Culture > Books

Books: Back-to-school daze

Books | Supplies for parents and college students

Issue: "School-to-Work debate," Sept. 5, 1998

You may think you've finished shopping for school supplies for the coming academic year. But I have come across two excellent books that will do more to prepare you and the student in your family for the coming challenges than an entire box of 64 crayons, complete with built-in sharpener.

The first title is one of the strongest books to be released at this summer's Christian Booksellers Convention in Dallas. World Proofing Your Kids, by Lael F. Arrington, a Texas pastor's wife, is jam-packed with answers for moms who have worries about sending their kids off to school. In secular bookstores, dozens of titles offer to assuage "mommy guilt." This book addresses something much more meaningful-"mommy dread," the hunch that kids are going out into a dangerous and faith-hating world.

The first step is to crystallize the hunch-to help parents put their finger on what's wrong. This can be done in an overbearing, frightening, apocalyptic fashion (as Robert Bork tends to do), or it can be done with a touch of humor to lighten the burden. This is Mrs. Arrington's way. She writes her book specifically for parents who "picked up one of Francis Schaeffer's books to read, and by the fourth page you found yourself wondering if the socks you just put in the wash are going to bleed on your husband's favorite T-shirt."

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She writes for parents who "think a multiculturalist is someone who subscribes to the symphony, the ballet, and the opera." Her real talent is translating Schaeffer, Darwin, Woody Allen, and even Carl Sagan for soccer moms.

"The belief that man should make the rules is called moral relativism," she writes. "Even though they may not know that label, this is what many of our children's teachers and friends believe. Truth may differ from time to time and place to place."

She fearlessly hits the issues our kids are grappling with: "If our children are to thrive and successfully navigate the postmodern rapids ahead, they need hope," she says. "This hope must be based on faith in God's tender love for them and confidence in the truth of His Word."

The second title, Guide for the College Bound, is by Larry Linamen, provost of Dallas Baptist University. Don't wait until March of a student's senior year to grab this one; it's better for consulting throughout high school.

The book covers much ground usually ignored by vapid, slang-laden get-ready-for-college-dude guides. He warns, "From gay rights and coed dorms to religion and technology, the atmosphere on college campuses is changing." Even historically Christian colleges must be evaluated carefully.

In fact, the book's most useful chapter is called "A Match Made in Heaven: Knowing a Christian College When You See One." He warns about "Kum Ba Ya" colleges, whose preview weekends make college life sound like summer camp, and schools "founded on a Christian heritage" that have since drifted.

Look for mission statements and statements of faith signed by faculty members, he says. Look at a list of chapel programs; look for signs that faith is integrated with learning.

Most of the book is similarly practical and theologically sound, and it is amply spiced with humor. (I particularly liked the letter from a parent, the sort of letter all freshmen fear they'll receive, which began, "I am writing this slow because I know that you can't read fast. We don't live where we did when you left home for college.... I won't be able to send you the address, as the last family that lived here took the house numbers when they left.")

Particularly pertinent for near-future freshmen is a section on how to gather information on financial aid, the 12 best questions to ask a college recruiter, and how to navigate a campus visit.

If I have any criticism, it is that Mr. Linamen's chapter on college accreditation is a little heavy-handed. He doesn't address the political nature of the regional accreditation agencies. Still, he rightly points out that lots of schools without regional accreditation (Harvard and Bob Jones University, for example) offer valuable degrees and that the chief end of education is knowledge, not a diploma.


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