College education gone crazy

Posted: May 21, 2002 12:00 AM
We're at the peak of the college graduation season now, with commencement speakers orating like crazy. But I suspect that not one will say that we have a crazy system of higher education. Think of it this way: What if someone came to you with a proposal to yank several million young people out of their communities and plop them down for four or more years in a new setting? The goal would be to liberate students from the families and religious groups that taught them right from wrong and held them responsible. Students would learn mostly from folks their own age, or from liberal or radical professors, and they would live in unsupervised unisex dorms with condom machines in the corridors. Depending on your ideology, you might love or hate the concept -- but if you knew nothing of our current system you'd probably also question the financials: How could a college afford to pay parents so much that they would jeopardize their children by having them live in such a place? And if you were then told that the parents were not being paid anything, and instead were paying thousands of dollars of their own money to put their children at risk, you might be astonished. Welcome to higher education in 2002. College costs are at an all-time high, while the average national college workload is at an all-time low. (Students spend less than 30 hours per week in class and doing coursework, compared to 60 hours in the early 1960s.) Many colleges do teach new meanings of old words. For example, students hear that "tolerance" means accepting victories of the political and cultural left, and that intolerance (in the form, say, of obeying God's commands) is the worst of sins. Students typically hear that a family is any grouping of two or more people, regardless of sexual orientation, that defines itself as a family. Maybe we need Buck Taylor to write college fund-raising pitches. When Theodore Roosevelt ran for governor of New York in 1898, fresh from his Spanish-American War triumphs, Sgt. Taylor introduced him one day in this fashion: "Ah want to talk to you about muh colonel. He kept ev'y promise he made to us, and he will to you. When he took us to Cuba he told us ... we might meet wounds and death, and we done it, but he was thar in the midst of us, and when it came to the great day he led us up San Juan Hill like sheep to slaughter, and so he will lead you." Like sheep to the slaughter, students typically hear that there is no such thing as true truth; two people could define truth in totally conflicting ways, but both could still be correct. There's a special sadness in all this for biblical Christians, orthodox Jews and others who do not bow to the dominant worldview of our era, secular liberalism. The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that about one-fourth of freshmen identify themselves as born-again Christians. How many, faced with professorial and peer-driven propaganda (sometimes subtle, sometimes overt), convert in college to anti-biblical notions? How many stay true to their faith but go through the motions to get their tickets punched, gaining little true knowledge? None of this is to say that students should not go to college, and even to large state universities such as the one at which I teach, The University of Texas at Austin. But I do counsel parents to do all that they can to help their children understand not just what to believe, but why to believe it -- and not just what not to do, but what to do instead. Involvement in strong religious organizations (I'm the UT faculty advisor to Reformed University Fellowship) is essential, as is training in how to discern the subtle propaganda in movies, music and professorial lectures. The students graduating this month and next often consider themselves educated persons -- but unless they have done a lot of reading and learning outside of the standard channels dug by peers and the academic left, many are ready only to stand around with other sheep, waiting for a wolf in shepherd's clothing to lead them.