Archives For academic culture

Do you have a set of must reads which you believe should lie at the foundation/base of a college education (i.e., American college education), no matter the institution, e.g., Christian college/university, community college, engineering/tech school (e.g., Carnegie Mellon University or MIT), Ivy League, liberal arts college, state university?  If so, what are they and why?  Below’s a recent email from a faculty friend regarding his alma mater, Harvard.

it’s sad but the harvard faculty could never approve anything like the “great books” program…they could never have a coherent view of what education is about, now that the “veritas” of the old harvard has been removed…a cafeteria approach is all that could reach a consenus in the recent revision of the general education requirements…they couldn’t agree or approve the wonderful suggestion of requiring one course in “faith and reason”  (broad guidelines, could even be taught by an atheist)…but too many faculty fussed and worried about any courses that involved that sloppy, unscientific thing called “faith”…St. Johns is one school that does have a “great books” program as the foundation of their liberal arts curriculum…and another school “st. thomas aquinas” (i think that’s the name) also has a similar curriculum…and the conservative “hillsdale college ” in michigan has a coherent liberal arts foundation (freshman take either greek or latin)…. [Follow-up email] … columbia university’s substantial, coherent core curriculum…harvard faculty would  never approve this  old-fashioned approach…consensus is impossible with them…

In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (HarperCollins, 2005), Swarthmore Professor Barry Schwartz takes a few pages to highlight Shopping for Knowledge (pp.14-17):

1. the loss of general education requirements, in particular the capstone course which was intended to teach students how to use their college education to live a good and an ethical life, both as individuals and as members of society and 2. the purchasing of goods such as classes and degrees. … Now students are required to make choices about education that may affect them the rest of their lives. And they are forced to make these choices at a point in their intellectual development when they may lack the resources to make them intelligently.

Upon reflection, my education at Grove City College (1992-1996) began with a class to set the tone for college education but lacked a capstone course.  Furthermore, the core curriculum sought to teach values over the course of several years (6 classes, 1 per term for the first three years) drawing from compilations of readings and Building a Christian Worldview (W. Andrew Hoffecker, editor, P&R Publishing, 1986. Note:  written by a cross-disciplinary faculty team from the college).  Although there was not a focus upon the great books providing the core of College Education, the Good Book (i.e., the Bible) was given significant attention in all the classes (Note:  One of the core classes was a Bible overview).

Back to the question, do you have a set of must reads which you believe should lie at the foundation/base of a general college education (in the United States of America)?

And I guess that I have raised a second question, if must reads are not the center of a core curriculum are there certain principles at the foundation/base of a general college education (in the United States of America)?  Or is a core curriculum only possible in unique educational settings and the ability to assume a college graduate has read or considered certain materials a thing of the past (or possibly one that was only fulfilled in an ideal, distant past)?

Statue of Justice

Statue of Justice at the St. Louis U. School of Law

I’m going to try to link two current stories involving Christianity and the academy, and I’ll be the first to admit that the attempt might not work. A big disclaimer: I am not an expert on either of these, so I’m going to provide some links at the bottom of the post.

Today, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case CLS v. Martinez, in which a university and a Christian student organization disagree about who — legally speaking — has the right to belong to a student organization as a public university. Last week, Bruce Waltke left Reformed Theological Seminary after appearing in a video saying positive things about (theistic) evolution.

In the interest of readers’ attention spans, I’m going to start with my conclusion, then provide some quick summaries of the two stories and links to news and opinions articles.

Both of these incidents represent the splintered world of higher education, in which I’m not even sure it’s possible to locate a “majority position” on big issues like truth, academic freedom, religion, or sexuality; and in which it may not even be possible to establish common criteria for deciding between different positions. To millions of Americans, the correct position is obvious and self-evident — the problem is, that “correct position” isn’t the same one. For example, to one group, Waltke’s statement about evolution (below) is as controversial as saying “one plus one equals two.” To another group, it’s a sure sign that he knows nothing about the Bible or science. To one group, Waltke’s departure from an institution over public statements related to his academic discipline is as close to the “unforgivable sin” as you can get in academia. Meanwhile, another group sees RTS as taking an important stand against bad theology.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, I predict incidents like these will become more and more common. Christians working within academia will have to learn how to negotiate — not two worlds of academia and the church — but multiple worlds representing almost every possible difference of opinion on “the big questions.”

Photo Credit: Statue of Justice at St. Louis University School of Law by Ann Althouse via Flickr. I think this is a great photo: most statues of Justice are so dispassionate; this Justice reminds me of the powerful images of justice in the Prophets.

The details and outcomes of these cases are very, very important, but I’ll let others to know more than I discuss them. Here’s what I think I can contribute:

  • Christians will need to work harder than ever — and need the Holy Spirit to work in us more than ever — to fulfill Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23. I’ll just quote the end of that section:

    May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me.

  • In order to be redeeming influences, Christians in the academy (such as ESN members) will need to learn how to speak the language of our fellow academicians and to sympathize with differing views on these important issues. If we can’t communicate in a way that makes sense outside of our own community, and if we can’t put ourselves in the place of “the other,” then we’ll have a much harder go of persuading others to our position.
  • As hard as it may be to accept losses, Christians must always define “success” in terms of faithfulness to Christ. This was a point made by Christian Smith in a webinar hosted by Christianity Today last year. I don’t have the transcript, but Smith noted that evangelical churches have to come to grips that faithfulness is more important than numerical growth, legal victories, or other forms of “success.” I think this is doubly true for Christians in the university.

OK, enough from me. What do you think theses incidents say — if anything — about the present and future of evangelical Christians in the university?

Summaries and links after the jump. Continue Reading…

Anonymity as the Way?

Tom Grosh IV —  April 13, 2010 — 4 Comments

Do you agree with the below quotes from News Sites Rethink Anonymous Online Comments (Richard Perez-Pena. NY Times. 4/11/2010)?

“Anonymity is just the way things are done. It’s an accepted part of the Internet, but there’s no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments,” said Arianna Huffington, a founder of The Huffington Post. “I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.”  … “There is a younger generation that doesn’t feel the same need for privacy,” Ms. Huffington said. “Many people, when you give them other choices, they choose not to be anonymous.” — News Sites Rethink Anonymous Online Comments (Richard Perez-Pena. NY Times. 4/12/2010)

Two more questions:  Any thoughts regarding what is a helpful on-line presence for a member of the campus/university culture?  Does it vary with position/responsibility/life stage, e.g., undergraduate student, graduate student, staff, pre-tenure faculty, tenure faculty, administrator, counselor, campus minister?