Could there be a better time to think about what a college education means than at the start of a new academic year? As a long-time academic administrator, I've given countless talks about the value of a liberal arts education. Indeed, as I write this, I'm preparing to do just that again tomorrow morning at the opening session of The Evergreen State College's Tacoma campus.
As I have in virtually every one of my talks, and as I will in the morning, I'll discuss how a liberal arts education prepares students to become active, engaged citizens by helping them communicate well, think critically, work collaboratively and develop a passion for learning. I'll encourage students to make wise choices, both academically and socially, and to think about ways to play leadership roles in their community. In essence, I'll urge students to use their time in college to make better lives for themselves while helping to make a richer environment for those around them.
Oddly enough, I've just discovered that a very powerful group is promoting a very different message for students heading off to college. It is a disturbing message and one that undercuts the very core of what higher education is supposed to be about.
The group is Focus on the Family and the message to students is that they should be very careful not to be swayed by what they might learn in college. Although the content might seem odd, the presentation, not surprisingly, is slick. Focus on the Family has teamed up with Stephen Meyer, Director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, to produce a DVD series entitled TrueU.
Meyer, the Discovery Institute and Focus on the Family are major players in the anti-science campaign so dominant in the United States today that relentlessly promotes the absurd belief that modern science leads to atheism. TrueU is not subtle in its message. Meyer warns parents that their offspring are in danger of undergoing a "faith-ectomy" while participating in "higher education."
Why, you might ask, did I put higher education in quotation marks in the above sentence? Simple. That's exactly the way that onenewsnow.com described Meyer's comments. And I hasten to add that onenewsnow.com is the news outlet for the American Family Association, a fundamentalist Christian group designated as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The article goes on to report Meyer's concerns: "He laments that students entering Christian colleges and universities are not necessarily immune. 'It can be very disorienting if you have biologists who are Christians but Darwinists, or psychologists who are Christians but behaviorists who think that all human behavior is determined by genes and environment,' Dr. Meyer notes."
The TrueU series also embraces another related view that is being widely promoted across the States today: beware of the educated elite and their expertise. The introduction to the series is described by the publisher in no uncertain terms: "This 45-minute DVD introduces the TrueU series and shares stories of students who were tested and stood in opposition to false worldviews." Jay, one of the students portrayed, says, "In college you hear the words 'experts' and 'facts' thrown around all the time."
What's not at all surprising is that this attack on "expertise" is associated with Stephen Meyer and the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute, after all, worked closely with the creationists on the Texas State Board of Education when they reworked the state's science curriculum in 2009. During that fiasco, Don McLeroy, then chair of the Board, weighed in on his perception of the importance of evolution. Rather than rebutting the data offered by experts on the topic, he simply ranted. "I disagree with these experts. Somebody's gotta stand up to experts."
So, according to Meyer and Focus on the Family, colleges are filled with "experts" who see their job as coercing youth to accept their godless worldview. And these godless "experts" have apparently even taken over Christian colleges and universities.
Conspiracy theories of this sort seem pretty farfetched and a far more rational explanation of the situation comes immediately to mind: perhaps those godless experts at Christian colleges aren't godless at all. Perhaps accepting the basics of biology need not call anyone's faith into question. Rather than merely offering this alternative hypothesis, I can offer ample evidence to support it. The Clergy Letter Project consists of more than 13,000 religious leaders who are anything but godless and who all accept evolution.
Obviously, my view of the value of a college education differs markedly from that proffered by Meyer. And, obviously, my advice for college students has nothing in common with his. We are so far apart that I struggled to find something productive to offer Meyer and the TrueU series. Finally, though, I decided that I could suggest a theme song that would fully encapsulate their worldview.
With apologies to Ed and Patsy Bruce for the slight rewording of their classic country tune, I recommend that TrueU move immediately to adopt the following as their theme song: "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Students."
Follow Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mzclergyletter