Along with content knowledge and pedagogical skill, teachers’ personal qualities impact their classrooms and their work with depth and significance. The moral qualities that teachers bring with them into the classroom inform decisions, direct practice, and guide the culture of the learning community. Hope is an important virtue and motivation for teachers in every teaching situation and context, for hope pervades every aspect of the experience of teaching.
The body of C.S. Lewis’ work, from his essays to his fiction, plumbs key problems caused in higher education by Modernists. In both The Screwtape Letters and The Abolition of Man, he delineates the devolution of human souls deprived of meaning and dependent only on material fact. In the third book of his science fiction trilogy, That Hideous Strength, he creates vivid scenes of battle between two warring factions, the Progressives versus the obstructionists, at the fictional Bracton College. His essays and fiction consistently present his belief that the Modernist agenda is founded on a bankrupt philosophy for which its ultimate end is little more than a struggle for power.
In his introduction to English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, C. S. Lewis thrashes the bushes searching out potential causes for the surprising efflorescence of brilliant literature that sprang up near the end of the sixteenth century. At the beginning of the century, “the prose is clumsy, monotonous, garrulous; their verse is either astonishingly tame and cold or, if it attempts to rise, the coarsest fustian. In both mediums we come to dread a certain ruthless emphasis; bludgeon work. Nothing is light, or tender, or fresh. All the authors write like elderly men. . . . Then, in the last quarter of the century the unpredictable happens.
Since 1990, through five distinct phases, my research team has surveyed and assessed the values and worldviews of undergraduates around the world (but primarily in the United States). Each phase has keyed on a specific theme, including the self or personhood. The overall objective has been to determine the extent, character and implications of a “postmodern turn”–i.e., a worldview-shift away from both traditional and modern assumptions/values-among tertiary-levle students. Secondary questions explored included, a) whether undergraduates at public universities are “more postmodern” than those who attend private, church-affiliated colleges; and, b) to the degree that a postmodern turn is found, whether undergraduates are in general more inclined to a worldview of extreme self-referentiality (here characterized as “radical postmodern”) on the one hand, or a tested or “anchored” self-referentiality, here termed “transmodern,” on the other. The background, rational and methodology of the work are summarized, as are key concepts such as worldviews and the nature of postmodernity.
It is probably no surprise to anyone that it is increasingly difficult to maintain a Christian witness on many college campuses. Recently, InterVarsity has had to fight to remain at Harvard, Rutgers, and North Carolina. At North Carolina, a Christian fraternity was “de-recognized” and, according to Jo Stanley, a Christian group at the University of California Hastings College of the Law lost an appeal to be reinstated as a campus organization just this last April. The main reason these groups are facing problems is that they insist their members be Christian, something which flies in the face of non-discrimination policies that allow participation and membership in university organizations without regard to age, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex or sexual orientation. Writing in the October, 2003 issue of Christianity Today, Andy Crouch states:
There is nothing so close to the university’s heart as the dream of education as a liberating force. The liberation being most avidly sought in universities today is sexual—removing the shame from a wide variety of sexual orientations that are summed up in organizational names like “The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Alliance…At UNC, some members of the gay community, aware of InterVarsity’s traditional views, were vocal in calling for the group’s removal from campus. (64)
There can be no doubt that Christians who work in the secular university face many obstacles today. How do we maintain our witness for Christ when the temptation, perhaps even the threat, to be silent, is very real? At what point must we decide to speak up or hold our tongue? What will speaking up cost us in the way of prestige or even our careers? It is a time when we must truly be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Is there anyone to turn to for advice?
Recently, two cultural analysts have written books that talk about the future of humanity. Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, in his book The World is Flat, explains many of the consequences of globalization on our world. In a recent meeting of the National Governor’s Association, he discussed advances in technology so powerful that anyone with a computer in Beijing or Bangalore can plug in and compete with anyone else in the world, and what will happen if we grow complacent in our education of today’s young people. Joel Garreau, a Washington Post Editor and cultural analyst, in Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing our Minds, Our Bodies, and What it means to be Human gives an overview of the implication of four technologies that are growing exponentially. He calls these technologies GRIN: Genetics, Robotics, Information, and Nanotechnology. He explains that these technologies are bringing the ability to enhance memory with pills or bioengineer our children or have robots fight our battles; outcomes of which can be what he describes as Heaven, Hell, or Prevail. What both these recent books bring to light as they define these incredible paradigm shifts is the need for a view of humanity that is rooted in ethics and values. In addition they pose questions about what we are doing in education to give the next generation the resources and stronghold of values they need to make sure that the growth in power of technology and science does not overwhelm our humanity.