As we saw in Part One and Part Two of this series, free speech and liberal arts education are dying or dead at most American colleges, while expressions of Christian faith are increasingly penalized. What is a student or parent to do? The options are narrowing, year by year.
Ideally, we’d want to see those strong believers who can make the grade walking the storied lawns of Harvard, Yale, and other elite institutions, honing their arguments with top-notch secular thinkers, gaining five-star credentials, making connections, and witnessing to their faith. But few of those things are possible anymore at most such universities, where matters grow worse year by year. Such schools are clutched tight in the whitened knuckles of tenured radicals, with ever-expanding “speech codes” that repress free expression of thought, and curricula driven not by reason or love of culture, but ideological fervor.
The Ivies Don’t Want You
When schools like Middlebury College can let violent mobs assault professors and silence free speech, while Yale lets angry snowflakes drive celebrated faculty members to give up tenure and quit, we can no longer pretend that these schools are really elite. They might have famous professors, massive endowments, and kids with high SATs, but they are becoming little more than leftist seminaries, which preach a new and puritanical creed that’s not just neutral but hostile to Christianity and Western civilization. Each year, they churn far too many lazy, sloppy thinkers who react to ideas that offend them by starting riots, throwing tantrums, having meltdowns, or claiming that they are victims. Sooner or later, employers will catch on and figure out that it’s time to stop hiring Yalies — except those with the courage (which these days borders on recklessness) to swim against the tide and speak their minds.
Middlebrow Schools Won’t Protect You
You might think that an ordinary state university, or long-standing Catholic college, would be a friendlier venue for conservative, Christian students. But that’s no longer broadly true, as the teachers and administrators at schools eager to polish their reputations ape what is taught and practiced at elite campuses. It wasn’t at Harvard that a journalism professor called on “muscle” to grab the camera of a student journalist who was documenting a leftist riot. It was at the University of Missouri. It wasn’t at Oberlin that a Christian student was silenced by her professor for questioning same-sex marriage — and another professor who spoke out on her behalf was fired. It was at putatively Catholic Marquette University.
Faithful Schools Under Fire
Even colleges with a traditional evangelical Christian orientation are under heavy pressure from theological progressives to compromise biblical teaching and practice on crucial moral issues. It doesn’t help when the regional accrediting authorities threaten to yank the school’s right to grant certified degrees or dispense federal student loans, as happened to Gordon College in Massachusetts. Even when such schools (for now) dodge Big Brother’s bullet, such controversies give ammo to progressives on campus and in the faculty to push such colleges in an ever more secular direction.
Intentionally Christian Colleges
There are a few smaller, more recently founded colleges that we might call “intentionally Christian,” which push back against the overwhelming pressure of trends within academia, to teach traditional liberal arts and sound theology. For highly motivated, intellectually talented students with an interest in academic pursuits, journalism, or the arts, choices such as The King’s College in New York City or Hillsdale College in Michigan make sense. This is where many of the believers who once might have braved the Ivy League will now end up instead, so there’s some hope that they will produce the new cultural leaders which the church desperately needs.
What About the Rest of Us?
But there aren’t anywhere near enough spots at such colleges to educate millions of Christians who simply want a basic college education so they can get started with their lives. Nor is a traditional liberal arts education meant for everyone. Millions of young people want to get training in business, marketing, nursing or math and science, as a preparation for useful, productive careers as citizens and parents. It used to be that universities would require such students to complete a liberal arts “core curriculum,” enriching them with the fundamentals of English literature, Western civilization, American history, and civics — on top of what used to be solid high school education in those subjects.
None of this is true anymore. Apart from a few small, niche colleges that are worth seeking out for select students, there are few schools which you can count on to provide your children with a decent basic education. Many do a good job preparing people for jobs, if they can keep their heads down and not be swayed into secular radicalism by peer pressure and propaganda. But that’s the best you can hope for.
Instead, parents must be proactive. They must see that raising children of faith in today’s environment is a solemn and difficult duty, conducted in mission territory where “soft” persecution is already underway. We cannot count on institutions to form our children; too many have been infiltrated, either openly or quietly, and betray their founding missions.
What’s a Parent to Do?
As editor for ten years of the Christian-friendly, conservative guide to education Choosing the Right College, I was often contacted by parents who sought advice about where their children should study. Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some students — cussed non-joiners and misanthropes like me — would still do well at some Ivy League schools. (Recent graduate Aurora Griffin’s How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard recounts how one student kept her faith.) Other students really belong in the intense subculture of an intentionally Christian college. Many students (many more than you’d think) should skip college altogether and learn useful trades that pay better than most white-collar jobs.
But looking at the middle of the bell curve, I suspect that the wisest option for the average son or daughter of a conservative Christian family would run as follows:
1. If you’re lucky enough to have a serious, academically and doctrinally sound Christian high school close by you, and you can afford the tuition, by all means use it. If not….
2. Consider either home-schooling, or supplementing your children’s education — which might be much more meager or politicized than you could possibly imagine — with materials from a “classical Christian” home school (there are dozens to choose from) that focuses on the liberal arts. Such programs can provide much of what used to be offered in high schools and colleges in key areas of learning, from religion and philosophical reasoning to literature, art, history, and civics.
3. Once you’ve done your best at home to fill in the vast, yawning moral, cultural, and cognitive gaps that exist in the average curriculum, seriously consider state universities with low in-state tuition as the wisest option. There is really no reason to saddle your child with anything like the Class of 2017 average of $37,113 in student debt for what will likely be a disappointing experience. Look closely at smaller or satellite campuses, and community colleges that allow students to fulfill requirements at lower cost.
4. Look for single sex and substance-free dorms, if any exist. If not, consider the benefits of a student living at home and commuting to school. The “traditional college experience” was always overblown, and is in many places now toxic.
5. Investigate chaplaincies, religious student organizations, and churches where your child can continue to live out and deepen his life of faith. Don’t be surprised if the chaplain who serves your denomination at a public university is far more doctrinally shaky than your pastor back at home. If so, steer your child to a more faithful local congregation instead, and make sure you keep in regular communication with him about his faith and the challenges which he faces.
6. And above all, pray for your children. They will need it.
(For more from the author of “With Colleges Turning Into Indoctrination Camps, What Can Christian Parents Do?” please click HERE)