Send bears, not sheep

College survival suggestions from students and parents

Issue: "Stand in the gap," Oct. 18, 1997

God's grace: that's the lesson inherent in many of the 200 letters received in response to "The tragedy of American college education" (Aug. 23/30). Amazingly, as sheep are about to eaten up by wolves in shepherd's clothing, the Good Shepherd calls them, and his sheep follow that strong voice. But does that mean we pay no attention to the wolves? Should we be sinfully complacent, so that grace might more abound? By no means.

How can students be better prepared? Frank Raymund suggested, "Don't send sheep, send bears." When he arrived at the University of Chicago during the 1980s, he already had been exposed to C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer and was able to debate atheistic students and professors. He also had stood up against peer group pressures in high school, "so I knew it doesn't kill you. Consequently, at college, no one could pressure me into drinking."

Chad Sobotka wrote that in high school his mind "was focused on getting to college and not what to do once I got there. I was a ship without a rudder." He entered a Christian college but found that "in my dorm drinking was prevalent, so I started. All of my friends drank; I hardly knew anyone who didn't. Many people I knew also used drugs. As a result my grades slipped."

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God preserved Chad, however: The following year he "attended a local junior college. I went to college full time and worked full time. It was during this time that I started asking serious questions about my life. I didn't question my faith but rather questioned why I believe what I do. This is my greatest piece of advice for all high-schoolers: Study why you believe what you do.... I emerged with rock-solid faith."

Many correspondents stressed the importance of good Christian schools and homeschools, strong preaching and teaching in churches, family discussion over the years of issues likely to arise in college, and programs such as those offered by Summit Ministries (Manitou Springs, Colo.) and Dallas-based Probe Ministries. They also wrote about churches and campus groups in their college towns. University of Florida senior Nathan Shackles observed that "most of my 'higher' education takes place outside of academia in my community church, Reformed University Fellowship, [and] personal study."

Other writers looked at choice of major. Carl and Carol Shafer from Matthews, N.C., emphasized business majors: "It would be great to be able to have the student get a classical education along with the business. But in this day a classical education comes in the form of liberal, liberal arts." That is often true, although some Bible-centric colleges provide exceptions. The Shafers emphasized the importance of students' working and paying for part of their education, so that they will realize the costs involved and commit themselves to using their time wisely.

Many writers also said that Christians should not overlook questions of cost. Brad Winsted wrote from Atlanta of "recent graduates with a mountain of debt, a lot of head knowledge and little else to show for their expensive sheet of paper." He noted, "I've seen too many young people return from college with a broken string of interpersonal relationships (called divorce preparation), a peer-dependent acceptance cycle, no skills for anything worthwhile, and doubting all aspects of their faith."

The combination of spiritual and financial issues led some writers to consider long-range alternatives. Steve Southwick in Standish, Maine, argued that "the Christian community needs to bend every effort toward creating new workplaces where our adult children can receive apprenticed higher education and then find full-time work." Bob Hardister of Des Moines, a homeschooler with four young daughters, wrote of his hope that colleges will emphasize learning tied to experience.

In the meantime, it often seems that the old joke applies to many colleges and universities: Can't live with them, can't live without them. College will still be the goal for most American teens, and most will attend institutions supposedly secular but actually committed to a gospel opposed to Christ. As Ann Corcoran concluded, "If we really think that college campuses are such dens of iniquity (and they are), then I think that's where we should be going. I think Jesus sees college campuses and his heart breaks."

I feel that often walking around the University of Texas. I esteem the dedicated people who have made many sacrifices to build strong Christian colleges. I sympathize greatly with parents and students making tough decisions this year, and thank all those who wrote about their experiences.

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