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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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Sorry, Santorum: I Am Christian College-Educated and Liberal

Posted: 03/ 5/2012 10:53 am

I get Rick Santorum's beef with higher education. When he calls President Obama a snob for wanting to make higher education a possibility for all people or when he rants about the liberal professors who try indoctrinate students, I get where he's coming from. I went to a Christian college for something very close to this reason.

Further, New York Times writers like Frank Bruni and Dick Cavett are right to draw a connection between Santorum's remarks on higher education and his own decision to home school his children. I wasn't home schooled, but I had the next closest thing: a private education at a tiny Christian school at which my parents, and the parents of many of my friends, served as the teachers. It was like a perpetual home school tupperware party.

The decision by my parents to give me this kind of education was part practical -- the public schools in the city I grew up in were subpar -- but also part reflective of Santorum's desire to protect children from the corrupting influence of the secular world. So, too, was my decision to forego applying to any of Boston's esteemed colleges and universities in favor of Gordon College, the small Christian liberal arts school 45 minutes north of the city that I ultimately attended.

And, you know, it kind of worked. Today, at 30 years old, I am still a Christian. My childhood and even teen and college years were relatively free of any of the kind of trouble that many of my peers find themselves in.

Although, come to think of it, Mr. Santorum might not see me as a success story of his educational philosophy after all.

While at Gordon -- while faithfully attending the required Bible classes and chapel services -- something strange happened. My politics, which, admittedly, weren't all that developed when I entered college, veered far left. Also, I began to understand the Bible primarily as a text, and to interpret it in much the same way I was taught to interpret texts in my literary criticism courses. My response to the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, which happened when I was a junior, was a sharp turn toward Christian pacifism. And, just out of Gordon, I ran straight to my first secular university to earn a Master's degree in creative writing.

Ironically, it was there, in my first public school, that I fully solidified my faith and finally made it my own.

So, what happened? Santorum thinks he understands why Obama pushes college. He explained his "snob" comment by saying, "[Obama] wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his." My politics and values certainly look a lot more like Mr. Obama's, than either of my parents. I did all the right things according to Santorum, and still I ended up liberal.

Perhaps it would dismay Mr. Santorum to know that I teach college students now. In each of my classes, ranging from freshmen composition to advanced journalism courses, I tell my students that college isn't so much about the things that they learn, but the process of learning itself. That is, the real purpose of a college education is to learn how to think, and how to successfully engage and evaluate new ideas and concepts. Any successful college, whether it's Hampshire College (which often tops "most liberal" lists) or Gordon College, will teach its students how to think.

And, though the results typically do skew more more toward the liberalizing nature of a college education, this is not universally the case. I have many good friends who graduated from Gordon and either strengthened the beliefs of their conservative upbringings or chose a more middle-of-the-road approach to politics. One of these friends recently asked me, somewhat sarcastically, if I thought his college education failed because he resisted becoming liberal, and I told him that I did not believe it failed at all. He's a much smarter, more thoughtful conservative than the young firebrand who entered as a freshman.

Indeed, parents, Rick Santorum among them, want their children to share their beliefs and values. This is natural. But more than that, I know that they want their children to grow and be challenged, to see more of the world than they have, and to ultimately live good and fulfilling lives. And, as a recent AP story reports, most American parents still believe a college education is the way to achieve this.

Bashing college or bandying statistics to scare potential conservative voters by attempting to show that college educators want to indoctrinate students and strip them of their faith is harmful to the welfare of our country. If anything, this should prove that the last thing we need is less education.

 
 
 

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