Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

The C. S. Lewis Conference: A Report

I had a wonderful weekend at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Why was it held there? I’ll get to that.

As I did last fall, I presented a paper at the Academic Roundtable, a time for deeper thinking as a group of academics listened and discussed what each had to offer. The most interesting part of such a roundtable is getting perspectives from different disciplines. I was the only historian in the group; others were professors of theology, philosophy, and architecture.

My paper was on the distinction that we must make between liberty of conscience, which is a Biblically based concept, and pluralism, which is the more humanistic viewpoint—a viewpoint that attempts to push the Biblical worldview out of the public square. It seemed to be well received.

Plenary sessions were offered by excellent speakers. One of the most interesting to me was Malcolm Guite, a minister, theologian, professor, and poet at Cambridge University. He was a captivating speaker, is a songwriter and performer (he gave us some samples), and his poetry is the type that I actually love, which is saying something because I’m not naturally attracted to poetry.

Malcolm Guite

With his full beard, long hair, and short stature, he reminds me of a hobbit. That’s a compliment, by the way.

At a special faculty luncheon, Dr. Mary Poplin of the Claremont Graduate School spoke, and her personal testimony was both striking and stirring. She was a strident radical feminist and atheist (toying with Buddhism along the way) before God gave her a dream of standing before Jesus. That, along with other miraculous occurrences, led her to faith at the age of 41. Shortly after, she went to India to work with Mother Teresa.

Mary Poplin 1

Dr. Poplin also spoke at the final plenary session, outlining the four distinct worldviews that are in conflict. I was struck by how her presentation was very similar to what I do in the classroom, even starting with Colossians 2:8, one of my favorite scriptures:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Green Pastures-Outside 2I raised the question earlier as to why this conference was taking place in Massachusetts. The site was only about half an hour from a house that the Foundation has purchased and is planning to use as a study center. So one of the highlights of the conference was an excursion to that home in the town of Northfield.

Currently, a massive renovation of the home is taking place, with the goal of its being a place where students can come and discuss issues of faith and the Christian answer.

The Foundation already owns Lewis’s home, The Kilns, in Oxford, which it uses as a study center; the goal is to make this a place that can be used in the same way.

One of the dreams of the Foundation is to also establish a C. S. Lewis College in the town. It would be focused on the study of the Great Books and intensive discussion/argumentation (that latter word used in the best sense).

Green Pastures 1

A bonus on this trip was that just down the street is the birthplace of famous 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody, which we also were able to tour.

Moody Birthplace-Outside

Included in the home was an excellent museum.

Moody Birthplace-Museum

I took a shuttle to and from the airport. While the shuttle was waiting for another person to pick up at Amherst College, I noticed a statue that I had wanted to see, so I was able to jump out and take a picture of it.

Amherst College started in the early 19th century as an institution to train ministers. One of its key founders was Noah Webster, who, as some of you know, was the subject of my doctoral dissertation (and the book that was published as a result of that). The college acknowledges Webster’s role.

Webster Statue-Amherst College

I have to admit to being disappointed somewhat by the statue. First, it barely resembles Webster; second, it seems to have been neglected. But there is a scripture on it, 2 Timothy 1:12, for anyone who might take the time to read it:

For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

Amherst College no longer exists for its original purpose, but a testimony remains for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Many thanks for the hard work and dedication of those who planned and carried out this conference. The Holy Spirit was evident in every aspect of it. A spirit of love and genuine fellowship prevailed.

The Attempt to Destroy Christian Education

Let’s not play word games. Let’s say what’s really happening in American culture and how it’s being reflected now in its government. What we have is a rising anger and antipathy toward Christianity among a growing number of Americans who want to rebel against the moral parameters that the Christian faith upholds.

What they don’t understand, of course, is that those moral standards are for everyone’s good and that they are what hold a society together. Without them, chaos will eventually reign and no one will be safe in a Darwinist world where might makes right.

Why now? Why so many drastic changes in our culture that seem to gain acceptance when they never were seriously considered before? A lot of the blame rests on what has been occurring in our educational system for the past century. The system has become heavily politicized and has promoted an anti-Christian worldview for quite a long time.

One of the goals of a system like this is to indoctrinate children rather than teach them foundational concepts upon which all reasoning is based. You will hear trendy talk about how we are focusing on teaching our children how to think, but, in reality, we are teaching them what to think by only presenting one side of issues.

That’s why they come out of their elementary and secondary education as mini-socialists/fascists who believe the government ought to be the arbiter of all things. We have undermined ourselves.

Educational Performance

Each new generation has been trained in a mindset that is further from Christian thought and values, and now we’re seeing the results. This is why, in my view, so many of this upcoming generation are fine with the departure from objective reality, seeking to replace reality with their own “reality.” They think Christians are narrowminded and bigoted.

When the Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage is a right, they applaud. When the president decides that we should gender-bend the society, they rejoice.

Door Number Two

And if you don’t agree with this transformation of reality, there is a convenient word to use against you:

Making Me Uncomfortable

College campuses have become zones where the new unreality has its fullest expression:

Campus Debate

Those purveyors of hatred—otherwise known as “fundamentalist” Christians—are the real enemy. One sore thumb that is sticking out in our society that is hindering the new acceptance, in their opinion, is Christian education.

They hate homeschoolers, so they try to portray them as insulated; parents should never have control of their children’s education, they protest. Christian schools should have to abide by all the strictures the state places on public/government schools, they proclaim. If you don’t think so, check out the resolutions of the National Education Association (NEA) sometime.

Then there are those evangelical colleges and universities, like the one where I teach. Havens of bigotry and the closed mind, they cry. Something must be done.

Have you heard what is brewing in California? The legislature there is ready to clamp down on all Christian higher education institutions in the state.

If a bill before the legislature right now passes, Christian colleges will be told they must not require their professors to be Christians who adhere to a statement of faith.

They will be prohibited from teaching Biblical principles in their courses. As a history professor, I interweave those principles into everything I teach. Neither will professors be allowed to pray in their classrooms because it might offend someone.

Required chapel attendance? Out. Mandatory Bible classes? Forbidden. Separate bathrooms, locker rooms, and dormitories for men and women? Not if you want to weather a lawsuit.

Well, that’s only California, you say. It’s a test case. If it happens there, it will spread.

The goal: total destruction of Christian higher education.

Yes, that is on the horizon. I don’t just warn about this because it threatens my profession and future as an educator. I warn about it because it is a harbinger of a society on the verge of collapse.

Jesus told us we are to be the light and salt in a society. The challenge is before us. How will we respond? Yes, the response needs to be loving, but there needs to be a steel spine behind that love. We need to stand strong and stand together.

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 2)

Last Saturday, I posted a portion of the paper I’m delivering to the Academic Roundtable at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference. Today, I’d like to offer another excerpt dealing with how Lewis viewed the Christian’s responsibility to speak to the culture and government in the public square.

C. S. Lewis 8Lewis called on his fellow Christians to engage the culture in every possible way. Education was certainly a key component for furthering the Biblical worldview; he called it “only the most fully conscious of the channels whereby each generation influences the next.”

He expressed concern that the State might “take education more and more firmly under its wing.” By doing so, it could potentially “foster conformity, perhaps even servility, up to a point,” but it still would require people to do the teaching, and “as long as we remain a democracy, it is men who give the State its powers,” he noted optimistically. “And over these men, until all freedom is extinguished, the free winds of opinion blow. Their minds are formed by influences which government cannot control.”

Lewis believed in those “free winds of opinion” that could not be controlled by the government, but he did mention the condition: “as long as we remain a democracy.” While he favored a democratic system, which would allow for the free interchange of ideas in the public square, he also offered cautions that democracy, in itself, provided no absolute guarantee of success.

Screwtape Proposes a ToastThat warning came through the mouth of Screwtape in “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in which he has the diabolical fiend say,

We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of Democracy in the strict sense of that word; the political arrangement so called. Like all forms of government it often works to our advantage; but on the whole less often than other forms.

And what we must realize is that “democracy” in the diabolical sense (I’m as good as you, Being like Folks, Togetherness) is the finest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political Democracies from the face of the earth.

For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first hint of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.

For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs [emphasis added], only one result is possible.

Democracy, in Lewis’s view, while very important for expressing points of view on policy and the standards by which a society ought to conform, was not a cure-all for society’s ills. Wherever there are people, there are problems.

He believed in democracy, he said, because he believed in the fall of man. “A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government.” That was a false grounds for wanting democracy, he asserted.

Instead, he came at it from the opposite side: “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

Part 3 next week.

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 1)

CSL FoundationI’ve finished the first draft of my paper for the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s conference next month. The assigned topic for the Academic Roundtable is “Faith, Freedom, and the Public Square.” Participants can come at this topic in any way they choose. I chose to address the distinct difference historically between the terms “liberty of conscience” and “pluralism,” noting the first one rests on the belief that there is absolute truth to be found, while the second offers a basis of relativism.

After the historical section of my paper, I turn to how Lewis viewed the Christian’s responsibility to speak out for truth publicly. What follows is an excerpt.

One might be excused for thinking that C. S. Lewis avoided anything political, since he stated rather consistently that he abhorred politics. A tongue-in-cheek letter he received from an American organization that called itself The Society for the Prevention of Progress brought a tongue-in-cheek response from Lewis, as he told them,

While feeling that I was born a member of your Society, I am nevertheless honoured to receive the outward seal of membership. I shall hope by continued orthodoxy and the unremitting practice of Reaction, Obstruction, and Stagnation to give you no reason for repenting your favour.

Comments like that would tend to paint him as a reluctant combatant in the civil realm.

That would be an inaccurate assessment. While it is true that he despised the petty politics of his nation, he was always a staunch defender of truth in the public sphere, whether dealing with theological issues or more practical matters of governing. Why write the kinds of books he did if not for the purpose of influencing the society of his day? The Abolition of Man and its fiction counterpart, That Hideous Strength, are only two examples of his attempt to warn people of the dangers of scientism applied to education and government.

Oxford Socratic ClubLewis’s tenure as president of the Oxford Socratic Club shows his willingness to openly debate matters with those who were not Christians. He noted the importance, in a university, of Christians breaking out of their shells and interacting with those of different beliefs. Lewis never argued for a kind of pluralistic neutrality in those debates. He was forthright in how they should be conducted: “We never claimed to be impartial. But argument is. It has a life of its own. No man can tell where it will go. We expose ourselves, and the weakest of our party, to your fire no less than you are exposed to ours.”

He also knew that the Christian message had to be communicated in every way possible. One does that, he noted, by attacking “the enemy’s line of communication.” He followed this thought with one of his more famous quotes:

C. S. Lewis 1What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent. . . . It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.

Then came an appeal to put one’s theology into the vernacular in order to truly communicate the message to an unbelieving audience. “I have come to the conviction,” he concluded, “that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.”

That’s an introduction to the Lewis portion of my paper. I’ll add to it next Saturday.

Our Developing Culture

Surely you have noticed how we are living in an upside-down world lately. Today, I thought I would simply offer some wonderful examples of how our culture has been developing.

Since we have a reality TV person now as the Republican candidate for president, I thought this might be fitting for some of his supporters:

Gov't Funding

That speaks to the reality of “reality” programs as well as the idea that government has some kind of stockpile of funds to pay for virtually anything and everything.

Which leads me to this:

Popular with Kids

And speaking of liberals:

Liberals Who Believe

Here’s the solution for liberal thinking on the gender front:

Bathroom Problem Solved

There’s no way I can leave out my own profession in this litany of what’s gone wrong in America:

Director of Admissions

When College Is Free

Well worth pondering today.

Higher Education Sometimes Isn’t

Let’s compare the myth with what is all too often the reality about what occurs in a college education.

The myth is that the four years spent in the arena of higher education is a time when the student will be able, under wise direction from professors, to sift through a variety of worldviews and learn how to become discerning in a quest for what is genuine and what is not.

That has been somewhat fictional all along, simply because the culture will be a strong determinant in what is taught at colleges and universities. The idea that all sides will be fairly presented is not the usual fare. We need to remember that value-neutral education is a myth; everyone teaches from a distinctive worldview.

The reality is that parents who go into debt in the hope that college will round out their child’s educational experience may instead find an entirely different child when the experience has been completed:

What Did You Learn

Now that the radicals of the 1960s and 1970s are filling most of the professorial posts in the liberal arts programs of the universities, what else should we expect? They are now attempting to clone themselves through this new generation. They haven’t done this alone, of course; they’ve had the help of the public school system nationwide and the larger entertainment culture.

Everything now offends some students (and I use that term loosely).

Trigger Words

Well, perhaps we should provide a trigger warning for those who are now embarking on their new path in life:

Trigger Warning

There’s always this possibility, though:

Grad School

All of this is quite disturbing to me, since I teach at a university. I’m not at your typical university, fortunately. Although Christian colleges and universities are not immune to these forces, there remains more sanity when you are at an institution that continues to hold up God’s Word as the standard for learning.

Sadly, though, what we see spreading across the nation is the epitome of what I have called Snyderian Truism #11: “Higher education sometimes isn’t.”

Screwtape Proposes a Hellish Education

I’ve been scouring C. S. Lewis’s essays for pertinent comments for the Academic Roundtable in which I will be participating at the upcoming summer Lewis Foundation conference. This is work? Not really. More like fun.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast 2In the process of my scouring, I reread his “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” a followup to the fabulously successful book, The Screwtape Letters, that put Lewis on the literary map for Americans.

As a lifelong educator, just now completing my 27th year of teaching at the college level, I was struck anew and afresh by his commentary on how hell would like education to be carried out. Lewis’s critique sounds so very contemporary, despite having been written at the end of the 1950s.

In the words of the devilish Screwtape, Lewis lays out the scheme:

The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between the pupils—for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences—must be disguised.

He then describes how this can be accomplished at various levels of education, with the first example being the one closest to my experience:

At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not.

Aren’t we told continually by our social engineers that everyone deserves a college education? We’re now being pressured to pay for everyone’s college education. But college is not for everyone, a statement I make based on those 27 years of teaching I mentioned above. Some students have no idea why they are there, and many should be directing their lives elsewhere. Isn’t the Biblical concept that of a diversity of talents?

Lewis/Screwtape then takes aim at basic elementary education:

ScrewtapeAt schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud-pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work.

We wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad about failing; it would damage self-esteem:

Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have—I believe the English already use the phrase—“parity of esteem.” . . . Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma—Beelzebub, what a useful word!—by being left behind.

The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age-group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.

So what is the overall goal, according to Screwtape?

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. . . .

We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

I also can agree with, and shudder at, his concluding statement: “Of course this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will.”

A Lewis prophecy coming to pass in our day.