C. S. Lewis on the Modernization of Higher Education

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Second, the ultimate materialist conclusion may be averted by the evolution of the economy itself.  We forget that we are the economy, whole persons that we are.  Futurist Daniel Pink’s bestselling book A Whole New Mind outlines what he sees as the evolution of the global economy toward a higher place for right-brain work.  He traces this evolution to three forces: abundance, Asia, and automation.

Western consumers, living in abundance, will differentiate products not on the bases of price or utility, which are flattening globally, but on the basis of meaning.  In an economy of abundance, where we can easily purchase the quality we want, the product that tells a compelling story will sell.  People like Lewis, who understand myth, narrative, and imagination will enhance the products of the next economy.  Pink’s Asia theme is about outsourcing.  Any work that can be outsourced will be outsourced.  Only high-touch, relational work will stay in the West.  His automation theme is similar-any work than can be done by computers will be automated.  Only work that requires a right brain will remain.

Right-brain thinking is holistic, intuitive and nonlinear.  Left-brain thinking is logical, sequential, and computer-like.  Both halves of the brain are meant to work together.  Lewis had both in fluid connection.  The attractiveness of his thinking processes has delighted his hearers and readers for decades, perhaps because he is working from both sides of the human cognitive experience.  It is wonderful to imagine an economy that will value and fund such thinking.  I have in mind students I have encountered whose beautiful gifts seemed so out of place in this world, and are perhaps meant only for the next.  In a right-brain economy, these creative thinkers would snatch the plum jobs months before graduation.

On the other hand, it is frightening to imagine a profit-maximizing economy that would simply exploit such gifts.  The divorced parties, industry and social institutions, can only remarry through a reconciliation of both their missions.  Industrialization, if it comes to dominate higher education, would teach and model its worldview.  The ideology that acquires a foothold in higher education will form the thinking of future generations. In the physical and spiritual battle waged against the Progressives at Bracton College, Lewis saw all of this at stake.

The fact-value split of the Enlightenment set materialism and idealism in opposition.  The two camps have fought out their war of ideology ever since.  It seems a silly quarrel when we realize that, in reality, facts can never exist without meaning.  The importance of doing scientific work itself relies on human reasoning being more meaningful than the mere physical transfer of electric impulses in the brain.  Lewis points to this core fallacy of scientism in The Abolition of Man and in his science fiction trilogy.  When he realized the complete philosophical bankruptcy of scientism, he abandoned it to accept Christianity.  Christian thought, especially as expressed by Lewis, explores a universe rich in meaning.

For these reasons, I believe that Christian thought is essential for the healing of the divorce between material and its value.  The two are married and always have been, whether or not men paused to read the banns.  It might require a right-brain turn in the economy to induce higher education to return to the wedding feast.  Institutions of higher education can return to the feast by educating whole persons, using both sides of their brains, on the whole of created reality.

Works Cited

Altbach, P. G. (2001). The American academic model in comparative perspective. In P. G. Altbach, P. J. Gumport, & D. B. Johnstone ; (Eds.), In defense of American higher education (pp. 11-37). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Duderstadt, J. J. (2000). A university for the 21st century. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

Gumport, P.J. (2002). Universities and Knowledge: Restructuring the City of Intellect. In Brint, S. (Ed.), The Future of the City of Intellect (pp. 47-81). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Greene, A.E. (1998).  Reclaiming the Future of Christian Education. Colorado Springs: Association of Christian Schools International.

Jaschik, S. (2008).  Wake-up call for American higher ed. Retrieved on May 21, 2008 from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/05/21/bologna.