Preparing Christian minds for college

From some personal experiences and observation, it appears that the treatment of Christianity at public universities has moved from benign neutrality to open and aggressive opposition. Are students in Christian high schools and churches preparing kids for not only intellectual attacks on faith, but for puerile, vulgar, and God dishonoring language used by professors? How about the dilemma of a student being graded on whether or not such language is used back to the teacher in assignments? How about being ridiculed by fellow students for stating faith beliefs and then having the professor join in the verbal beatdown?

Education delivered in the manner I have described above is not only intellectually dishonest, it is soul demoralizing for students. It is education that seeks to dis-integrate rather than integrate head, heart, and hands. Here is how Niel Nielson, president of Covenant College, contrasts classroom experiences at public and Christian colleges:

Students attend college to learn, and the learning occurs primarily through the interaction with faculty who will inevitably shape how students think and feel about everything. Professors are very bright, very persuasive, and in secular institutions almost always opposed and even hostile to Christian faith. And they want their students to think like they do. Even if professors are not actively attacking Christian faith, they are teaching from a framework that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ, i.e. they are failing to take into account the One by whom all things were created, in whom all things hold together, and under whose authority all things find their unity. Students who study in such settings simply will not learn to think Christianly – unless there is, alongside the “normal” curriculum, some comprehensive and systematic study that demonstrates the preeminence of Jesus Christ and the biblical reality that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), and does so for every academic discipline which the student studies. Unfortunately such parallel study rarely happens, and most campus ministers, gifted as they are, do not have the capabilities to help students deal with the relentless and powerful imprint of sophisticated secular scholarship in all the academic fields.

He goes on to ask the same question that I have often wondered about parents who choose public K-12 education over Christian education:

Why do so many Christians continue to fail to grasp the utterly crucial importance of shaping the mind and the heart in the educational process itself? Many Christian parents, who devote themselves so diligently to caring for their children’s souls, miss the very point of college education, opting instead for short-sighted emphases on university traditions, prestige, and the perceived path to a good job, and launch their children into learning contexts where they are inundated by ways of thinking that the parents undoubtedly abhor but willingly allow to shape their children’s minds and hearts. And perhaps even more important, the children of these Christian parents miss the glorious opportunity, in the educational context, to see how everything in creation fits together under the kingly rule of Jesus.

To read his post, “Christian Education as Preparation for Life” on his blog, please click here. CSI commercial moment ☺ – we look forward to hearing more from Dr. Nielson as one of our keynote speakers at our summer leadership convention this coming summer.


Filed under Biblical worldview, kids/culture, student outcomes

10 responses to “Preparing Christian minds for college

  1. Zach Vis

    I believe that teachers in Christian high schools are teaching students about what they might face when they go to a secular institution for undergraduate studies. But there is always more teachers can do. I first would like to emphasize the taking of the Lord’s name in vain in the classroom and around school. Even though one commandment tells us that we are not to take the Lord’s name in vain, so many students even in our own Christian high schools do it. This is not right, because we are commanded not to do it, and as teachers, I believe it is our duty to make sure that students realize that taking the Lord’s name in vain is wrong. As Christians, we will hear this blatant language taking place all around us at school, work, and maybe, even at home, but we need to stand up for our Maker, Creator, and Sustainer. We need to stand up for what we believe in and not tolerate this demising of God’s holy name.
    Secondly, I believe that, as teachers, we can teach our students that even though a professor may lash out at God, the student should pray for that teacher or person to have God shine His light into their hearts. We can’t go around yelling at people, but yet, we must stand up for what we believe and maybe tell this person about your feelings for his or her vulgar language.
    Third, we can teach our students the importance of faith. Faith is what holds Christians together. We must teach our students that they must have faith in God wherever they go and must look to Him as their helpmate and guide.
    All in all, I believe that as teachers in Christian settings, it is our obligation to tell the students about how pervasive the secular college classroom might be and teach them to have faith in God at whatever school they go to. I also think that it is our duty to inform the students that taking the Lord’s name in vain is wrong and that they should be careful what they say when talking about God. By implanting a firm Christian foundation into a student, I believe that they will be more ready to tackle the real world than someone who has not heard about Christianity before.

  2. Dan Ludwig

    Before I get too far into this article, I would first like address the fact that our schools are full of students with incredibly different back grounds; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, just to name a few. Most of what is said in this article tries to slam secular school teachers, saying that their professors are “actively attacking Christian faith”. Look, our students population is not divided between Christians and non-Christian. Like I said before, there are many different beliefs that students bring to school with them. So how is it possible for a teacher to accommodate every student’s feelings? Also, I don’t agree with Dr. Neilson’s idea that just secular teachers “want their students to think like they do”. I think that deep down we all want others to think as we, ourselves, do. Ask yourself, as a Christian, “If the rest of the world were Christians, would you not be more content?” I mean, isn’t that the main goal of Christianity, to restore God’s kingdom to what it was meant to be, and by doing this it would help that cause a lot more than not. What we need to keep in mind is that all religions have that goal of their faith being universal to all. Which brings me to my main point. I think that if you are going to be offended by a secular college or university for whatever reason, then go to a private school that teaches the way you want to be taught. It’s ok, a student needs to be in a comfortable environment that lets them feel secure and happy. And perhaps those that are at a secular college or university who are from a religious background are there for a reason. Maybe they want to explore other realms of education, ones that might let them grow mentally, socially, and possibly even spiritually. I don’t think a person should be kept hidden from other ideas and perspectives. If they are a true Christian, or any other religion, they should be able to explore and still find their way home.

  3. Collin Barnes

    I have been a Christian my entire life, and I have also attended a public school all my life until I came to college. In response to the quote by Dr. Neilson, I do not believe that he has ever attended a public school with an open mind. I do not mean any offense, but just because a school is “public”, doesn’t mean it is a Satan-worshiping institution. I know that my faith has actually grown because I was in a public institution, and I can confidently go into the world and talk about Jesus because I know the lifestyles and thoughts of non-Christian people. In the Bible, Jesus came to the earth to “seek and to save that which is lost”. How is one expected to minister to friends and bring them to Jesus if everyone they know is already a Christian. It would be significantly harder to form a close-knit bond with students in a secular high school if one did not attend that high school themselves. I have introduced Jesus into many peoples’ lives simply because I was in a public high school and made it known that I was a Christian. Even if I didn’t minister to them directly, the students could see the way I acted and where I put my priorities, and I cannot count how many times somebody came up to me and asked about Jesus simply because they saw that I was living a Christian life. I know that I will send my future children to a public high school because that is where Jesus is needed most. By criticizing parents who send their children to public institutions over private is doing nothing but hindering the work that God calls us to do.

  4. Sarah Davis

    As future educators and parents the shaping of students/children’s minds is of the utmost importance. The question raised is whether the soul and mind are being properly trained in public institutions. The truth is that they aren’t. This isn’t to say that many don’t walk away from public schools with knowledge and learning experiences — of course! However, the nurturing and molding of Godly thinking is being neglected. Fortunately, most college students have established their own framework of beliefs by college, but especially in grade school and high school you are dealing with vulnerable minds.
    In both high school and grade school I think Christian education is crucial! I know this is sensitive to some, because of the many different backgrounds we all come from. But, this isn’t to say that there aren’t good people who send their kids to public schools, and good kids who come out of it. However, If you truly want to train a child that God is integrated into every aspect of their life, then Christian education is the way to go.
    As far as the idea of ‘witnessing’ is concerned in schools, it’s needed in every area of life. We are accountable to God for our actions and ultimately we are living to glorify him, which in turn has a ripple affect on others around us.
    I think it’s our responsibility as Christians to give our children the best education for their minds and hearts, which usually is the Christian institution.
    As a future educator I know that my beliefs will affect my philosophy of education. I will recognize my students as gifts from God, and recognize my mandate to do everything as working for the Lord and not for men. With this in mind, I know that every other teacher out their has their own philosophy of education. This doesn’t mean that every public teacher has a ‘satanic’ framework, but it does mean that it’s a possibility, and that’s something I’m not willing to risk with my future children.

  5. Kaleb Furmanek

    Frankly, I dont know how to take this artical. I personally opinion of this author of this artical is that he is an extremely conservitive Christian who has lived in the closet fearing to come out into the real world. I understand that as a Christian going to a public university can be hard because of the lack of morals on the campus and the lack of support for a believer. But I also believe that it is a chance to grow in your own faith, to truely make your faith your own and not just what you were brought up with. You have a chance to go out and learn about other faith traditions and learn that yours is not the only one. One of the most important things as a Christian we need to be able to do is defend out own personal faith to others and what better place to learn to do that then at a public college where their are many differnt ideas on faith that are talked about and debated. I have gone to public school my entire life and I believe it is nothing to fear. I personal fear private Christian schools because it creates a false bubble for students that nothing bad ever happens and everyone love God kind of enviorment. This I believe is unhealth because you get the idea you are better then everyone else, and that as a christian nothing bad can happens since everyone your around is a christian. Am I saying that a public college is perfect and wont pose some problems to a christian, no but I dont believe that it is something to avoid like the plague.

  6. Kara Jeronimus

    I have attended both public and Christian schools throughout my education. Through my experiences, I have found that being around individuals who are not like you and don’t necessarily have the same beliefs can be more rewarding throughout learning than being around people with the same religious background. I have opened myself to new views on different religions, and just my everyday opinions on life. I have not change my beliefs, but instead understood others and learned more about different views. Just because you attend a public school instead of Chritian does not imply that you will “miss the opportunity to see how everything in creation fits together”. If any thing, you will see it more because you will touch the lives of others whom need it. You may find someone who is confused in what they believe and need guidance. Sheltering yourself from the world and everyone else’s beliefs is not going help you see things from a different perspective in which you may learn more than you already know.
    Futhermore, attending a public school will not make you change your religious beliefs. You are always going to believe in what is meaningful to you. No matter what your teachers or classmates opinion is. Keeping your faith strong will lead you in the right path. Keep believing in God and act as a Christian by accepting everyone for who they are and try to understand those who don’t understand you. By doing this, you are acting as a Christian without having to be in a Christian setting while still recieving the education that you came there for.

  7. Ashley De Valk

    I do believe that having a strong Christian view in the school system now is very crutial, but only in Christian schools due to the diverse world we now live in. If we put it out in every school system then we are forcing Christianity on others. We want to welcome people into the Christian faith, not force it.
    Although this country was built on Christian, concervative belief. The wonderful benifit of having that Christian background in a school would be that students could learn the good morals and values of thier education through the fact that there is a greater power than us. That greater power is God and we must respect the knowledgable gifts God has given us. I feel that students would have a difficult time taking school for granted and possibly push them selves harder knowing that being in college is a gift that they have been given.

  8. Marsha Beran

    I believe that being a Christian in a public school setting is essential to the ablility to grow or develop a deeper understanding to your own faith as well as becoming an influence based on that faith to those around you.
    True Christians are not afriad to embrass God’s world, which includes the “secular” world. As teachers we need to model ourselves in a way that reflects our beliefs without making others feel as if we are pushing those beliefs on them. It is also much more encouraging for younger people and students to discover, on their own, their beliefs concerning the world around them even though those beliefs may be influenced by others. But that influence is the only way people find inspiration to discover things for themselves.
    I attended public school for most of my life. The first “taste” of a private Christian school was my coming to Trinity. I remember how “cool” it was when I discovered that some of the teachers I was fond of in high school were Christians. They helped me embrace diversity through education. I truely believe that the public school system is the only way to experience diversity, in culture, religion, social statis, and anything else concerning everyday living. By embracing that diversity, it is the only way to grow, and God wants us to grown in our understanding of His world and Him.

  9. James Novak

    As a person who has been a student of the public schools for twelve years, I disagree with some of the comments made in this article by Dr. Niel Nielson. He talks about the results of students attending public and secular universities. He states that the result of students attending these universities is that these students have nurtured souls but minds that are lost. This in turn is a looming disaster for the Christian church. This is a very harsh claim that is being made and I certainly disagree with it. I have many friends who are strong in their Christian faith that go to public universities. I find it hard to believe that even though they are strong in their faith; their minds are lost because they do not go to a Christian college. The Christian church instills Christian values into a person’s soul and mind as well. A student that goes to a secular institution does not lose these values just because they go to a secular institution. In many cases, students can strengthen their Christian values at a secular institution because they can see the flaws in the non-Christian viewpoints being taught by the secular institution.

    I definitely do agree with Dr. Nielson’s view on the point of education. Education is definitely about preparing us for the rest of our lives. College-level classes help get students ready for what the world has in store for them later in life. Dr. Nielson then asks an important question concerning how a student cannot grow intellectually in their future vocation while they are attending a secular institution. He is correct in saying that the secular institution does not promote the Christian values and beliefs that a Christian college would. But, a student is not lost just because they are in a public school. In the end, any student can grow intellectually about their future vocation by having a strong Christian system of morals, as well as friends and adults around them that can offer guidance to them. If a student has a strong church family and a relationship with church elders and adults, they can grow intellectually concerning their future vocation.

    Dr. Nielson makes a claim about students not being able to learn to think christianly in a public institution. In the end, this claim just does not make sense to me. A student can become a strong Christian, even if they do not attend a Christian school. The church that a student goes to is crucial in teaching a student to think christianly. Their role in this process is much more crucial than the role that the school plays. In the end, students that attend a public university do not have lost minds. They have the same capabilities to become strong Christians and live their life in a Christian manner. The church and the people in a student’s life can make a strong impact on how a person grows in a Christian manner, not just the Christian school. Christians are not lost if they do not attend a Christian school or university.

  10. Audrey Maher

    I don’t know if I am fully aware of how this author intends the public schools to approach God and Christianity. As mentioned in a previous comment there are so many religions out there, should those schools be debating on all of them. If so, that should be secular, and should therefore emit a universal public school class based solely on religion. These lectures would have to be given historically, and in that case what is it that will be portrayed; in a public setting it would not exactly by suitable to force a belief on the students nor to show more passion for one or the other. And when has any kind of debate regarding serious matters such as Christianity, not been positive for a student? The author mentions verbal “beatdowns” on the part of fellow students and the professors; I’m also unaware of where this is coming from? This sounds a little harsh and a little farfetched on the direction in which a debate would go. Perhaps the perspective that professors in secular schools are opposed or hostile to Christian faith is a little strong, I have attended and have many friends who attend public schools (high school, college, etc.) and the topic has come up of God or Christianity and not once has anyone felt like they could not speak up about their faith. In fact in the many institutions I’m referring, it has been encourages. On the other hand, I could see why some professors would not want the topic brought up in their classroom and could therefore become defensive. The topic of religion, especially in recent years, has definitely become more tense and for good reason. I believe it is up to the professor to have or not to have open religious discussions in the class, which is no way should reflect that they are opposed to certain faiths.

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