As mentioned in previous blogs, I am a professor by vocation. Apart from research and teaching responsibilities, one of the important aspects of my daily job involves college service activities, which usually involves serving on campus-wide academic committees. One of the committees that I serve on is called the First Year Experience (FYE) committee. The FYE is an academic program designed to integrate new students into the academic and cultural community of the College. The courses in this program give new students an opportunity to work closely with faculty, smooth their transition to college, and provide them with the skills that will help them succeed throughout their academic careers.
During our normal meetings, there is a question that arises without fail: why are incoming students so bad? Most often, undergraduate faculty like to believe that all of the problems lay with the failures of high school education. However, we also have to look at ourselves because faculty that teach in graduate school programs, professional masters programs, and even seminaries, ask the same basic questions: Why are incoming students so bad? Why haven’t students developed sound critical thinking skills and effective learning strategies? Why do so few students take personal responsibility and initiative for their own educational and intellectual development? Why do so many students possess an infantile view of education in which they must be spoon-fed in order to learn? Why aren’t we producing the types of scholars and skilled professionals that are needed in a highly competitive global economy? These questions are not for secular institutions only. Faculty members at Christian universities pose the same types of questions as well.
There are many answers to these questions that usually deal with funding, institutional effectiveness, and innovative teaching methods. However, I want to address this question from a distinctly Christian perspective. From the numerous answers that I’ve read, I have not heard many commentators discuss how the obvious decline in Christian morality and ethics has affected the quality of our education system. As Christians, we are aware of how sin affects the whole man. In particular, we know that the presence of sin in our hearts negatively affects and undermines the human mind and intellect (otherwise known as the noetic effects of sin). In a sermon given at 2012 National Conference for Ligonier Ministries, R. Albert Mohler gives 14 different noetic effects of the fall
- Intellectual ignorance
- Intellectual distractedness
- Intellectual prejudice
- Faulty perspective
- Intellectual fatigue
- Intellectual inconsistencies
- Faulty deduction and induction
- Intellectual apathy/laziness
- Dogmatism and closedmindness
- Intellectual pride
- Vain imagination
- Partial/incomplete knowledge
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it is clear that many of these noetic effects describe the state of the typical American undergraduate student. We also know that there has been a noticeable decline in morality and ethics as our nation continues to reject the law of God as the absolute standard for morals and ethics. Because sin affects the whole man, it stands to reason that a culture that willfully turns away from Christian truth, morality, and ethics will have their hearts, minds, and intellect darkened. Consider the words of Paul
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they become futile In their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:21
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. Ephesians 4:17-18
As Christians, we know that the discipleship of the mind and the heart are inseparable. In other words, it is impossible to separate morality and education because they both are part of the discipleship process and thus they mutually influence each other. My basic thesis is that the darkening of the American heart (due to its rejection of God’s moral law) has invariably led to the darkening of the American mind in higher education. My goal in this series is to analyze how each noetic effect of sin has a direct impact on the current state and trajectory of modern American undergraduate education.
With this study I also want to offer a Christian response to the current problems in modern American education. I would like to state upfront that I will not be advocating for Christians to take over institutions of higher education (particularly for public, state-run institutions). However, there is legitimate Christian responsibility concerning these matters and these will be addressed in future blogs.