reprint of the Mar/Apr 1993 Free Minds Journal
Watchtower Ban on Education Now "Old Light"
by Randall Watters
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.
Such `wisdom' adds nothing to the stature of an individual as a minister of Jehovah ... 1
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 high‑paying 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 3‑8 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:
Parents who are Jehovah's witnesses have another very sound reason for channeling their children's lives into useful trades. They know from fulfilled Bible prophecy that today's industrial society is near its end. Soon it will be given its death stroke by Almighty God himself. After that, in God's new order a reconstruction work will be done to transform this entire earth into a paradise. Trades of many types will be very useful then, as will skills in agriculture and homemaking. So by guiding their children away from the so‑called 'higher' education of today, these parents spare their children exposure to an increasingly demoralizing atmosphere, and at the same time prepare them for life in a new system as well. 3
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.
Many schools now have student counselors who encourage one to pursue higher education after high school, to pursue a career with a future in this system of things. Do not be influenced by them. Do not let them "brainwash" you with the Devil's propaganda to get ahead, to make something of yourself in this world. The world has very little time left! Any "future" this world offers is no future! ... Make pioneer service, the full‑time ministry, with the possibility of Bethel or missionary service your goal. This is a life that offers an everlasting future! 4
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.
Today, there are many teenage baptized servants of Jehovah.... how far should they go with a secular education? It would hardly be consistent for such a youth, of his own choice, to pursue extensive secular studies beyond what is required by the law and by his parents. ... additional years of college education may present snares. 5
The benefits of a university education are often not worth the cost." 6
With `the world passing away,' a career based upon worldly ambitions is most unrealistic. Bible prophecy indicates how short‑lived such a career would be. 7
You graduate from college with dreams for the future. Sadly, most of your aspirations will turn to ashes. I don't want to demoralize you, but you might as well hear the truth: When you acquire the possessions you covet, if you acquire them, and when you achieve the successes you pursue, if you achieve them, they won't satisfy you. Instead, at those very moments when you would expect to be reveling in triumph, you will feel empty rather than fulfilled, depressed rather than elated, agitated rather than peaceful.' 8
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:
I hope young people who read the article (January 8, 1987 Awake! p. 151) realize that a college education prepares you for absolutely nothing. I look back and regret those years of my life. 9
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 time is short. It can be spent most profitably in serving our Creator--ED. 10
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.
A university degree may or may not improve your employment prospects. But one fact is indisputable: "The time left is reduced"! For all its presumed benefits, would four years or more in a university be the best use of that remaining time? 11
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.
'There are activities available that may be more beneficial than working. These activities include reading and studying outside of school and taking on the responsibilities of unpaid volunteer work or community service.' Nina, for example, performs a most valuable community service after school as a full‑time minister of Jehovah's Witnesses. She says: "I worked it out with my guidance counselor to have a short school day so I would get out of school near noon. Monday through Wednesday I go out in the public preaching work. I love doing it. I just love it." Would your schedule and personal circumstances permit you to do likewise? Developing "Godly devotion" in this way would no doubt prove to be far more beneficial than working at some job! 12
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.
This seems, therefore, to be an appropriate time to consider the Christian's attitude toward secular education. What Bible principles bear on this subject? First, in most countries proper submission to "Caesar" requires Christian parents to send their children to school.... A second principle involved is that Christians should be able to support themselves, even if they are full‑time pioneer ministers. If married, a man should be able to provide properly for his wife and any children that may be born, with a little extra to give to those in need and to support the local and worldwide preaching work.
How much education does a young Christian need in order to respect these Bible principles and meet his Christian obligations? This varies from country to country. By and large, however, it seems that the general trend in many lands is that the level of schooling required to earn decent wages is now higher than it was a few years ago. Reports received from branches of the Watch Tower Society in different parts of the world indicate that in many places it is difficult to find jobs with decent wages after completing simply the minimum schooling required by law or in some countries even after finishing secondary or high school.
What is meant by "decent wages"? It does not indicate highly paid jobs. Webster's Dictionary defines "decent" in this context as "adequate, satisfactory." What might be termed "adequate," for instance, for those who wish to be pioneer ministers of the good news? Such ones generally need part‑time work to avoid putting "an expensive burden" upon their brothers or their family. Their wages might be termed "adequate," or "satisfactory" if what they earn allows them to live decently while leaving them sufficient time and strength to accomplish their Christian ministry.
What is often the situation today? It has been reported that in some countries many well‑intentioned youngsters have left school after completing the minimum required schooling in order to become pioneers. They had no trade or secular qualifications. If they were not helped by their parents, they had to find part‑time work. Some have had to accept jobs that required them to work very long hours to make ends meet. Becoming physically exhausted, they gave up the pioneer ministry. What can such ones do to support themselves and get back into the pioneer service?
... Christians should regard education as a means to an end. In these last days, their purpose is to serve Jehovah as much and as effectively as possible. If, in the country where they live, minimal or even high school education will only allow them to find jobs providing insufficient income to support themselves as pioneers, then supplementary education or training might be considered. This would be with the specific goal of full‑time service.
... "We have quite a number who are studying and at the same time have been able to arrange their schedules to pioneer. Generally they become better publishers as they are more studious, provided they do not become overly ambitious in worldly pursuits." The last remark should give us reason to reflect. The purpose of the extra schooling, where this seems necessary, must not be lost sight of or changed into a materialistic goal.
... If Christian parents responsibly decide to provide their children with further education after high school, that is their prerogative. The period of these studies would vary according to the type of trade or occupation selected. For financial reasons and in order to enable their children to get into the full‑time service as quickly as possible, many Christian parents have chosen for them short‑term study programs in vocational or technical schools. In some cases youths have needed to be apprenticed to some trade but always with a full life of service to Jehovah as the goal.
... This magazine has placed emphasis on the dangers of higher learning, and justifiably so, for much higher education opposes the "healthful teaching" of the Bible. Further, since the 1960's, many schools of advanced learning have become hotbeds of lawlessness and immorality. "The faithful and discrete slave" has strongly discouraged entering that kind of environment. It must be admitted, however, that nowadays youngsters meet up with these same dangers in high schools and technical colleges and even in the workplace. 13
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 part‑time employment and begin his full‑time 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 part‑time 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 full‑time 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 full‑time ministry. On the other hand, if this young person had gone directly into the full‑time 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. 75‑76. 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 168‑173 titled "What Influences Decisions in Your Life?". Quote is from p. 171.
5 The Watchtower, September 1, 1975, Questions From Readers, pages 542‑544. 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 12‑15 titled "Education‑What It Costs, What It Offers". Quote is from page 13.
7 Awake! magazine, March 22, 1985, Article on pages 16‑18 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 12‑14 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 25‑27 titled "Will An After-school Job Help Me Grow Up?" Quote is from p. 27.
13 The Watchtower, November 1, 1992, pp. 16‑20.
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