Tuesday, February 01, 2011

College students aren't learning and why many people are happy about that

Have you seen the study reported by New York University sociologist Richard Arum in the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses? I haven't read the book because it isn't available yet and will cost more than $60, but I've read the summaries, and I think this is a very important issue for Christians to contemplate with respect to spiritual formation.

Yesterday, I had a discussion where I was informed that Bible colleges don't believe that learning to think about what one believes is the goal of their level of education. Their job apparently is to "teach the truth" to students. They anticipate that those students will go onto seminary where they will learn to think the why they believed what they believe. If true, that, in my opinion, is a tragedy of arrogance. A tragedy because I believe 3rd graders should be taught to think critically about their faith or they will grow up only borrowing someone else's faith. It is arrogant because it assumes that the schools and teachers can know truth completely. And knowing what my local bible colleges deems matters of knowable truth, it makes me concerned for the students who should be taught first that God is too complex for any human to know fully (Romans 11:34). If Bible colleges believe their job is to indoctrinate their students into a system, then I'm sure that many other colleges do as well.

Why do I think people are happy about this? Because, it is easy. It is easy to sit someone down and pound facts into their heads. It is easy to know which facts to pound into their heads. It is easy to measure when a student is "learning" and acting right. It is easier to become successful at the consumeristic level that makes us the most comfortable. It is easy when students don't ask hard questions that make us think or challenge authority. It is just plain easier for those in control, whether parent, or teacher, or political leaders, to create a system that doesn't encourage thought.

It is easy. But it isn't right and it isn't good.

God is a God of grace. Grace demands knowing truth but understanding that application of truth is difficult and varies. Grace teaches about the reality of judgement in real, tangible ways, but grace using good judgement in the exercise of judgement. Grace teaches that the best life isn't often the easy life. Rather the best life is the one that exercises grace through the practices of justice, mercy and love.

I'm glad that Grace Point has welcomed the teaching of Grace-Based Parenting (which continues Wednesday evening). This parenting course will challenge parents to work with their children in such a way that their children will more likely come to know their faith personally, to take ownership and to think critically about what they believe, because those critical thinking skills are the bases for godly grace.