Do-It-Yourself Schools

The Dallas Morning News tells the story (registration required – but free) of the Nguyen family of the metroplex. A generation ago poor immigrants from Vietnam, now they are a large family of doctors, engineers and educators. By their reckoning they’ve received so much, now it’s time to give back. They’re starting a school – St. Ignatius of Loyola – where they themselves – the extended family of educated thankful people – will do much of the teaching. Way to go Nguyens!

Let’s try another step. In the recent issue of Books and Culture Alen Guelzo, professor of history at Gettysburg College, writes “Cracks in the Tower: A Closer Look at the Christian College Boom.” Booming they are. But will it last? In his examination the question isn’t only will the colleges keep booming – or stay open – but will they stay Christian. In Guelzo’s analysis, the never-ending quest for adequate funding leads these colleges to dilute their Christian identity until – like Harvard, Oberlin, USC, etc., that identity is left as not much more than a historical footnote. Looks pretty bleak.

I can think of a couple of possibilities.

First, instead of (whell, for now it’ll be “in addition to”) operating colleges, Christians can operate a network of seminars and workshops that function as “add-ons” to educations gained elsewhere. Some Christian institutions are already doing this. There’s loss involved here – particularly in the lack of ongoing sustained relationships and the deeper dimensions of learning they make possible. But with the economics of higher ed for so many entailing working full time on the side and/or commuting to school, or from another point of view the commodification of higher ed, this loss is too common to education in general.

Second, what about small, local schools – akin to what the Nguyens are doing on the high school level? Could Christian faculty from nearby schools – and well-educated non-faculty start a non-localized school? They could get library privileges at other local schools – maybe even require their students to take a set number of classes at other institutions so they could have access to those big things that take serious capital investment. The obvious problem here is accredidation. Since a college degree is a commodity, the only way to regulate them and guarantee it actually means something is to have experts overseeing the process.

If educators dared to start such a school – would anyone come? Some may dare. Whatever model we find – whether an adaptation of current models or something new (or ancient!) – Christian higher education is worth doing.

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