1992, both study articles and one short reading article were on the subject of education. The first study article, pages 10 through 15 entitled "Education in Bible Times," was devoted to a discourse on education in Old Testament times, with the last two paragraphs covering New Testament times. The second study article, pages 15 through 22 covered educational needs in our modern times. The quotations below come from this second article. The third article, on pages 21 and 22, discussed the educational background of the apostle Paul.
With the Watchtower Society now approving the use of a young person's life in pursuit of further education, this author wonders what has happened to the Society's insistence that the end of "this system of things" is very near? If four years can be assigned to education at the high cost of college today, then sufficient time must remain after the end of that four years to make that commitment financially worthwhile. The young person must be able to work several years after college to repay the cost of the education and, in addition, save the money necessary for him to drop back to parttime employment and begin his fulltime ministry. This may involve having suitable housing and transportation already paid for. Would four years be enough to repay the cost of college? Would he then be far enough ahead to allow him to live on the proceeds of parttime work at "decent wages?" Or would he require more years of work to obtain the material resources necessary to carry on his ministry? Taking some of the above considerations into account we could figure that a young person starting college in the fall of 1993 (the first school year after the Watchtower approval of higher education) would graduate in the spring of 1997. Then we have to figure in the time necessary to pay back the cost of his education and build up the financial resources required to begin his fulltime ministry, which could take anywhere from eight to ten years, or more. If he gets married we would have to add in more time. It is now at least 2005 and that young person is just starting his fulltime ministry. On the other hand, if this young person had gone directly into the fulltime service, perhaps with financial help from his family, he could by now have at least twelve years in pioneer service, Bethel, or missionary work. The Society would have to expect to have that "lost" time, and more, made up, presumably with greater efficiency. This would take us to at least the year 2017. At 103 or more years after 1914 we would have to wonder what became of the generation that saw that year?
In the past the Watchtower Society has not made changes that negatively impact their efforts. If they approve of college education, we can be sure there is some benefit for the Society.
1 The Watchtower, May 15, 1956 p. 315. Article entitled "Careful Living Helps Avoid Life's Pitfalls," subheading "Advanced Education".
2 The Watchtower, February 1, 1967, pp. 7576. Article entitled "Fruitful Christians Manifest Godly Contentment", subheading "Do Spiritual Interests Come First in Your Life?".
3 Awake!, June 8, 1967, p. 8.
4 The Watchtower, March 15, 1969, Article on pages 168173 titled "What Influences Decisions in Your Life?". Quote is from p. 171.
5 The Watchtower, September 1, 1975, Questions From Readers, pages 542544. Quote is from p. 543.
6 The Watchtower, July 15, 1982, Article on page II titled "A Wise View of Education", second article on pages 1215 titled "EducationWhat It Costs, What It Offers". Quote is from page 13.
7 Awake! magazine, March 22, 1985, Article on pages 1618 titled "How Do I Choose a Career?" Quote is from p. 18.
8 Awake! magazine, January 8, 1987, from the article on page. 15 titled "College Education A Preparation for What?"
9 Awake! magazine, August 22, 1987, p. 28.
10 Awake! magazine, January 22, 1988 p. 28.
11 Awake! magazine, May 8, 1989, article on pages 1214 titled "What Career Should I Choose?". Quote is from p. 13. NOTE: An identical quote is contained in the 1989 book, Questions Young People Ask Answers That Work on p. 177.
12 Awake! magazine, November 22, 1990, article on pages 2527 titled "Will An After-school Job Help Me Grow Up?" Quote is from p. 27.
13 The Watchtower, November 1, 1992, pp. 1620.
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