And now an atheist college

So how will this be different from regular colleges?

Famed atheist Richard Dawkins will be among a group of British academic elites who will launch a new college that will rival top British universities like Oxford.

The New College of the Humanities in central London will offer degrees in English, philosophy, history, economics and law starting from fall 2012.

The private college is founded by 14 professors. Richard Dawkins, author of the bestseller The God Delusion, will teach evolutionary biology and a required course on science literacy.

Other academics include historians Sir David Cannadine and Niall Ferguson, former Oxford professor of poetry Sir Christopher Ricks and psychologist Steven Pinker.

AC Grayling, a well-known British humanist and atheist, will serve as the college’s first master. He is the author of The Good Book: The Humanist Bible, a manifesto for secular humanists that was published in March 2011.

“Our priorities at the college will be excellent teaching quality, excellent ratios of teachers to students, and a strongly supportive and responsive learning environment,” said Grayling.

“Our students will be challenged to develop as skilled, informed and reflective thinkers, and will receive an education to match that aspiration.”

Creators of the new institution say it offers a “new concept” in university education.

Students at New College will take core courses in three areas: Science Literacy, Logic and Critical Thinking, and Applied Ethics. In addition to receiving an undergraduate degree in their area of study, students will be granted a Diploma of New College.

via Atheist Richard Dawkins Helps Launch New Humanities College in London, Christian News.

It appears from the website that the college will be affiliated with the University of London.  I don’t see an atheist version of a statement of faith or any reference to an ideological agenda.  But check out the faculty.  Peter Singer will teach the Applied Ethics course!   The faculty is exceedingly thin–one literature professor and they will offer an English major?  I don’t see how they could pass an American accreditation visit, let alone “rival” Oxford, which, while currently hospitable to atheists, at least has a bigger view of the humanities than is evident here.  An atheist version of the humanities would leave out just about every great writer, artist, and thinker.

Will technology replace schools?

Stephen Pearstein profiles Sal Kahn, who teaches math via YouTube videos, making the case that online technology may soon make traditional schools obsolete:

If education moves to a teaching model in which students learn through online tutorials, exercises and evaluations created by a handful of the best educators in the world, then how many teachers will we need preparing lesson plans and delivering lectures and grading quizzes and tests? Surely we’ll need some for one-on-one tutoring, or to run small group discussions, or teach things that can’t or shouldn’t be taught online. Despite assurances to the contrary, however, there’s likely to be fewer than we have now — fewer but better-paid with more interesting jobs — just as has happened in nearly every other industry that has gone through a similar transformation.

The disruption doesn’t stop there. If students are allowed to progress through each subject at their own pace, they won’t be second-graders or sixth-graders any longer, since at any time they are likely to be at different grades in different subjects. Indeed, the whole notion of a 45-minute “class,” or the six-hour “school day,” or even the August through June school “calendar” — the entire framework of the educational experience — will become somewhat irrelevant. And as Khan loves to point out, grading will suddenly become simple: Everyone gets an A in every course, with the only question being how long it takes each student to earn it.

Given these implications, you can understand why the education establishment has been in no hurry to embrace a digital future. The battles over standardized testing and adoption of common national standards were just the warm-up. Now that the opposition to them has been largely overcome, capital and creative talent will pour in to develop both the hardware and the software of the new education technology.

Over the next decade, look for teaching to be transformed from an art into something much closer to a science, look for learning to become highly individualized, and look for education to go from being a cottage industry to one that takes full advantage of the economies of scale and scope. And as in every other industry, look for quality to go up and cost to go down.

via Steven Pearlstein: Mark them tardy to the revolution – The Washington Post.

The corollary is that schools would be replaced with homeschooling!  But don’t working parents want someplace to park their kids for the day?  That reason alone will is likely to keep schools alive, even after they are obsolete.

I do think that human-to-human teaching is much superior to mechanical instruction, but some online teaching–such as  my daughter’s Latin classes for homeschoolers are real time, with genuine teacher-to-student and student-to-student interaction–whereas many of our progressive schools have become mechanistic and dehumanizing.

What do you think about this?  What could it mean, say, for Christian and parochial schools?

HT:  Jackie

Updating myself at Redeemed Reader

J. B. Cheaney writes for World and for children.  With fellow children’s lit author Emily Whitten, she has a blog entitled  Redeemed Reader | Kids books. Culture. Christ.  They discuss kiddy-lit, yes, but also lots of other things, from homeschooling to our current cultural condition.  Anyway, they did an interview with me, which they are posting in two parts.  In addition to discussing classical education and vocation,  I take the occasion to update some of what I wrote in my books Reading Between the Lines and Postmodern Times.

Athenians vs. Visigoths

Thanks to Joe Carter for posting this commencement address (which he never gave) by the late media scholar Neil Postman. Read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts that set forth the basic paradigm:

I want to tell you about two groups of people who lived many years ago but whose influence is still with us. They were very different from each other, representing opposite values and traditions. I think it is appropriate for you to be reminded of them on this day because, sooner than you know, you must align yourself with the spirit of one or the spirit of the other.

The first group lived about 2,500 years ago in the place which we now call Greece, in a city they called Athens. We do not know as much about their origins as we would like. But we do know a great deal about their accomplishments. They were, for example, the first people to develop a complete alphabet, and therefore they became the first truly literate population on earth. They invented the idea of political democracy, which they practiced with a vigor that puts us to shame. They invented what we call philosophy. And they also invented what we call logic and rhetoric. They came very close to inventing what we call science, and one of them—Democritus by name—conceived of the atomic theory of matter 2,300 years before it occurred to any modern scientist. They composed and sang epic poems of unsurpassed beauty and insight. And they wrote and performed plays that, almost three millennia later, still have the power to make audiences laugh and weep. They even invented what, today, we call the Olympics, and among their values none stood higher than that in all things one should strive for excellence. They believed in reason. They believed in beauty. They believed in moderation. And they invented the word and the idea which we know today as ecology. . . .

The second group of people lived in the place we now call Germany, and flourished about 1,700 years ago. We call them the Visigoths, and you may remember that your sixth or seventh-grade teacher mentioned them. They were spectacularly good horsemen, which is about the only pleasant thing history can say of them. They were marauders—ruthless and brutal. Their language lacked subtlety and depth. Their art was crude and even grotesque. They swept down through Europe destroying everything in their path, and they overran the Roman Empire. There was nothing a Visigoth liked better than to burn a book, desecrate a building, or smash a work of art. From the Visigoths, we have no poetry, no theater, no logic, no science, no humane politics. . . .

Now, the point I want to make is that the Athenians and the Visigoths still survive, and they do so through us and the ways in which we conduct our lives. All around us—in this hall, in this community, in our city—there are people whose way of looking at the world reflects the way of the Athenians, and there are people whose way is the way of the Visigoths. I do not mean, of course, that our modern-day Athenians roam abstractedly through the streets reciting poetry and philosophy, or that the modern-day Visigoths are killers. I mean that to be an Athenian or a Visigoth is to organize your life around a set of values. An Athenian is an idea. And a Visigoth is an idea. Let me tell you briefly what these ideas consist of.

To be an Athenian is to hold knowledge and, especially the quest for knowledge in high esteem. To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question—these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people.

To be an Athenian is to cherish language because you believe it to be humankind’s most precious gift. In their use of language, Athenians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. To a Visigoth, one word is as good as another, one sentence in distinguishable from another. A Visigoth’s language aspires to nothing higher than the cliche.

To be an Athenian is to understand that the thread which holds civilized society together is thin and vulnerable; therefore, Athenians place great value on tradition, social restraint, and continuity. To an Athenian, bad manners are acts of violence against the social order. The modern Visigoth cares very little about any of this. The Visigoths think of themselves as the center of the universe. Tradition exists for their own convenience, good manners are an affectation and a burden, and history is merely what is in yesterday’s newspaper.

To be an Athenian is to take an interest in public affairs and the improvement of public behavior. Indeed, the ancient Athenians had a word for people who did not. The word was idiotes, from which we get our word “idiot.” A modern Visigoth is interested only in his own affairs and has no sense of the meaning of community.

And, finally, to be an Athenian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art. Therefore, in approaching a work of art, Athenians prepare their imagination through learning and experience. To a Visigoth, there is no measure of artistic excellence except popularity. What catches the fancy of the multitude is good. No other standard is respected or even acknowledged by the Visigoth.

Now, it must be obvious what all of this has to do with you. Eventually, like the rest of us, you must be on one side or the other. You must be an Athenian or a Visigoth. Of course, it is much harder to be an Athenian, for you must learn how to be one, you must work at being one, whereas we are all, in a way, natural-born Visigoths. That is why there are so many more Visigoths than Athenians. And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion. And I must also tell you, as much in sorrow as in shame, that at some of our great universities, perhaps even this one, there are professors of whom we may fairly say they are closet Visigoths. And yet, you must not doubt for a moment that a school, after all, is essentially an Athenian idea. There is a direct link between the cultural achievements of Athens and what the faculty at this university is all about. I have no difficulty imagining that Plato, Aristotle, or Democritus would be quite at home in our class rooms. A Visigoth would merely scrawl obscenities on the wall.

Closing a campus ministry because it works?

University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis is the LCMS campus ministry to the University of Minnesota.  It has ministered effectively to generations of college students, quite a few of whom have gone on to seminary and the pastoral ministry due to its influence.  My oldest daughter went to the University of Minnesota, and though exposed to some of the worst excesses of left wing postmodernist academia, she graduated battle tested and more firmly grounded in her Christian faith than ever, thanks to her involvement with University Lutheran Chapel.  It is theologically conservative, confessional, liturgical, and connects to young people.  But maybe that’s the problem.

The Minnesota South District wants to sell the property–which is a church that looks like a church in a prime location just off campus–so that it can take the money and start a different kind of campus ministry, one that follows church growth principles.  But do those ever really work with sophisticated college students?  It sounds like the approach that actually does work is being thrown out in favor of an approach that may or may not, but which accords more with the theoretical convictions of the mission executives in the district.

This sounds like what happened with the then-synodical radio program Issues, Etc., which was shut down by advocates of reaching out in evangelism even though the program reached out in evangelism to more people and did so more effectively than virtually any other synodical venture (save the daily Divine Service in ordinary congregations across the country).

The real reason for shutting down Issues, Etc. (now going strong on the web, as you can click in from our sidebar here) and now ULC seems to be the hostility of church-growth advocates who insist that contemporary worship and pop music and feel-good sermons are the ONLY way to do “mission” and that confessional, liturgical efforts must not be permitted no matter how effective they are.

Steadfast Lutherans » The U of M LCMS Chapel is a Church Growth Dream Come True, by Pr. Rossow.

 

Academic bias

A new study demonstrates what might seem perfectly obvious but which still needs to be demonstrated:  That there is a distinct and measurable bias in academia against political conservatives and (especially) conservative Christians.  See Preferred Colleagues – Innovations – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

HT:  Jackie


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