A crazy idea

The tragedy of American college education

Issue: "Dirty little secret," Aug. 23, 1997

Here's my crackpot notion for the week: Why not yank thousands of young people out of their communities and plop them down for four years in a new setting? They would be away from the families and churches that taught them right from wrong and held them responsible. They would learn mostly from folks their own age. Oh, in this crazy scheme they would see adults for a few hours a week, often in movie theater environments called "lecture classrooms." Otherwise, they would be encouraged to develop their own peer-driven customs and rules. (We would subtly suggest one of them by placing condom machines close to their beds.) Yipes-not an original idea, you say? It's already being done? It's called "college"? No way-parents wouldn't be so crazy and crass as to risk the development of their children in that way, even if someone were paying them lots of money to do so. You say the parents are not being paid anything? You say college costs are at an all-time high while the average national college workload is at an all-time low? (Students spend an average of 29 hours per week in class and doing coursework, compared to 60 hours in the early 1960s.) You say parents are paying tens of thousands of dollars of their own money to place their children in such environments? No way. Way. The evidence is all around us. One new book, Bright College Years: Inside the American Campus Today, by Anne Matthews (Simon & Schuster), describes the orientation sessions to which many new students are subjected: "Guess the number of condoms in the jellybean jar. Come to the Orgasm, Pleasure and Pizza open house." Orientation sessions typically include "mandatory multicultural awareness hours ('bring and discuss a symbol of your ethnicity')." Ms. Matthews notes that some entering students are upset: "'But I'm adopted.' 'No way am I holding up a Polish sausage in class.' Mixed-race students get very quiet." And parents pay big bucks to send their kids to such places? Some even send contributions? Could this be true? Maybe we need Buck Taylor to write fundraising pitches for such places. When Theodore Roosevelt ran for governor of New York in 1898, fresh from his Spanish-American War triumphs, Sergeant Taylor introduced him one day in this fashion: "Ah want to talk to you about muh colonel. He kept ev'y promise he made to us and he will to you. When he took us to Cuba he told us ... we might meet wounds and death and we done it, but he was thar in the midst of us. When it came to the great day he led us up San Juan Hill like sheep to the slaughter and so he will lead you." There's a special sadness in all this for biblical Christians and others who do not bow to the dominant worldview of our era, secular liberalism. How many sheep will these parents be sending to the slaughter during the next few weeks? According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, about one-fourth of freshmen identify themselves as born-again Christians. How many, propagandized subtly and sometimes overtly by atheistic professors, will convert in college to anti-Christian notions? How many will stay true to the faith but will go through the motions to get their tickets punched, gaining little true knowledge? What to do? This is not a call for boycotting secular universities. My oldest son goes to the University of Texas, where I teach. But we see him weekly in a good church and we know of his involvement in Reformed University Fellowship. He's majoring in business, rather than in a field monopolized by leftist professors. I have some idea of what he's studying and what he's up against. And he went to Christian schools. Even though he is protected in this way, it's sad that he won't be exposed to great Christian teachers in the classroom, in a way that would develop his Christian worldview. What's the solution? It's great to say, "Get thee to a Christian college." But they are not immune to cultural drift either. Some seem to be bowing to the idols of the age-and that can be even worse for students than study at a university where at least wolves are not in shepherd's clothing. I do not have an ideal answer for parents and students. I am interested in hearing of your experiences. Could you send letters or e-mail notes (wldmailbag@aol.com) with descriptions of your-or your children's-best, worst, and most surprising experiences at colleges, particularly Christian ones? Which Christian colleges met your expectations for providing a Christ-centered education, and how? Which exhibited merely a baptized secularism? Inquiring minds want to know, both to praise and to question

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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