St. Thomas Aquinas taught me quite a lot about the differences between secondary and primary ends. Aquinas frequently referenced secondary ends as meaningful only to the extent that their achievement is ordered towards the accomplishment of the primary end. He applied this principle to philosophy, theology, and of course morality. Now that our journey has begun, I would like to take a moment to illustrate the implications of this educational and formative journey of a school year by consulting Aquinas.
Secondary goals usually deal with the 'how' of the journey. These are merely steps along the way that can either bring about the ultimate end or divert the journey. Homework, athletics, projects, and even tests can be considered secondary ends. The primary end encompasses the 'why', and even though the primary end may not be achieved in the immediate future, Aquinas stated that it demands our complete and undivided attention. Every action hinges on whether or not it is properly ordered to the ultimate end. The ultimate end of education is simply sanctification and salvation: God has merited for us the gift of heaven, and with his grace, we can more fully participate in his life-giving plan of mercy; a plan that is intended for all people.
The current ideology in the culture does not think this way. More and more cultural pressures push us to tell our children to simply focus on secondary ends, and we often forget the unmistakable purpose of even bringing life into this world: to bring others to a truly fulfilling life, by loving in such a manner that our lives become a gift offered for them. Parents don't love children based on reason alone: it doesn't make sense to skip sleep, because we wake up the next day exhausted. But the pain of the secondary end produces more joy in the long-term.
Seeking secondary ends as goods in themselves leads to disorder. Now that I have begun counseling seniors on their post graduation plans, I will remind them of this simple truth: don't settle for the mediocrity of merely achieving secondary goals. "Education is increasingly seen not as a means for developing meaningful skills, cultivating prudence, or broadening one’s moral outlook. It is simply another ‘system’ to be gamed. . . .Students know they need something called a ‘degree,’ but it represents nothing more than a ticket to something else" (Randall Smith). I think students need to know that a degree is merely a secondary end, and as such, if that secondary end drives all decisions, we won't be as fulfilled as God intends us to be. Instead, we will miss out on the joy of really achieving a goal that takes a great deal of time, dedication, sacrifice, and selflessness.
The man who put my life back on track - Anthony Esolen - really captured that a classical curriculum avoids a "truncated" view of man: "A classical curriculum does not propose that a student merely “shake hands” and develop a passing acquaintance with the greatest thinkers, the greatest artists, saints, and prophets, but rather that he becomes so wholly habituated to their thoughts and words, their prayers and psalms, their masterpieces of art and music, that he himself becomes like those great people."
After all, we want our children to be great people, not merely engineers, nurses, business owners, or even mothers and fathers.
Please join me in praying for the grace to persevere to greatness!
Yours Truly In Christ,