U and the Modern University

7:30 AM

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My mother walked in the other afternoon with the mail. That signaled the imaginary period bell to release students of Napoleonic history from their books. Thirty-some minutes of freedom -  to wander through the kitchen, sampling tator tots and homegrown cantaloupe, to flip through bills, L.L. Bean catalogs and the college propaganda steadily trickling in. I saw the big white envelope and slipped my finger through to break the seal.

"I already got something from the University of Chicago," I complained.

"They really want you," said my mother. "I get emails from them all time."

It's nice to be wanted.

Inside the big white envelope lay a big white viewbook, neatly designed to bedazzle innocent seniors like me. It is, actually, quite fun to get graphic design ideas from colleges. There's really little else I'm interested in - unless they can offer study in Oxford and a scholarship to pay for it. But because I was on lunch break, I opened the viewbook and heard their spiel:

At the University of Chicago, it's all about ideas. It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, or what you're studying - what matters is that you're courageous enough to take chances, express your thoughts, discover your passions, and learn and grow from feedback. At the core of our curriculum, programs, and community, students learn how to think and open new intellectual horizons. It's this approach that empowers our students and fosters world-changing ideas.

That's nice. I like ideas and world-changing. The thing is, every single shiny brochure has preached to me the same philosophy of community, discovery and "new intellectual horizons." I kid you not - every college boasts students that are "smart, funny, down-to-earth - the kind of people who become friends for life." Radically different colleges say the same thing. So what is what? How does one choose?

I signed up at the ACT for college propaganda for the sheer thrill of the game. It's fun reading appeals to my "impressive academic achievements"; it's flattering to know that they'll waive my application fee because I'm "special"; it's tickle-me-pink hilarious to know they send the same thing to everyone else, too.

But more than all that, I love figuring out the worldviews behind everything. Propaganda is propaganda: I know that. So linking what's in the glossy viewbooks and behind the fancy dean signatures to what the colleges and universities actually preach and teach is an amateur apologist's dream.

Every college claims to encourage intellectualism, integrity, exploration and "the best community." Every college is the unique builder of the up-and-coming generation. Who's pulling our legs?

Somewhere along the way, I think I got a UW-Madison letter. (I lose track. All that stands out is the college who has the orange being unpeeled, the University of Chicago, St. Norbert's and Yale - that was an exciting day.) My daddy graduated there; we still get their alumni publications which I try to read over lunch break before my dad tosses them into the recycling with a deprecating, "Such a liberal college." Worldview training at its best.

Of course, like all the other letters, pleas and glossiness, UW-Madison promised to turn me into an astute, culturally-engaged student at ease with all the ideas being tossed around. Like all the other colleges, it painted itself as refreshingly neutral ground for intellectual debate and idea-propagation.

I looked through my dad's yearbook the other night, bored with Champollion's slow progress to unlocking hieroglyphics. I regretted it.

The gap between the smiling, inclusive cover letter and the actual recap of the year closed very quickly.

Somehow, a visiting preacher and his new wife was big enough news to be included in two full pages of the alumni's memories. They splashed the couple's fiery, unapologetic, fundamentalistic, rabidly intolerant demeanors across those two pages, the surrounding text describing them as one would a rare breed. For big Madison, evangelists were the new circus come to town.

Students skipped classes to watch the duo in action. The preacher in his suit and tweed pants stood out from the wackily-dressed students clustered about him. He claimed to speak the truth, that he was a spokesman from God, that those who didn't believe him would go to hell. (Cue laughter.) And his wife? She was one of those submissive types who did whatever the husband said. "Oh, yeah," the preacher allegedly chest-thumped, "I'm definitely the head of my home!" (Cue laughter.)

I could just see them jabbing each other with their elbows: "Dude, what kind of act is this?" "I don't know, man! I haven't seen one of these in ages!"

Beyond propaganda-drizzled promises and tolerance delusions lies the hard fact of existence: everything has a belief system. Colleges and universities teach out of that belief system. Candy-coated, all-inclusive self-actualization that looks good in viewbooks - there's a belief running that, like Oz behind the green curtain - something not quite like you expected.

Researching different colleges and universities, from radically Christian to conservative to weakly conservative to rabidly liberal, I saw the worldviews seeping up through the propaganda. I learned to read between the glossy lines now, so to speak. What looks good on paper is more often than not code name for humanism.
  • "It's all about ideas." Translation: Since there's no ultimate, unchanging truth, discussion of ideas leads only to making certain ideas (whether true, false or stupid) more palatable to the mainstream.
  • "What matters is that you're courageous enough to take chances, express your thoughts, discover your passions, and learn and grow from feedback." Translation: Since there's no higher standard to conform to, this is the place for self-actualization and discovering that there's nothing wrong about you. This is the time for confirming through scientific and social research and high intellectualism that anything formerly labelled as "wrong" or "abnormal" can be transformed into "artistic," "modern" and even "thoughtful."
  • "Students learn how to think and open new intellectual horizons." Translation: Because we teach from a worldview, students will learn to be open to everything, cutting holes into their minds like a sieve to process everything and retain nothing. UChicago says, "The core of undergraduate classes offers a broad perspective on human knowledge."
  • "It's this approach that empowers our students and fosters world-changing ideas." Translation: No need to take a united message to the world. Our students, with their training in no-truth-ism, will transform the world according to the most popular ideas discussed above. As UChicago explains, "We provide the intellectual groundwork; you define the boundaries."
Compare that to the students and faculty at conservative Hillsdale College, who repeatedly mention the acquiring of what's true, what's good, what's great, where students come not to self-actualize but to measure themselves up to an outside standard.

The difference is between "acquiring" and "actualizing," "learning" and merely "discovering." One has a foundation and stands upon it. One has a foundation of air and covers it up in gloss and fancy graphic design.

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17 impressions

  1. I went to college, and it was a wonderful experience. It can be whatever you make of it.

    Sounds like you are very flattered and pleased that they want you, even if you don't want to go! How funny to be flattered about a place that you scorn.

    If you don't like the brochures, however, just don't check that box on the ACT. Then you won't hear from any schools.

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  2. FYI, schools want lots of applicants. They want even the unqualified to apply. They don't care who applies, just so long as they send in an application.

    Why?

    Because then they can appear more selective. If 10,000 people apply to U of Michigan for, say, 1,000 slots, they can then brag that they only accept 10% of applicants.

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  3. *laughs* Sounds like when you go to fill out job applications online, and they make it sound so grand... to work at McDonald's. Yeaaaah right. =P

    thanks for the post, I loved reading it :D

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  4. Those evangelicals that were such hot tickets... that was Brother Jed. He had some pretty explicit sermons. His daughter ended up doffing the uniform of a man and now is in the army. Huh.

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  5. Nothing personal hun but if you check the box to receive mail from colleges, they will send away (qualified or not). Geez after I checked that box I got everything from U. of Hawaii to Harvard, and a pamphlet for every state inbetween.

    Look you're right, college is not for everyone. I guess it's especially not for you. But I want to tell you something you need to hear. If you spend your entire life only being exposed to ideas that you agree with and only being around people who share your views, you will not learn anything worthwhile. This I promise you. And no...reading "propoganda" from a "liberal college" is not the kind of exposure I am talking about.

    Best of luck with your future endeavors (whatever they may be)!

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  6. I found this entry because someone was talking about your blog on FreeJinger.org You should expect that you will get a lot of new readers from that site. Even though many of the people on that site are critical of religious people I am not here to pick on you. You seem very intelligent and articulate. I think that is something you deserve credit for.
    You do seem to be thinking for yourself about things and I do encourage you to keep doing that even if you continue to feel that college is not for you. I do find that many people don't think for themselves regardless of if they went to college or not.
    For example, even though I read FreeJinger I think some of the people there stereotype religious people as intolerant/hateful without realizing they are themselves being intolerant and closed-minded.

    Personally, I did go to college and I am happy I did. Even though I had professors who expressed liberal views unabashedly, I had enough sense to take their "editorial" comments about politics with a grain of salt. Not every professor is the same - some of them totally disagree with each other. :)
    You can learn useful things from someone without accepting their whole worldview. There are some gifted teachers out there who can make a subject you don't expect to find interesting into something really amazing.
    I do think if you wanted to go to college you could do a lot of good in the world with the knowledge and skills that colleges can offer. I think a conservative Christian intellectual could add a lot to the academic world actually. :) You could shake up a lot of liberal people's world views by showing that a conservative person can be intelligent and articulate, not some kind of knuckle dragger!

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  7. I went to college and I LOVED it. I remember those days with great fondness. It was one of the most exciting times of my life. College opened the doors to what has proved to be a wonderful life for me. While I agree that college is not for everyone - I would strongly encourage you to at least try college before writing it off.

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  8. It's quite unnerving to find oneself the subject of speculation. It makes one feel almost special. ;o)

    But seriously, let me clarify a few things before people end up defending themselves against a Bailey Philosophy I never propounded:

    (1) I knowingly checked the box on the ACT because I WANTED college info. Just for fun...but also I wanted to see if among the hundreds of emails and mailings there would be anything that fit me. I've always wanted to go to college - to be in a place where ideas, different and similar, were exchanged in the name of education and truth.

    (2) I'm not one of those close-minded (or convicted - whichever way you take it) Christians who believe girls shouldn't go to college, Christians shouldn't ever go to secular colleges or anything like that. This post wasn't a slam on college in general nor a ban on liberal colleges...it was merely discussing the worldviews behind different college types. What you choose to do with that knowledge was not the point of the post. We're having a discussion about Christians in secular college venues in the post below. I welcome your thoughts on that!

    (3) I am happy for you who went to college and were happy about it. Truly. No joke. But I've talked to others who went "just 'cause" or wasted time partying or just not plugging into the opportunities there and regretted it. Those are attitudes on which I'm sure all lovers of education, wherever they stand on college, can fault.

    (4) I actually learn very much from those who have entirely different worldviews than me...and encourage others to do so. For instance, one of my favorite books is Who Stole Feminism? by a classical feminist defending feminism from other "gender feminists." I loved her and I learned so much about feminism, even if I didn't embrace every expression of her beliefs.

    What I post on my blog is not the result of intolerant, narrowminded learning, but actually a decision I made about what the truth is (or introducing a discussion about it) after being exposed to many different worldviews. Many people seem to think that because I take a stand on something, I haven't considered the other options...which is a ridiculous way to go about forming opinions, IMHO, and religious (and irreligious) intolerance irks me beyond belief. Only after studying the back and forth can one get an idea of what he's agreeing and disagreeing to.

    HSAT, and while appreciating being called open-minded and free-thinking, I am captive to Christ and will defend the truth and He who is Truth...not as a blind faith but as someone who would proclaim that the moon is not made of green cheese no matter how many people say it is. If it is, it's truth; if it isn't, it's not; and Christ is truth.

    But I don't plan on condescendingly preaching or excluding thoughtful discussion, like we're having now. (BTW, Catherine, I didn't appreciate Brother Jed's spirit of preaching and was myself offended at his rather arrogant presentation of himself.)

    And finally........

    (5) I didn't want to say this because it requirs a whole post, but I am going to college. Eight hours away, in fact, to a classical liberal arts college based on Greco-Roman educational philosophy and Judeo-Christian beliefs. It isn't Christian, per se, and it's wholly nondenominational. I'm applying this week, actually.

    Yes, you may recall I said I wasn't ever going to college and hinted that it wasn't appropriate for true Christian girls to, either - this is a change from that. If you care to know why, stay tuned for the lengthy post. :o)

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  9. Oh, and would y'all mind just putting an initial or something to your Anonymous comments? I won't be able to match your thoughts to your correct personality by pure remembrance of your writing style! :D

    Thanks!

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  10. Bailey,
    I applaud your willingness to share your thoughts on this subject and participate in the lively discussion that follows. I enjoyed this post very much, and I am definitely looking forward to your lengthy post on "The College Decision." (It definitely merits both a lengthy post and capital letters.) Expect a barrage of comments from yours truly on the subject ;o)

    I also have to comment on this statement: "We're having a discussion about Christians in secular college venues in the post below." And about pink aliens. Mostly pink aliens, in fact.

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  11. Beautifully written, thank you so much for sharing! Good response to the above comments, I was going to say some of the same myself. :-)

    Sheila

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  12. Ack! Julia! I deleted your comment because it landed in the spam box and the button that says PUBLISH in the normal moderation box is actually DELETE in the spam box and now it's gone forever and I can't find it and I'm so sorry and I'm afraid I'll never be able to show my face again.

    :o(((

    Theatrics aside, I shall keep you on the edge of your seat as to where I go to college. Rest assured, if it's anywhere near you, we will have coffee at the cafe together on campus. But I don't drink coffee.

    Oh.

    Hot chocolate, then?

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  13. I don't drink coffee, either. I love hot chocolate, though! =) That would be so much fun. If you live in WI, though, and the college you're attending is 8 hours away, I guess it probably isn't near me. ='( But maybe it is! I shall cling to the hope until you prove me otherwise!!

    Don't worry about the comment. It wasn't that important, anyway. =)

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  14. I found this post very interesting. I am studying worldviews this year and loving it. I am also starting to seriously consider going ot college in a few years. So this hit home in a few ways :)
    I too enjoy studying things to figure out the worldview behind them. It gives me a more complete perspective on things.
    Have fun with your college advertisements ;)

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  15. I write a blog, that can be found at www.livysplace.wordpress.com. I wondered if you sometime write a bit about yourself,what you do your blog, and such and guest blog for me?I f not that's fine too..i'll contact you for when.
    Thanks!!

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  16. I am eager to hear about your decision and the reasoning behind it, Bailey! We're waiting.
    I recently decided that I really want to go to a college, too. But I want to think carefully about it, and not get carried away in excitement over studying vocal performance.
    <><

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  17. And P.S.
    I get really excited when I brush against someone with different beliefs than mine. Allison will join me in fondly remembering the night when a cynical atheist showed up on Google Buzz. Allison and I, hidden securely behind the faceless Internet screen, eagerly jumped into the comment section to defend our beliefs, and maybe convert him while at it.
    Turns out he's a Christian homeschooler. He was playing a part just for fun. I'm kind of relieved, though. It was practice!
    Have you ever read the comments on a controversial Youtube video? That is an amazing collection of different worldviews, but it can get ugly.
    <><

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Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)