Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Honesty & Integrity in Higher Education

As a new academic year approaches, I continue to be grateful for the liberty I have to teach from my Christian conservative perspective. At my university, I don’t have to tread carefully; I can fully expound on Biblical principles and make application to the courses I offer.

Professors at secular universities who have my perspective are not always so blessed. Neither are the students who swim against the progressive tide at those places:

Even guest speakers who go against the prevailing orthodoxy on campuses are experiencing hostility. Most often this is directed at conservatives who are invited to share at an event, but I recently noticed a fascinating divergence from the usual: Richard Dawkins, the outspoken atheist, had an invitation to speak at Berkeley withdrawn. Why? He had made comments critical of Islam.

Liberals love clichés, especially ones about freedom of speech, etc. The reality is somewhat different than their self-righteous pronouncements:

While my university does have a definite statement of faith that all professors must sign, that covers only the basics of Christian doctrine. There is room for discussion on many issues, as long as that discussion is based on those basic beliefs.

Take history, for instance—my subject. There are many questions that arise from a Christian standpoint when looking at the history of America. What about slavery? What are the real reasons for why we had a civil war? Was big business good for the nation or a detriment? What are the proper limits for civil government? Was it right to engage in a particular war? What about the dropping of those atomic bombs on Japan? Can that be justified?

Christians will differ on some of those issues. I have definite views. My study of history from my Biblical perspective leads me to believe that there was a lot of Christian influence, especially in early America. I also like to highlight people and events that bolster that viewpoint.

Yet that doesn’t mean I whitewash history to make it conform to my preconceived notions. While I would like for Thomas Jefferson to have been a Christian, I have to tell students that the evidence indicates he wasn’t. Many people love Andrew Jackson, but I frankly abhor much of what he did. Southern partisans praise Stonewall Jackson; my praise is muted, to say the least.

It has become fashionable to decry all of American history because of some of the blemishes in our character that have occurred, but we need to be more nuanced than that:

Honesty. Integrity. Those are my guidelines when teaching.

If only those were the guidelines for most of American higher education.

Open & Closed Minds

I teach at a Christian university. A concern I’ve expressed before in this blog is that sometimes Christian academics have a tendency to think they are lesser scholars than those in the more prestigious centers of higher education. Then they make the mistake of trying to become respected by secular academia by minimizing their faith publicly.

I’m not saying that’s the norm for Christian academics, but it is a temptation for some. There sometimes is a haughtiness emanating from the confines of Ivy League and other “top” schools that tells us we don’t really match up.

However, God disagrees. We’re told in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That last verse goes on to say, “And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

When we jettison that first step—reverence for God—we set out on a path that leads to foolishness, not genuine knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

It’s as C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity:

There is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source.

When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

All the talk in circles of higher education of having an open mind sounds nice. Sometimes, those of us who teach at a university that has a basic statement of beliefs are considered close-minded. Yet as Lewis reminds us in his The Abolition of Man,

An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.

I’m reminded also of an incident related by Whittaker Chambers in his autobiography, Witness. As a child, he once said something to his mother about God creating the world. His mother, decidedly nonreligious, told him that he had to think for himself, to have an open mind. He was not to accept other people’s opinions, she declared. Then she followed that with this statement: “The world was formed by gases cooling in space.”

Chambers continued,

I thought about this many times. But it was not the gaseous theory of creation that impressed me. . . . What impressed me was that it was an opinion, too, since other people believed something else. Then, why had my mother told me what to think? Clearly, if the open mind was open . . . truth was simply a question of which opening you preferred.

In effect, the open mind was always closed at one end.

I have no problem saying I begin my understanding of history (which is what I teach) with the knowledge of God. After all, history came into being by His creation. Why would I ever omit Him from an analysis of history?

My mind is open when it comes to the facts of history and whether I need to change my perspective on particular events. My mind is blessedly closed, though, on matters of ultimate significance. Neither do I suffer from feelings of inferiority for saying that. Staying faithful to God’s truth leads to proper understanding and wisdom.

Lewis’s Oxford-Cambridge Distinction

I watch from afar (via Facebook posts) those who are participating in the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s Oxbridge conference. I already had my England trip this summer; couldn’t afford this one.

It’s nice to relive, through the posts, some of the spots I visited earlier, especially the Kilns. The conference now moves on from Oxford to Cambridge, where Lewis taught in the last decade of his life. I’ve never been there; my bucket list is not yet emptied.

Moving from Oxford to Cambridge was hard for Lewis, even though he was offered a chair created with him in mind, and despite the poor treatment he received at Oxford, primarily from those who could never forgive him for wading into “religious” writing.

At first, he declined the invitation to teach at Cambridge. He was concerned about moving out of the Kilns after making a life there. At the urging of Tolkien and with the permission of Cambridge, he was able to keep the Kilns as his residence and take the train to Cambridge during the week.

His inaugural lecture created a sensation. In it, he spoke of the loss of the heritage of the past. He famously described himself as a dinosaur from whom others might still learn.

If a live dinosaur dragged its slow length into the laboratory, would we not all look back as we fled? What a chance to know at last how it really moved and looked and smelled and what noises it made! . . .

Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.

When he made the actual physical move, transferring all his books to the new university, it took him a while to adjust. Joy Gresham, not yet his wife, helped with the move. As I wrote in my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis (accessed here),

To some friends she wrote of how Lewis was adapting to the move, revealing the emotional wrench it was for him at first, even though he handled his uneasiness with his usual sense of humor:

“Poor lamb, he was suffering all the pangs and qualms of a new boy going to a formidable school—went around muttering, ‘Oh, what a fool I am! I had a good home and I left!’ and turning his mouth down at the corners most pathetical. He always makes his distresses into a joke, but of course there’s a genuine grief in leaving a place like Magdalen after thirty years; rather like a divorce, I imagine.”

Lewis, according to those who knew him at Cambridge, came to love the place. As he wrote to another correspondent, Mary Willis Shelburne, about his new Magdalene College,

It’s a tiny college (a perfect cameo architecturally) and they’re so old fashioned, and pious, and gentle and conservative—unlike this leftist, atheist, cynical, hard-boiled, huge Magdalen. Perhaps from being the fogey and “old woman” here I shall become the enfant terrible there.

I would be interested in knowing if Lewis’s perception of the distinction between Oxford and Cambridge remains today.

Meanwhile, as I enjoy others’ experiences from my vantage point across the ocean, running through my mind is one thought: Oxbridge 2020.

Examining a Paradise Lost

In my ongoing quest to read everything C. S. Lewis wrote, I have not yet gotten to his preface to Paradise Lost, and I decided not to read it until I had first read the poem myself. So I’ve been wading through Milton’s epic.

It’s not an easy read, but I’m getting the hang of it. Every once in a while, I come across some pearls, both theologically and in Milton’s choice of words. For instance, now I’m aware of where one quote comes from that I’ve heard all my life. Here’s a comment from Satan, speaking to the fallen angels who joined in his revolt:

Here at least we shall be free; the almighty hath not built here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in hell: Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.

Later, Milton compose a soliloquy from God the Father to the Son, making it clear who will be to blame if man gives in to sin:

Whose fault? Whose but his own? Ingrate, he had of me all he could have; I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.

Such I created all the ethereal powers and spirits, both them who stood and them who failed; freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.

We always want to blame someone or something else for our failure to obey God. That doesn’t work; we choose our path.

I also found it rather fascinating when Milton attempted to show Satan’s own reaction to the possibility of repenting for what he had done. He gives us an interesting back-and-forth in the mind of Satan as he contemplates the awfulness of his rebellion:

Is there no place left for repentance, none for pardon left? None left but by submission; and that word disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame among the spirits beneath, whom I seduced with other promises and other vaunts than to submit, boasting I could subdue the omnipotent.

Ay me, they little know how dearly I abide that boast so vain, under what torments inwardly I groan: while they adore me on the throne of hell, with diadem and scepter high advanced the lower still I fall, only supreme in misery. . . .

But say I could repent and could obtain by act of grace my former state; how soon would height recall high thoughts, how soon unsay what feigned submission swore: ease would recant vows made in pain, as violent and void.

For never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep: which would but lead me to a worse relapse, and heavier fall.

I’m in book six of twelve and unsure how long it may take to finish, but I’m going to persevere. How often I have personally bemoaned (how’s that for a poetic word rarely used nowadays?) the poor education I received in my formative years. Now, in my sixties, I have this yearning to make up for what I’ve missed.

So, as much as I want to read Lewis’s preface to this work, I believe I have to devote myself to the poem itself first. As I find more pearls, I may share them with you.

Loving & Critiquing Higher Education

You critique what you love. I love education; that’s why I worked hard to get a doctorate in history; that’s why I continue to gain more knowledge and insight with a wide range of reading interests; that’s why I teach at a university. Yet I critique education frequently in these posts because I’m alarmed at the dismal state of learning in this nation.

In particular, since I do teach at the college level, I’m dismayed by what a college degree means now. It’s so much less than it used to mean. I see students walk across the stage at graduation who couldn’t figure out how to pass quizzes in my basic American history survey courses. So many who end up in college just aren’t prepared to be there.

Of course, that the result of an education they did or didn’t receive prior to arriving on campus.

I don’t blame them, in most cases. And if students who are not really ready to be in college nevertheless shows a determination to learn, I’m right there with them. I want them to succeed; after all, I am an educator.

Once they are in college, however, another problem erupts all too often lately. What are they now getting out of their college education? Are they being introduced to Christian principles and morals? Well, not on most campuses anymore. How about at least an appreciation for what Western civilization has created, despite the follies and errors that have accompanied those achievements?

It’s always beneficial to learn from the follies and errors. As a history professor, I keep hoping that lessons from the past can correct wayward policies in our current society.

Alas (that sounds like a good, old-fashioned way of using words), all some students ever hear are diatribes against the past, especially a European-American-centered past. Those Westerners did everything wrong, you see, and we must rebel against it all.

You, as parents, get to pay for this indoctrination. There might be an alternative:

There are so many horrific examples of where we are in higher education that I could pick and choose what to highlight. The most recent one, though, hails from the state of Washington at an institution of supposed higher learning called Evergreen State College near Olympia.

Evergreen, from what I read, began in the 1970s as an “experimental” college. The timing of its origins, as well as the word experimental, are clues to the worldview offered at this place.

Earlier this month, students staged an event where they told white students and white faculty that they should stay away from campus for a day. Apparently, that was supposed to be a teaching moment for how minorities feel marginalized.

One biology professor, Bret Weinstein, dared to criticize this advanced way of thinking. Keep in mind that Weinstein is a liberal/progressive himself. He just thought this was absurd.

The result? Weinstein was castigated for his unenlightened thinking, mobs took over the campus, property was destroyed, and the college had to close its doors for three days due to all the death threats.

This is higher education?

An anomaly, you ask? Not all secular institutions of presumed higher education have gone this far, but the worldview that led to this fiasco dominates most university campuses today.

Try being an open conservative on a secular campus and see what happens. Try being an evangelical Christian on those same campuses and see how you are treated.

But if you are an ardent Marxist, a militant homosexual, an angry feminist, or a radical environmentalist who believes the ecology is more important than people—well, then you fit in nicely.

I’m simply trying to do my part to help my students examine all things through a Biblical lens. I’m hoping they may provide some balance to the dominant worldview.

A Tribute to My Fellow Travelers

It’s time to wrap up my tales from the England trip. I would like to do so by first acknowledging Dr. Linda Linzey, the English literature professor who organized it all and who was a personable and professional colleague with whom it was a delight to undertake this study abroad together.

Second, I want to note that all six young women who participated in this whirlwind tour of England were all that a professor could want—interested, inquisitive, and patient. Patience was a particularly positive trait exhibited by the three ladies in my car. I had helpful navigators (supplementing a sometimes strange GPS) who also kept me from getting too drowsy by engaging in good conversation (when they weren’t napping).

So I’m going to make today’s post a tribute to all of these women who didn’t make me feel like the odd man out, even though I was. Here are some of our group shots (in chronological order).

First, as we were ready to enter Dover Castle:

At Canterbury, the obligatory telephone box photo:

A favorite of the three who graced my car:

Another obligatory picture for all UK visitors, albeit less serious than usual:

At the table in the Bath Pump Room awaiting afternoon tea:

At Oxford, enjoying the Magdalen College atmosphere:

I sneaked in a picture of my carload taking their own pictures of the nature preserve at the Kilns:

With Walter Hooper:

High atop the hill in the Dove Cottage garden:

A third obligatory photo—on Hadrian’s Wall:

Intermission at a superb Vivaldi-Bach-Handel concert in St. Martin’s in the Field church in London:

And finally, waiting for our tour of Parliament:

Look at all those Oxford sweatshirts. I regret not getting one for myself.

They were two weeks to remember—and I always will.

Winning the Semantics War

One thing the American Left has been very good at is winning the semantics war. If you use words that sound appealing, you can mask their true meaning and fool a lot of people. A prime example is Planned Parenthood. That sounds so reasonable; after all, who would be in favor of chaotic parenthood?

The buzzword list keeps growing. It’s incumbent upon those who still use their brains to read between the lines.

Nowhere is this semantics war played out better than on college and university campuses. UC Berkeley students started the game back in the 1960s with the so-called Free Speech Movement. What a masterstroke. By saying they were the ones in favor of free speech, they intimated that the university was squelching speech. History shows that to be false. Neither did any of the “students” who used violence to get their way suffer any reprisals.

What’s really strange is that they get away now with using the same semantics while simultaneously stomping on the free speech of those with whom they disagree.

Few want to say it, but there’s an eerie kind of parallel that can be made historically:

America has always allowed the greatest freedom of speech of any nation. If you are on the Left, you can get away with saying almost anything you want, regardless of the outrageousness of your statement. If you are on the Right . . . well, not so much, it seems.

While we’re on the subject of free speech, let me go in a little different direction with that term.

Following in the giant footsteps of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama is now earning unbelievable speaking fees. How does anyone defend giving a person, no matter how famous, $400,000 for talking less than an hour?

Shame on Obama for taking the money. Shame on Wall Street for offering it.

I talk many hours every year teaching classes. It’s going to take me a while to get to that figure. And if I go to some organization to speak, most of the time I receive no compensation. You see, I really believe in free speech because most of mine is free to whoever wants to hear it.

The Barack Obama theme: socialism for thee, but not for me.

It’s hard for the Left to keep raging against the establishment when the Left is the establishment. They got there largely by winning the semantics war.

When is our side going to wise up and communicate more effectively?