Don’t Just Be Nice: A Higher Education (II/IV)

Hinton Center with PillarsAs the bill for school comes due, many of us ask: “Why pay for higher education?” The answer is found in Scripture and founded the university. Even if most schools have forgotten the foundations, there are a few educational leaders who remember.

Let’s Be Nice When We Can

The leader of real education recently spoke on starting the long road to graduation. My first take on his lecture  also recommended listening to the entire talk: do. Part of what he says hinges on the double meaning of the word: nice.

Being called “nice” should be a good thing, even if now many use it as an insult: damning with niceness. My wife, the fairest flower in Christendom, got so sick of being called “nice” that she started being rude, at least for her personality, whenever people said she was “nice.”

But being nice is good. Nice people may finish last, but they finish last in races that nobody should be proud of winning. We should all be nice to each other, this is good manners, but being “nice” is not worth tens of thousands of dollars.

President Sloan believes many Christian colleges do not know why they exist and so miss the mark. They end up either not very Christian or not very much like colleges, by aiming at the wrong target. Some try being colleges as secularism has redefined “college,” but stop being very Christian. Such schools end up defining Christianity away.

The President points out that most colleges and universities embrace generalities about “academic things.” Christian colleges promote edu-memes that make the Christian parent feel good about the bill: integration, faith, learning, and Scripture.

Christian colleges say a great many things to persuade people to attend, but what is the bottom line? Perhaps it is better to ask: “What should be the bottom line?”

President Sloan knows and unlike many educrats, he is a teacher with years of experience. When he talks, we should listen and reflect. He has been at this for over thirty years and has heard it all. College leaders have defined “higher education” in his presence many times. Many defined, but few were chosen.

Mistaken Politeness

Perhaps the worst definition of “Christian education” I have ever heard is one President Sloan mentions in this Convocation Address. Evidently there breathes a Christian educator who asserts that Christian schools are just like secular education only “nicer.”

Sloan is right: HBU professors are nice. They may even be nicer than most, though my University of Rochester profs were charming. Sadly, at judgment day the standard will not be party manners, but something higher and Sloan looks for that benchmark.

Nice is the spelling of a city in France, not what Christianity adds to education.

Sloan says this definition is “narrow and simplistic.” It is fragmented: subjects exist, but the subjects are never united. Schools deliver pipelines of learned stuff and the Christian college does so politely.

But who says this is true? “Nobody lives” that way. The disciplines are “artificial constructs” as “every scholar, every student knows.” And the President is right: good students ask questions in every class from many disciplines.

Christians believe truth is unified and this unity created the University. Disciplines specialize, but undergraduate education, and life after college, unites all the disciplines in the life of a whole soul. How simple it would be if real life questions presented themselves as “science,” or “literature,” or “sociology.” In real life, the borders of our academic boxes break and we are required to use multiple disciplines at the same time.

My marriage has required me to know history, biology, sociology, literature, philosophy, logic, nearly every field . . . though computer science has yet to help and not hinder. How simplistic it is to reduce all of life’s questions to those our major prepared us to answer. An accounting major must account for more than numbers when facing the future.

Nice guys facing ISIS must have something more than manners. Ferguson, Missouri is more complicated than all of us getting along.

And I Comment

One reason I am here is that HBU is a nice place, but not always and in all ways. You cannot dream, aspire, and act in a broken world and always be polite. HBU sees ISIS and says: barbarism. HBU sees abortion and says: murder. HBU sees racism and says: evil. HBU sees libertine morality and says: decadence.

This is not nice, but it is just.

Higher education worth the money will always have a morality. Most American education does have morality and this morality condemns much of Christian belief.  We say all persons are created in the image of God, including the feeble and the unborn. They say the unborn may be human, but they lack human rights. More schools are saying that gender is a social construct. HBU says that God created people “male and female.”

They are not nice to us and though we are polite to them, we do not agree. We fiercely disagree. ISIS is evil. Abortion is murder. Sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. All God’s children of every race are created in His image. Every woman and man deserves justice under the law. Our rights came from God and not the state: what the state did not give, the state cannot take away.

Maybe we are wrong. Maybe. When facing fierce opposition, mere politeness will not do: the money changers, the banksters, the pimps, and the plutocrats get driven from the Temple.

What is truth? Where is to be found? How should we live? These are hard questions and the answers will be more complicated that facts from English 101 combined with knowing which finger to hold up when drinking tea.

Perhaps, some suggest, the answer is to ignore “secular” ideas and just get saved? President Sloan will have a thing or two to say about this putative definition for higher education.

Read part III here.


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