I’m currently reading the book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. Roose was a student at Brown University (my alma mater!) when he decided he wanted to learn more about the culture of evangelical Christianity. So he transferred to Liberty University for a semester.
I am only about a third of the way through the book and will probably post a full review when I have finished it. For now, though, I would like to post one brief excerpt that really jumped out at me. Roose is listing, in bullet point fashion, certain things “Liberty really, really wants us to know.” Here is one of the points:
Absolute truth exists. At Liberty, unlike many secular schools, professors teach with the view that there is one right answer to every question, that those right answers are found plainly in the Bible, and that their job is to transfer those right answers from their lecture notes to our minds. It’s a subtle difference in ideology, but it makes for big changes in teaching style. Most of my classes use workbooks — thin, self-published transcriptions of the professor’s notes with one or two words blanked out per sentence. As the professor teaches, his notes appear on PowerPoint slides, and we fill in the missing words in our workbooks. (pp. 87-88)
The irony here is that at every creationist conference I have attended, the alleged desire of dogmatic, left-wing, secular professors to indoctrinate their students has been a major theme. “Indoctrinate” seems to mean teaching anything that conflicts with their own idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible.
Roose is mistaken in describing Liberty’s attitude as a subtle change in ideology from what most professors at secular colleges do (or at more moderate Christian schools, for that matter). What Roose describes is the polar opposite of what most professors do. You can count on one hand the number of college professors who see their job as the communication of knowledge from the brain of the professor to the brain of the student. We bristle at the very thought. Our goal is to get students to think for themselves. Sure, we want to communicate certain facts about our subject, and we don’t want students to end up as little relativists who think anything could be true so long as enough people believe it with enough enthusiasm. But our main desire is for the students to make a good argument in defense of what they believe and to think critically about whatever subject is before them.
This is true even in math classes, where so often there really is an unambiguous fact of the matter. I love it when students argue with me about the Monty Hall problem, or about whether .99999… =1. I like some passion, even if it is in the service of a position that is, ultimately, simply wrong.