Monday, November 27, 2017
Betrayed by our universities. . .
Now, hundreds of years later, we find ourselves in a different spot. A university education is one of the most costly purchases a person will make in their lifetime. Our economy is shadowed by student debt that hangs over graduates at the same time many wonder if any of it will ever be repaid. Business complains that the educational process is not practical enough and it should be directed less at education than at training for jobs. The process is taking longer and longer -- in part spurred by the indecision of students and the need to start over when majors change and also because it is great fun to live on somebody else's dime the life of leisure within the carefully controlled atmosphere of a campus. Besides, many are not sure they will find a job they like that pays what they want, anyway. The typical campus is no longer a place where there is a free exchange of ideas and has become the domain of the politically correct who espouse progressive liberalism. Students behave like spoiled brats in demanding the classes they want to take, the grades they want to receive, and the teachers whom they want to take. On top of it all, entrepreneurs are building a whole new university system in which no one really goes to college but the university lives in a virtual world and classes are online. Would Jefferson recognize the university today?
Underneath it all, however, the problem is less political than it is educational. We no longer have a core curriculum that unites many majors and minors. Knowledge is no longer the real goal and the graduates have been taught some things but not necessarily to think and have certainly not been given a thorough intellectual preparation. If our colleges and universities cannot make a coherent argument for what was once called a liberal arts education or articulate for an integrated core curriculum, then perhaps it would be better and certainly cheaper to put many of these students into tech schools or trade schools. If those same institutions, now working so hard to promote a self-described valueless view of education, cannot coherently describe the role of moral and spiritual formation as a partner to the free enterprise of inquiry, then they have failed in the foundational endeavor for which they exist. Again, we ought to think twice about putting parents or students into debt for a piece of paper that means a great deal in academia but not so much in life.
Listen to the way the products of our universities speak, how difficult it is for them to think and write cogently and coherently, and how ill-equipped they are of history, rhetoric, and logic. We complain about fake news but in many of schools of higher education our kids are learning fake truths about the past and present and therefore making faulty decisions about the future. Before we turn them all into job training programs for vocations that may not even exist four to six years from now, maybe we ought to reconsider the original role and purpose of a college education. Maybe we ought to instill a love for learning, the values to judge ideas, the broad perspective of history that informs the present, and the language skills to articulate well that past, address the present, and shape the future.
If this is a problem for secular schools, it is no less a problem for the Christian college and the Lutheran university. These must be more than a secular institution with a chapel. Our values and our vision, steeped in Christian history and informed by the living Word of God, should direct us even more to the noble pursuit of learning and the worthy purpose of education. Otherwise our religious institutions of higher education will become the domains of the very few who can afford them and the fewer still who think that the only faith has to offer the grand scheme of life is some window dressing.