Dluxe's World

Tuesday, July 18

Wrap-up: The Joshua Generation (Farris)

Hardly a minute goes by during the average American's day during which we aren't subjected to some form of propaganda or another. Whether it's the particular spin of a news story by a media outlet (one way or the other), an advertisement telling us why last year's car is outdated, or the clothing of someone passing by, our values and perceptions are constantly being shaped.

Some would say that one mark of maturity is the ability to objectively gather data and process it to form one's own opinion. But if we're honest with ourselves, I think we'd all admit that there are times we find ourselves buying into the rationalizations of the world around us with less scrutiny than perhaps is deserved.

It is this idea, in part, that serves as the launching point for Michael Farris in his book The Joshua Generation. Looking at homeschooling families, Farris notes bright trends in areas of acedemic excellence, community/civic involvement, and overall character of their students. While some choose to homeschool for these reasons alone, it is almost certain that a majority of Christian homeschoolers see their choice as a way to protect their children from 'negative' influences in the secular educational culture. For example, Farris cites research by the Barna Group which indicates how similar the opinions of 'born-again' teens with those of the general population.
We have to ask ourselves: "Why do born again teenagers think so much like teens in general? What ideological sources do they have in common, and what sources are different?"
...
The common ideological sources shared by born-again teens with teens in general are public education and the media. The numbers reveal which are more powerful: born-again parents and born-again churches versus public schools and entertainment sources. Most born again teens have the same values as our secular culture, not the values of their parents and churches. (p.7)

So, you've made the decision to homeschool in order to provide a solid education to your child and give you the maximum chance to influence their values positively. Great. Now, what happens when they get ready to go to college? Assuming they want a top-flite education (read, Ivy League), aren't we admittedly sending them into the lion's den? I think few would argue that the general values held by most academic institutions - particularly towards Christianity - are out of step with what these same parents sought to instill in their children.
It is common for Christians to look at this situation through rose-colored glasses. We think it is a good idea for Christian students to be sent into secular institutions to do intellectual battles with secularist professors and act as good witnesses to their fellow students. While some students will do this, is this typical? Should we blindly believe that most Christian young people will be stalwarts of the faith in such a setting? (pp.17-18)
...
Elite academic education is the proven path toward leadership in most spheres of cultural influence. But where is it leading us? And should Christians follow this path? (p.21)

Noting that college is "more about philosophy and worldview than it is about the transmission of factoids" (p.23), Farris launches into a scathing presentation of the religious and 'political' climates at most major American universities. As someone who has works in the ivory towers of academia and who has considered further schooling at various points in the past, I can assure you that Farris is not off the mark in his criticism.

It's already been established on this blog that I am a right-wing, fundie wacko. As a result, I've read a lot of books that outline the blah blah effects of liberalism on modern American culture, schools, and government. If you've read any of these books, particularly focused on colleges, you'll find there's nothing in The Joshua Generation. Farris spends easily 2/3 of the book rehashing the numerous facts about progressive socialism on campus. If you haven't read a ton of other titles, I have no doubt that the case presented will be fun reading and eye-opening. However, for many people it will just be rehashed tidbits.

The book is driving at the following conclusion: If one considers the 'glory days' of American colleges (c1750 thru 1860ish), one finds that the elite academic institutions were overwhelmingly Christian - missionary oriented at that - and the curriculum blossomed out of an attitude of 'intellectual worship'. Farris pronouces that "[i]f Christians could produce the top colleges in the early 1800s, surely we could do the same thing in the 2000s" (p.156).

The goal, Farris hopes, is to stimulate Christians to establish and support institutions like his own Patrick Henry College or Wheaton. These institutions are drawing Christian students who compete academically for admission to other elite schools and continuing to build into them with a Godly worldview. Oddly, this argument is rather weakly outlined and presented only briefly. Rather than presenting a convincing list of merits, Farris seems to expect you to choose the Christian alternative simply because the secular system is 'so bad'. While that may be true, it really doesn't strike me as compelling... "Hey, I'm almost ok and those guys really suck! Come join my team!"

For me, some questions came out of reading the book... I'm not sure that I can buy the theory that Farris is presenting. To some degree, the marketplace will determine the 'elite' status of any Ivy-League-esque Christian college. If we are boldly countercultural (as I believe we might need to be), are our graduates going to be competitive? Or will the establishment simply discriminate against students with degrees from schools like Wheaton and lock them out of the very influential positions we'd like them to attain?

I'm not trying to sound defeated - since that isn't at all how I feel. I just think that the challenge of building elite academic credibility will take a lot more work and a ton more students than Mr. Farris seems to indicate.

If you're considering homeschooling or have a Christian teenager preparing for college, I think there is a lot in this book that will get you thinking. However, if you've been reading any similar titles, I wouldn't spend the cash on The Joshua Generation since it will be largely review.

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