Searching for Utopia: Higher Education as a Panacea

In 1994, Clark Kerr reflected on his movement from guarded optimism to guarded pessimism to guarded optimism (1997, 193) and his hopeful return to the unguarded utopianism of earlier years with respect to the importance/value of higher educaiton:

[a]s society goes, so goes the university; but, also, as the university goes so goes the society. The progress of knowledge remains so central to the progress of civilization (1997, 194, 196).*

As we enter a new academic term, what do you think about the relationship of the university to the larger society (in the United States, other countries, civilization)?  In Searching for Utopia: Higher Education as a Panacea?  (a paper which I wrote for my masters in higher education), I make the below comment about the solid foundations for higher education.  I would be interested in your comments/reactions as I prepare for conversations with academics over the course of the next couple of weeks.

How do Christians extend hope for our society while still acknowledging the reality of internal and systemic sin? First, we confess that God is in charge and we are not. As long as we seek to be agents of transformation on our own, we will forget that only God changes hearts and structures. Second, we acknowledge that individuals and institutions have the capacity to offer hope because God has ordered creation in such a way that the meaning, satisfaction, wholeness, which are found in Him alone, are dimly reflected all around us. Third, we affirm that good things can come from education, e.g., verbal skills, quantitative skills, personal self-discovery, cultural identity, appreciation of the arts, opportunity, upward mobility, new knowledge.

We may even go as far as saying that common grace is dispensed as the God invested capacities are played out through the proper uses of the university. But all of this must keep in mind that sin corrupts and God’s power alone transforms and sustains.  So although higher education has much to commend it, we are not to worship it. The blessings experienced by those within and without, past and present, individual and corporate are mixed.

*Kerr, C. (2001). The Uses of the University. (5th ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Original work published in 1963).

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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