In a recent column in the New York Times Bob Hebert highlighted a provocative new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. According to the authors, Professors Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia: “Many students come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling for highly demanding academic tasks, but — more troubling still — they enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment.”
Hebert reports, “Students are hitting the books less and partying more. Easier courses and easier majors have become more and more popular. Perhaps more now than ever, the point of the college experience is to have a good time and walk away with a valuable credential after putting in the least effort possible…
"The authors cite empirical work showing that the average amount of time spent studying by college students has dropped by more than 50 percent since the early 1960s. Thirty-six percent of the students said they studied alone less than five hours a week. Nevertheless, their transcripts showed a collective grade point average of 3.16. What many of those students are not walking away with is something that has long been recognized as invaluable — higher order thinking and reasoning skills.”
And colleges are not demanding it of them. When Bill Gates charges the nation’s governors to make create more demanding high school curriculum so that the US work force will be able to compete with India and China I would like to ask him, “So Bill, how do we get them to turn off their Xboxes and do their Trig?”
This book illustrates the futility of thinking we can flourish when our schools and colleges neglect to teach what is truly virtuous and meaningful. Information and technology alone will not save us. What’s needed is in order to engage in the critical thinking and complex reasoning and writing that is becoming scarcer in our schools is something we are not teaching: a difference in what we value and where we find meaning.
What’s needed is students who value what is ultimately true and beautiful and good. And yet there is no department of goodness or truth or beauty on our campuses. In fact, there is little confidence that they even exist. I
n his latest book, Think, John Piper makes the point that while our minds can reason and discern logic and inferences, it is God who reveals ultimate meaning and value. He opens the eyes of our hearts to receive this understanding as a gift. CS Lewis called the mind the "organ of reason" but the heart the “organ of meaning.”
As we follow Jesus and he makes his home in our hearts and shows himself to us, he opens the eyes of our hearts to see what is truly valuable. The process is slow and hard won in the crucible of pain and conflict as well as in books and media.
We are created to treasure God as supremely valuable. The more we learn of God and his world, the more we can treasure and worship him. So of all people Christians should want to learn about God and the way he has revealed himself in our world.
When Kelly Kullberg and I wrote and edited Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith we wanted to show how the more we learn abut history, science, the arts, philosophy, literature, theology, the more God’s spirit could reveal to us what a Treasure is the God who designed and created these things.
As Sam Storms writes in our book, “Everything from quarks to quasars, from butterflies to baseballs, was created and is sustained so that you and I might delight in the display of divine glory… Enjoying God is the soul’s sole satisfaction, with which no rival pleasure can hope to compete.” As followers of Christ let us be learners who love to see more of the display of that glory. Let us read widely, think deeply and treasure God more than having a good time.