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a fascinating divergence from the usual: Richard Dawkins, the outspoken atheist, had an invitation to speak at Berkeley withdrawn.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.

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.

Keeping Up with the Times

As a university professor, I’m naturally interested in keeping up with the times. As I survey the climate of campuses throughout our nation, I’m beginning to realize I’m truly out of step. Perhaps I need to change some things to fit better into that current climate.

As a start, maybe I can alter my courses so they won’t be so focused on learning actual facts from history and evaluating the various interpretations of those facts in light of a Biblical worldview. And I probably should make my courses more fun, right? What could possibly go wrong with that innovative approach?

Neither should I be so adamant about correcting students’ writing or be so concerned about their grasp of fundamentals. This is a new age, after all:

Yes, I have a long way to go before I will fit into this new culture.

The Joys (?) of Grading

I am a professor of history. I live, eat, drink, and breathe my profession. I see it as a calling from God. He provided His Word and the principles from His Word to guide me into my thinking about history, government, culture, and anything associated with those subjects.

I love teaching. I love reading/researching. I’ve even learned to love writing, which is the hardest of those loves to carry out effectively. Yet the love of God and His truths is what inspires me to do them all.

There’s one aspect of the calling He’s given me that’s not as easy to love as the others: grading.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to interact with students and enjoy the learning that takes place without all of the time-consuming grading? Yes, that would be nice. But it wouldn’t work.

I know from experience that even some of the best students won’t read the books assigned unless there is some kind of evaluation that follows afterward. Love of learning purely for the love of learning resides in the hearts of the few, not the many.

For instance, when I first taught a Civil War class to a group of history majors, I set it up in such a way that one of the students would be responsible each class session for making a presentation about the reading assignment while another had to come up with questions about the reading for the class to discuss.

My assumption was that, since they were history majors and ostensibly in the class because they wanted to learn about the Civil War, that they would eagerly read and discuss. What I found instead is that only two of the students were prepared for each class session: the one given the task to make the presentation and the one chosen to come up with questions.

The rest of the students were ignorant of the facts that were to be part of the discussion because they hadn’t read the assigned pages. After all, they didn’t have to make a presentation or come up with questions.

Needless to say, I don’t conduct my classes in that way anymore.

That’s why we must give assignments. That’s why we must grade those assignments. It’s a matter of accountability and a way to teach personal responsibility. Most won’t learn much of anything without those assignments.

Those assignments don’t teach students only; they also teach me personal responsibility. As much as I don’t like being bogged down by grading, the Lord keeps nudging me about why I must do that. It not only holds students accountable and makes them better people—it does the same for me.

So, as I enter this final month of the semester, I will try to keep that in mind. God wants me to do the best for my students by offering honest evaluations of their work and helping them to improve their thinking and writing.

He also wants me to improve my attitude toward all that grading; He’s using it to make me more like Him.

Chip away at my rough edges, Lord. Although I may not always enjoy the time I spend grading, I know I need You to continue to shape me more into the image of Christ.

Reflections on My 66th

Today I complete my 66th orbit of the sun. Do I become reflective when this annual event transpires? Absolutely. There’s a difference, though, between being reflective and being obsessed with introspection. We are to examine ourselves—our motives and actions before God and others—but that’s a daily thing. This annual reflection is not the same.

First, it’s a matter of gratitude to the Lord for another year passed and for the good things that have happened during that year. Were there bad things? Well, of course; that’s a part of life as well. But I don’t want to dwell on those.

What stands out to me on this day is how the Lord rescued me from my own self-destructive tendencies and allowed me to be used by Him to help impact the thinking and the character of college students. That’s been my ministry now for twenty-eight years, and despite some of the heartaches along the way, it’s a blessing that the positive things come to mind more readily than the negatives.

For me, it’s always been the relationship with students that keeps me going because I believe that’s God’s primary goal for my life: influence them as much as I can while I can.

So many memories of class times, informal get-togethers, trips, etc., crowd into my mind. Here are just a few I want to share.

A trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts, that culminated with a stop at the grave of William Bradford:

One of the annual excursions I used to make with students when I lived in Virginia, such as this Jamestown visit:

Once, a small group accompanied me throughout the Northeast, incorporating Plymouth, the Boston Freedom Trail, Philadelphia, and Mt. Vernon, to name just a few of the places we passed through:

Commencements at Regent University were always special:

Once, at Patrick Henry College, a graduating senior decorated my office door in commemoration of all the tissues she used while crying in that office:

At Southeastern, I hosted a Reagan Movie Night once. It was memorable:

Students also came to the house to watch a BBC production about C. S. Lewis. They stayed and talked afterwards—a relaxed evening. I’m glad they felt like they could hang around:

How many professors can claim to have taught three brothers, all of whom were history majors? We had a reunion last year:

For a couple of years, I was able to connect Southeastern with my former life in Virginia when I traveled to Williamsburg and showed students the historic sites. They came down to Lakeland last year and desired a “family” photo, so to speak:

I could share photo after photo, but I’ll stop now.

I remember fondly the Dead Historians Society at Indiana Wesleyan University.

I remember fondly a trip to Israel and Britain with Regent students—a trip none of us will ever forget (for great and not-so-great reasons). It was a bonding experience.

I remember fondly my great surprise when Patrick Henry students presented a gift to me at the end of one of the chapel services: the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. Those who know me know why that was a special gift.

Yes, I could go on for quite a while.

How much longer will I have this ministry? My standard joke is that as long as someone can wheel me into the classroom and I have my remote control to show my PowerPoint slides, I can still do this.

God gave me a calling. I will remain faithful to it until He says it’s time to move on. Today I’m just reflecting on the blessings of His calling.

I’ll probably do something like this again when I complete my 67th orbit.

Christian Higher Education: Discernment Needed

In my last post, I critiqued the current campus scene in colleges and universities nationwide and extolled the virtues of evangelical colleges. While not walking back that endorsement, I do want to point out that as long as we are on this earth, nothing is perfect, and that applies to evangelical institutions of higher education as well.

Some evangelicals seem to have some kind of inferiority complex because of their affiliation with a Christian college. They continue to look at what they consider to be prestigious universities as the epitome of higher education and strive to be acceptable to them intellectually. Let’s be honest: since the only places you can get many doctoral degrees are at those institutions, some Christian professors teaching at evangelical colleges may consider themselves to be second-rate because of that affiliation.

I disagree, of course, because I think all true learning begins with the knowledge of God and His ways. But I have seen an envy of sorts pop up in a number of colleagues over the years.

I’ve also seen an uncritical acceptance of trendy thought patterns. Every evangelical college has its quota, it seems, of social justice warriors who mirror the policies promoted by “progressive” forces in the secular world. In one sense, I understand how this can happen. Christians care for the poor; they see a need to help; they then adopt the clichés and attitudes of the Left who, to them, appear to be as concerned for the poor as they are.

Never mind that progressive, socialist policies have only hurt the poor wherever they are tried. They then label anyone who disagrees with such policies as uncaring, greedy, and unrighteous. And they have to ignore the incipient totalitarianism of the progressive Left that shouts down anyone with a different point of view and seeks to force conformity.

Personally, I have experienced what it means to be in the crosshairs of a Christian university administration when I have challenged certain trendy movements. At one of the universities where I taught, I was called into the academic dean’s office to answer for my teaching “heresies.”

What offenses did I commit? Well, first of all, I held to the Biblical view that parents are the ones who should decide how their children are educated, not the government. For advocating private schools and homeschooling, I was going against the university’s goal of placing students in public schools.

I never said that Christians shouldn’t be teaching in those schools as missionaries; I was merely stating that parents should take their educational responsibilities seriously and make sure their own children were brought up in the faith.

For that, I was a heretic, I guess.

The second teaching that got me into trouble was my concern over how much of modern psychology had found its way into Christian psychology and counseling. In particular, I questioned the emphasis on self-esteem because I see it as an artificial, self-centered approach that denies the true Christian message of recognition of sin and repentance prior to salvation. I believe that movement has done great damage in the church.

Then I had the audacity to put those views in a book. Apparently, that was the final straw. For those two reasons, I was told my contract would not be renewed. The book was an attempt on my part to help Christians understand the Biblical grounds for government and public policy, as I came to realize that the main reason some Christians drifted into progressive policies is that they don’t have a firm grasp of Biblical principles as applied to government.

That book is available for purchase on Amazon. I still use it in my basic historiography course.

While having my contract ended stung at the time, God opened another door that was far more fruitful. I have learned through experiences like this that I should never despair because He always has something for His people to do.

That old maxim that says when one door closes, another opens, is accurate when you believe that God works all things together for good for those who love Him.

So what am I saying? Be discerning. Not all advertisements for Christian education tell the whole story. Dig deeper and know what is being taught before sending your 18-year-old off to college. Avoid the heartbreak of seeing your children adopt views that run counter to the Biblical foundation you have tried to instill within them.

Higher Education’s Sad Spectacle

I’ve been following events on our nation’s campuses where higher learning is supposed to take place. From one perspective, one could say the faculty and students have performed a great service for making the nation laugh again, what with their “safe spaces” and tears over the last election.

However, my desire for higher learning to be appreciated makes the spectacle more a reason for sadness than laughter. Denying conservative speakers the right to be heard is a type of fascism, which is ironic because the deniers claim to be combating fascism. Their totalitarianism is fascistic; the speakers hold to limited government and the right for every position on the issues to be aired publicly.

The fascists are the student protesters; those who value liberty, decency, and civil discussion are the conservatives who are being shouted at and slandered.

I sit in a fairly “safe space” of my own since I teach on a Christian evangelical campus. I have yet to witness a riot on my campus, and people are allowed to speak without being shouted down. Each year, I bring a speaker for Constitution Day who extols the virtues of our form of government and the Christian basis for understanding government.

If you want to find where higher education is occurring, may I suggest a campus like mine? I invite all potential history majors to come and study under me and others who grasp the importance of Christian faith to education.

I have experienced other campus scenarios, however. Both my master’s and doctoral degrees were earned at typical secular universities. Some of what I received was excellent; some was biased. I learned to tell the difference.

For a few years, I even taught as an adjunct history professor at a large, well-known university in Virginia. I brought my Christian perspective into the classroom, along with my conservative political interpretation of American history. Course evaluations from my students were an affirmation that they believed I was a good professor.

Then I had a class in which one student, a radical feminist, complained to the department chair about my teaching. That led to a phone call from the chair (I never met her in person). She asked about how I teach and I told her. She seemed very civil and even noted that every professor teaches from his/her own perspective. I thought the conversation went very well.

I was never invited back.

The open mind is always closed at one end. That’s what Whittaker Chambers said about his mother when he asked her once about when God created the universe. She froze, he related, and in an icy voice, informed him that someone must have told him that, and that he was to keep an open mind. She then lectured him that the universe was created out of gases, not by God.

He learned a lot at that moment; that’s when he realized that those who proclaim to be so open are often the most close-minded.

That’s what we see at this moment on our campuses, and it’s a sad reality. Of course, I know this is not new. I was on a campus myself as a student during the Vietnam War. That era was ripe with protest, potential anarchy, and violence.

As has often been noted, the radicals of the 1960s-1970s are now teaching the current generation. The cycle continues. Back in my college days, the mantra was not to trust anyone over thirty. Only the younger generation really knew what to believe.

The more time passes, the less things change. That arrogance is still the cornerstone of radical protest today. They walk in blindness. The Christian mission on campuses is to shed light on that blindness and lead them into true Truth.