Perhaps Christian educational institutions can lead the way in the process of repentance as we show our students a different set of values. I’m biased of course since I believe that what I am doing as a professor in a college of higher learning has some value. I believe this quote from Christian Smith, part of an aside in the book [see previous posts], encapsulates the values of post-secondary education, and our college in particular.
Higher education serves a crucial common good in fostering breadth, depth, complexity, and richness in all dimensions of social, cultural, political, and economic life. What is ultimately the most important question about college education is, therefore, not what students can “do with it,” in immediate and practical terms, but rather what college education does to its students deeply and broadly. It is about expanding people’s horizons and depths of understanding, engaging students with the big questions that matter most in life, giving them tools to think and learn and communicate well, and passing on the richness of scientific and humanistic [At Columbia we would specify biblical and theological] inquiry and understanding.
The most important payoffs of college education do no concern career promotions and higher salaries. They have to do with forming thoughtful, critical, appreciative, careful, capable, and interesting family members, neighbors, citizens, workers, leaders, teachers, artists, researchers, and friends. In short, the truly important product of higher education is better people, not bigger promotions and paychecks. This is in part because better people—broadly defined—help over the long run to produce better lives, better politics, better cultures, (genuinely) better economies, better societies. This is the real value and purpose of higher education at its best.
I have encountered this idea of the “common good” in a number of places recently. I think it applies to the church as well as to other institutions, and maybe in particular to people of the Christian faith. We are not called by God for our own benefit, whether that is eternal life or self-actualization; we are called for the sake of the other. Consider the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 or Peter in Acts 10–they were both called to be part of “blessing the nations.” So also in the church and in the college: we do not exist to perpetuate the institution but to participate in God’s mission of bringing SHALOM and blessing to all people.