There are some who remember that the Rev. Jerry Falwell began his university in Virginia because he believed that the bulk of universities and colleges in the country were aggressively liberal and anti-religious. His argument was that all the major religiously-created school had drifted away from the religious beginnings and had cut their ties with the denominations that founded them: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, and the list was long.
Now the argument seems to be that our whole current educational system is failing, worthless, and incompetent. The evidence against the current public education system is the great number of people who home school their children. The efforts by politicians to create massive numbers of charter schools, and the constant cutting of funds and changing the careers of public school teachers.
But there is equal evidence for the failure of education from the other side. The percentage of people who do not believe the evidence of science is startling. Science has present study after study of the dramatic changes in climate and the causes of those changes. Those studies have been ignored. Science has incredible evidence for the expansion theory for the creation of the universe and the number of people who refuse to accept that data is astonishing. There is a South Carolinian legislature who wants to introduce a bill that will declare God as the creator of the fossils found in his state. There is no report as to the date that this legislator wants to put on when God did that.
Nowhere is this failure of education to produce a common, accepted description of reality than in our religious communities. An elderly gentleman with a long history in education reported that he had just attended a large prosperous congregation of most college educated people and they were all happy with their fundamentalist beliefs, the inerrant scriptures, the five fundament laws of salvation, and opposition to women and gays in ministry. The existence of a college education had not altered or penetrated their understanding of the religious experience.
But there is a deeper and more troubling drift in our culture. We are fast losing any acceptable common standards for knowledge, information, news, and opinions. A friend told me in the locker room of the YMCA that he has been receiving flyers and mailers that tell him that he should no longer believe what he reads in the newspaper. They are manipulating and editing the news for their own purposes. There is the report that the online version of Newsweek magazine is now in the hands of a religious group from Korea. We have seen that the news industry has its own standards of investigation by the actions of Rupert Murdoch in England. We know that the on-air news channels each have their political points of view. Where is the core, the common ground, the description of events that all of us can begin with to discuss the future.
A city planner used to come to worship with a congregation I worked with. Someone asked him why he came. His response was interesting. "My job is to work with the public to create an environment so that all the citizens can enjoy a good life. But the great difficult question is what is a 'good life'? That is really a theological question. So I come to ponder that question with others."
What is the common center? What are the shared and agreed upon building blocks for our common life together. They used to be a common education. They used to be an agreement with the findings of science. They used to be an agreement that hard, honest, consistent work would bring a respectable standard of living. All of those seem to be collapsing. There is a shattering of our society and one of the real possibility is a great conflict.