Essay / Culture

On Picking a College: A Parental Perspective

Yesterday, Dr. John Mark Reynolds posted a letter that he had written to a student who was attempting to make a choice between Biola University and UC Berkeley. Parents should think through the implications of a university choice, and should consider what is the proper criterion by which a student chooses the institute of higher education he or she should attend.

Parents want the best for their children. Our culture believes that an education at a prestigious institution of higher education (e.g. Ivy League or UC) is what is best for the student. It is easy for the parents to get caught up in the prestige game and to live vicariously through their children’s academic success.

I understand this as a parent. I have experienced this in a very profound way when I have watched my children play sports. All of a sudden I found myself being tempted to criticize my children for their athletic endeavors as if my son or daughter’s athletic prowess (or lack thereof) directly reflected on either my athletic abilities or my ability to parent. It is important to make sure that our own vicarious desires do not cause us to pressure our children into a bad academic decision.

Parents need to train their children to be able to distinguish the difference between occupation and vocation. An occupation is the way in which we earn money to feed and shelter ourselves. A vocation is the call of our life. Specifically, as a Christian, it is about our place as servants of God, and our submission of our lives to his kingdom purpose. Christians in today’s world often conflate occupation with vocation.

To understand ourselves in light of God’s call we must understand that our existence is about more than just making money so we can support our families. While money making in this world is necessary it is only a small part of our existence because it is temporary—existing only in this physical plane. More important is our understanding of our nature as followers of Christ. Our life on earth is to be understood in light of our eternal relationship with God.

Education is about our ability to understand reality. To say something is true is to say something about the reality that exists outside of us. The modern university is not dedicated to the examination of reality. Most institutes of higher education are not selling knowledge. They are selling success (occupation or career). You are told if you go to (place name of prestigious university here) we can enable you to be successful (that is get a good job that makes a great deal of money). If you ask a university like UC Berkeley questions about fulfillment, purpose or happiness they will not have a very clear answer (if any at all).

Secular universities are unable to answer questions about fulfillment and purpose because those ideas are outside of their paradigm of understanding. Secular universities hold to science as the arbiter of what counts as knowledge. Philosopher Dallas Willard points out that education in those universities is no longer about knowledge or understanding of humanity, but about exalting freedom, and pleasure.

Parents need to consider their goals for their children’s education. Most young men and women don’t have a clear understanding of what is going to assail them on today’s secular university campus. They need to understand that in most universities Christianity is not seen as a source of knowledge. At best it is an interesting area of investigation for cultural anthropologists or those in the department of comparative religions.

We have to begin to evaluate our reasons for education. What is it that we hope our children will have learned after four years of higher education? Thinking of our children’s academic success in terms of economic measurements of accomplishment undercuts our children’s true potential.

If we are going to enable our children to flourish as followers of God and his kingdom we must send them to an institution where they are able to think about knowledge in a holistic sense. It is not that all of the other disciplines are not knowledge bearing, but that without God’s revelation they misunderstand the totality of the academic project.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 states:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

The secular academic world is attacking the reality of Christianity. It is important to send our students to an institution that educates them holistically. Christian students do go to major secular universities and survive, but it is about more than mere survival. It is about enabling our students to see themselves as a participant in God’s kingdom purposes which are manifested in their understanding of who they are in Christ, and obeying God’s call to an eternity of service to him.

Parents need to show their children the difference between following the world’s definition of success, and success in the kingdom. The Apostle Paul states in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” It is the renewal of our mind with God’s truth that enables us to pursue a truly pleasing life with and for God. This is the type of faith that must permeate the life of our students in their educational endeavors. Without a strong Christian education they will be swimming in a pool of naturalistic muck that can infect the health of their soul for years to come.

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