I’m currently engaged in a fairly lengthy online discussion about the role a university, especially a Christian one, should play in ensuring that a student leaves with precisely the beliefs and worldview they presumably had coming in. (Of course, this is generally based in an assumption that young people will obviously and naturally parrot the ideas of the dominant authority figure (or adult) in their life–presumably a parent.) At least within my larger Adventist community, these debates are becoming a dime a dozen:
“This professor doesn’t believe what I believe? How can I trust them with my child? How can I trust a university that doesn’t fire them?”
“A (Christian) university’s primary concern is to ensure my child believes what I believe. They should not be exposing my child to perspectives I disagree with.” (Because university students are still children, incapable of critical thought.)
Having spent my first seven years of post-secondary in an Adventist Christian liberal arts college (now a full university), I had always thought this was a unique problem of that culture. However, at a public university, I heard a professor tell of a student who complained bitterly because the school was not promoting capitalism the way he thought it should.
In a similar vein, there is currently an ongoing public discussion (at least in North America) about trigger warnings, presentation of potentially challenging material and whether university students are simply unprepared for the challenges of life away from home. One significant position seems to hinge on a simple belief that the best values are those I (as a parent) hold and have (presumably) instilled in my child. The university’s job is to parent my child as I would and ensure those value remain unchallenged–to protect them against material which might upset them or challenge their worldview.
That is what I don’t understand.
As inexperienced, insecure and often incompetent as my own parents were, I am thankful they were aware of their own limitations (at least in a general sense). I learned growing up that one of the great values in belonging to a large (Adventist) cultural community was being exposed to different ideas and perspectives. In short, my parents didn’t know everything and so they recognized that it was in my best interest to encounter teachers, church members and other adults who thought differently and could, hopefully, make up for the inadequacies in their own parenting. Certainly, I still encountered the occasional incompetent, even abusive, teacher, but on the whole I learned much from the variety of speakers, writers, leaders, teachers, and lay people I encountered.
Most importantly, I learned that belonging to a large community enables us to share our best ideas and to learn from others. Thus, when I left home for university, there was no great fear about the various ideas I would encounter there. Encountering people with different knowledge, experiences and ideas was considered to be an important and healthy part of the experience.
Thus, I am rather surprised when I hear people complaining about how this teacher at that school is teaching things they disagree with. Those statements generally turn into calls for greater control:
Obviously, any professor who doesn’t agree with my own limited understanding of the world is suspect and needs to be silenced or removed. Furthermore, any university which does not heed my call is obviously not concerned about the integrity of my community or the education of my children. (This also appears in other forms as various parties with the community call for the exile of those who disagree with them.)
But again, what are we here for, together, if we aren’t learning from each other? Why bother talking to other people if you only want to hear your own ideas fed back to you?
Of course, there are a great many other concerns at play in these debates, but I believe this is a critical question:
Does my community exist to reinforce my particular worldview, especially in my children, or does it exist to expand and develop my worldview through communal discussion and discovery?