Where’s the Outrage?

I’m not seeing it, and I’m looking. Since the big LA teachers’ strike started yesterday, I assumed conservative commentators would jump all over it. After all, as I’ve argued here and here, teachers’ unions have long been the boogeyman of conservative thinking about schools and society. So why aren’t conservatives mad now?

la teachers strike

Why aren’t more conservative madder?

I checked all the usual suspects. National Review offered only a bland review of the strike news. Even more extreme outlets such as The Blaze and WORLD Magazine just sort of regurgitated the facts. I didn’t see anything about the strike in The American Conservative, Flypaper, or any other of the conservative sites that tend to oppose the power of teachers’ unions.

I had to dig all the way down to Breitbart to find the usual anti-union rhetoric. While the other conservative news outlets are giving the story pretty short shrift, Breitbart is breathlessly warning that

the so-called “grassroots” movement fueling the strike is actually a radical organization spreading socialist “propaganda.”

…and THAT’S the sort of thing we’re used to hearing from conservative pundits about teachers’ unions. Why haven’t other conservatives jumped on the usual anti-union bandwagon? After all, as SAGLRROILYBYGTH are painfully aware, opposing the power of teachers’ unions has always been a hallmark of American educational conservatism.

Free-marketeers have always hated the stranglehold unions have held over market-based innovation. Anti-socialists have always decried teachers’ unions as bastions of left-wing subversion. Religious conservatives have always worried that union power forced kids to learn about evolution and sex.

So where’s all that outrage now? I’ve got a couple of guesses and I invite corrections.

First guess: It’s on its way. That is, conservatives simply haven’t gotten around yet to their usual anti-union complaints.

Second guess: The strikes last year convinced most people that teachers had a point. Walk-outs in Oklahoma and North Carolina and elsewhere weren’t led by formal unions and most people tend to agree that public schools really should have decent textbooks and classrooms.

Third guess: By and large, the strike wave of 2018 remained focused on bread-and-butter issues, in spite of lefties’ best efforts to impose broader ideological goals on the strike. Unless and until the strikes become broader lefty efforts, maybe conservatives will not find the strikes so offensive.

Fourth guess: Last year’s strikes were mostly in pretty red states. The teachers were not particularly left-wing. If this is true, it means that the new LA strike will take things in a new direction. In other words, I can picture conservative commentators blasting LA teachers in ways they wouldn’t have blasted OK ones. By this estimate, the LA strike will roil culture-war politics in ways last year’s strikes didn’t.

After all, as historians and journalists are pointing out, the LA teachers’ strike has a very different complexion than did last year’s strikes. Prof. Diana D’Amico noted that the urban/suburban racial divide lurks beneath every issue in LA. And Alia Wong argued that the racial makeup of LA’s strikers is notably different than that of Oklahoma’s teachers. Will that make a difference? I can’t see how it won’t. A bunch of Latinx teachers fighting for justice for non-white city students will probably ignite culture-war anger in ways that Oklahoma strikers never could.

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Bad News for Lefties?

I’ll plead guilty. As a teacher, I have a deep faith that I can help students be better citizens. I can help them understand how power works in society. Ultimately, their engagement can transform society, can make things fairer and more just. But is my faith in local democracy just another of my lefty biases? As recent studies show, are the scales so tipped in local elections that richer, whiter, GOP-er people have extra power?

Here’s what we know: The74 looked at new research about local school boards. It’s not really much of a surprise, but the authors concluded that school board elections tend to favor people with more money. Those people tend to be richer, whiter, and more often members of the Republican Party.

74 school board elections

More money, more representation…

The researchers looked at 610 school districts in Ohio for two election cycles. They looked closely at the winners of school-board election. Where did they live? How much money did they make? How did they tend to vote? Their conclusions weren’t too shocking:

We find that more citizens from affluent areas run for school board, and because a large proportion of school board elections feature minimal competition, these higher propensities to run explain disparities in representation.

What are the implications for school politics? And here’s the dilemma for my fellow lefties: Is there any way to address this election trend without trashing the basic function of local democracy?

What Today’s Educational Conservatives Need to Say Instead

I don’t see any good reason why they would listen to me. But if today’s conservative pundits and intellectuals are really serious about identifying the “future direction of American education,” they need to come to terms with the elephant in the conservatives’ room. At the Fordham Institute and Hoover Institution at least, they seem to be doing the opposite.

This isn’t only a conservative problem. Progressives like me need to be more willing to remind ourselves of the unpopular truths of the progressive tradition, too. We need to be willing to acknowledge the fact that excesses of campus left-wing Puritanism do not come out of nowhere. When smart students feel the need to exhibit their devotion and purity to radical egalitarian ideals, they are simply speaking the logical conclusions of the progressive tradition. At least, it’s ONE logical conclusion.

 

 

And when conservative intellectuals opine about American education, they need to do more to acknowledge their own history. As I argued in my book about the history of American educational conservatism, one idea has been awkwardly ignored and muffled by American conservatives. That hasn’t made it go away. Rather, it has only made it more pressing for conservatives to address it more forthrightly and explicitly.

I’m not surprised to see that they aren’t.

In a series they call “Education 20/20,” the Fordham Institute and Hoover Institution have brought a series of conservative speakers, thinkers, and policy-makers to Washington DC to tell one another what they want to hear.

For example, according to Chester Finn, the kick-off lecture by Heather Mac Donald warned that the real solution to school discipline problems had to come from addressing students’ “lack of self-control.” Speakers such as Ian Rowe told the conservative crowd that the main problem was not race, not class, but rather dysfunctional family structures, “particularly the presence or absence of two married parents.” Other speakers hoped schools could do more to teach traditional values, including

character, emotional well-being, and personal behavior, as well as help in making choices and following up on them.

What’s wrong with all that? Honestly, nothing at all. I think we can all agree that students in school should learn to control their own behavior. We all probably agree that healthy families are absolutely required for healthy schools. And all of us—even progressive history teachers like me that conservatives have always loathed—want to teach children to love America, “warts and all, yes, but also replete with heroes, principles, and triumphs.”

So where’s the beef? Why can’t we all agree on these goals and ideals?

There’s one obvious problem with events like this one. And it is a big one; one that conservatives need to address openly and bravely if they ever want to gain real traction in designing school reform that works. Namely, conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that their ideas have always been used as cover for racist policies.

I’m not accusing any of the speakers here of racism. Unlike some of my allies and colleagues, I don’t believe that conservatives are scheming to cover up their own racism. As I think we all should, I give my conservative friends the benefit of the doubt when they say they really want to heal racism’s ugly legacies, not promote it.

 

As the folks at Fordham Institute and Hoover Institution lament, when conservatives were able to get broad support for their policies, they have scored big successes. In their words,

Twenty years ago, conservative ideas were gaining traction in K–12 education. Charter schools were opening all over the place, vouchers were finally being tried, academic standards were rising, results-based accountability had become the watchword in policy circles, and reformers were taking the idea of “character education” seriously.

Why did charters and vouchers score so big in the 1990s? Because conservative activists were able to make common cause with center-left reformers to pitch them as a real solution for low-income, non-white families.

These days, lambasting non-white students for lacking self-control and non-white families for lacking proper structure is not likely to gain any sympathy outside of conservative circles. Talking about focusing on teaching American “ideals” is likely to be ignored by non-conservatives as mere cover for “Making America Great Again.”

If conservatives really want to get another taste of reform influence, they need to take the brave step and acknowledge the legacy of their own campaigns. Instead of saying “We’re not racist, but…” they need to say “These ideas WERE used by racists, but here’s why they are good anyway.”

“Evangelical:” More GOP than KJV

How? How? How? That’s the question we’ve been asking for the past few years: How is it possible that four out of five white evangelical voters support President Trump? After all, love him or hate him, it is fair to say that Trump is not well known for his clarity of moral purpose. A new CNN poll suggests the obvious answer.

CNN REAL voter graphic

Red Votes

Here’s what we know: CNN’s poll sliced and diced some numbers to offer a few suggestions. It surveyed voters in the recent mid-term elections and found that white people who call themselves “evangelical” or “born-again” voted Republican in huge numbers.

As they found,

At least 77% of white evangelicals without a college degree voted against the Democratic Senate candidates in Florida, Missouri and Tennessee, while 72% opposed defeated Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly in Indiana, the exit polls found. In the Georgia governor’s race, a breathtaking 89% of non-college white evangelicals voted for Republican Brian Kemp over African-American Democrat Stacey Abrams; 84% of those voters picked Ted Cruz over O’Rourke in Texas. Only Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia ran competitively, losing those voters by a narrow 52% to 46% margin.

The numbers weren’t much different for white evangelicals who had been to college. As CNN put it,

Nationally, Republicans again won almost exactly three-fourths of them in the House races, with relatively small differences between the men and the women. Results on that group were not available in as many states, because they comprised a smaller share of the total vote, but Republicans carried about 70% of them in the Tennessee, Indiana and Missouri Senate races; in Georgia, 83% of college-educated white evangelicals voted for Kemp.

It’s tempting to conclude that white evangelicals voted Republican with large majorities. If we really want to understand these polls, though, we need to add an important qualifier. These polls don’t actually tell us how white evangelical Christians voted. Rather, they suggest only that white people who call themselves evangelical do so.

It might seem like a quibble, but it is a significant distinction. Why? Because, as other surveys have shown, yes, white evangelicals vote Republican. But many white evangelicals are also voting with their feet and leaving the “evangelical” label behind. According to a different set of poll data from the Public Religion Research Institute, the number of people who call themselves evangelical has dropped from 21% of the total US population in 2008 to only 15% this year. CNN quotes Robert P. Jones of PRRI, who calls the exodus “asymmetrical.” It’s not just white evangelicals as a whole who are dropping the label, but especially “younger and better-educated members.”

So what?

CNN writes that those younger voters are “the most likely to leave the faith,” but that’s not a fair conclusion. After all, CNN’s poll didn’t find out anything about respondents’ faith. Rather, it only asked them one question: “Would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian?”

These days, people who answer “yes” to that question likely connect those labels to a set of political beliefs. They are choosing to identify with a label that has come to imply political conservatism, not just a certain cluster of religious beliefs.

In short, this poll helps dramatize the trend among American evangelicals. Instead of the word “evangelical” meaning primarily a set of religious ideas and theological commitments, it has become a political and culture-war marker. If you call yourself an “evangelical” these days, it usually means you think of yourself as white, Christian, and politically conservative.

So it’s no surprise that big majorities of people who call themselves evangelical voted Republican. Choosing to call yourself an evangelical these days usually means endorsing a set of conservative political beliefs associated these days with the Republican Party.

What do evangelical Christians think about Trump and the GOP? This poll doesn’t tell us. To be an “evangelical Christian” can mean a whole bunch of different things. There are lots of non-white people who have religious beliefs that have historically been associated with evangelical Protestantism. There are white liberals who no longer call themselves evangelical but who retain their evangelical religious beliefs.

What this poll does tell us is that the word “evangelical” has come to imply a set of political beliefs, not only religious ones. People who embrace the label tend to embrace those politics. Are they still religious? Sure. But we make a mistake if we try to understand how someone with evangelical religious beliefs could support politicians who seem to go against those beliefs. Calling yourself “evangelical” these days is more about those political leanings than any specific religious commitments or theological ideas.

Does THIS Explain the Football Fornicator?

It has stymied nerds for years now. How could so many white conservative-evangelical Protestants support Trump? He is hardly a moral model. Could a new term help explain Christian Trumpism, and other evangelical oddities such as Liberty University’s recent hire?

Freeze at Liberty

Victory at any cost?

Coming off a year of glorious victory, Liberty doubled down on its football team. Still pursuing its grand dream of becoming “the Notre Dame of the Christian world athletically,” Liberty brought on one of the best big-time coaches in today’s football scene.

There was only one problem. Coach Hugh Freeze was only available for a non-elite team like Liberty because he had been fired from Ole Miss for a “pattern of personal misconduct,” including using university resources to hire prostitutes.

Why would an evangelical university—supposedly devoted to conservative morals and buttoned-up lifestyle rules—shell out big bucks to hire a fornicator?

On one hand, the answer’s easy. Coach Freeze built up an impressive winning record at Ole Miss, including defeating Alabama two seasons in a row.

On the other, however, it’s a puzzle. As I described in Fundamentalist U, the selling point of conservative evangelical colleges has always been a safe moral environment, one in which students wouldn’t learn to smoke, drink, and have sex, much less believe mainstream science or liberal religion.

How are we to make sense of this phenomenon? …of supposedly values-driven evangelicals supporting anti-values driven celebrities?

Would it help if we called universities like Liberty something besides “evangelical?” Something that captured more clearly the real values of the school, including Trumpism, guns, and big-time sports?sutton tweet

Recently, some historians have been debating the value of another term. Matthew Avery Sutton proposed “Christian Nationalism” for white conservative evangelicals who put their culture-war positions ahead of their evangelical theology. Professor Sutton asked,

should we make a distinction, using “evangelical” for those who are part of a historic, traceable, bounded (para)church network and use “Christian nationalist” for the right-wing political expression of many of these folks and the many more outside the network?

Calling schools like Liberty “Christian Nationalist” colleges instead of “evangelical” schools would go a long way toward clearing up any confusion about stories like that of Coach Freeze. It could fill in for the old “fundamentalist” label, now out of favor even among the most devoted fundamentalists. It could also help make sense of trends at conservative schools such as Hillsdale, which are now attracting a healthy enrollment from Catholic students. And it could explain where the financial support comes from for conservative flag-waving institutions such as the College of the Ozarks.

In short, using a term like “evangelical” to describe an institution like Liberty University seems inherently confusing. Under the leadership of Jerry Falwell Jr., the school has embraced a Trumpist worldview, in distinct contrast to the traditional moral values of conservative evangelicals, at least in the late twentieth century.

Calling it “Christian Nationalist U,” on the other hand, seems to fit. It doesn’t seem outrageous to hear that a “Christian Nationalist” school has hired a football fornicator. A “Christian Nationalist” school would obviously support Trump, whereas an “evangelical” school wouldn’t. A “Christian Nationalist” school would value football victory at any cost, while an “evangelical” school wouldn’t.

School Dictatorship by Facebook

What do conservatives want out of schools? In Brazil as in the USA, it’s a familiar checklist: communist subversion out, LGBTQ+ stuff out, union power out. In Brazil’s case, the new right-wing president has given conservatives new hope. But unlike in the past, Brazil’s conservatives have a new weapon at their disposal: Facebook.

bolsonaro

Hear no evil…

As reported in The Economist, President Jair Bolsonaro has energized right-wing school dreams in Brazil. We shouldn’t be surprised. Bolsonaro won the election in spite of—or because of—his inflammatory anti-gay statements and nostalgia for the old dictatorship.

When a presidential candidate promises to bring back torture, makes rape jokes, and brags that he would rather see his son dead than gay, it’s not a shocker that his policies move schools in right-wing directions.

In Brazil’s case, that means fighting the influence of Brazil’s most famous educational thinker, Paolo Freire. It also means an attempt to ban what Brazilian conservatives call “gender ideology.” Brazilian conservatives consider the left-wing ideas of Freire to be a blight on Brazil. As one right-wing group put it, Freire’s teachings turned

Innocent illiterate people into illiterate communists.

The plan? Bolsonaro has promised to

Take a flame-thrower to the ministry of education and get Paolo Freire out of there.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, those things are similar to what USA conservatives have wanted in schools for a long time. Conservatives here, too, have fretted about communist subversion, tried to get rid of the “homosexual agenda” in public schools, and threatened to eliminate the Department of Education.

What might be new, though, is the Brazilian strategy to enforce their right-wing changes. As The Economist reports, conservative activists have taken to Facebook to enforce their vision of proper public education. As one conservative teacher told students on Facebook,

“Attention students! . . . many doctrinaire teachers will be disconcerted or revolted” by Bolsonaro’s victory. “Film or record all partisan manifestations that . . . offend your freedom of thought or conscience.”

Bolsonaro’s Facebook page apparently includes video clips of left-wing teachers in action, including one in which a teacher shouts at a student,

I fought for democracy and you’re here talking about that piece of crap Bolsonaro.

Or another in which a teacher warned students not to listen to

idiotic police officers or your lowlife pastor.

The plan, clearly, is to shine a right-wing social-media spotlight on teachers. If they endorse rights for LGBTQ people, they can be “outed” for it. If they teach a sympathetic vision of socialism, everyone will know about it. If they teach anti-Bolsonaro ideas–the thinking goes–then right-wingers can target them. In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, at least, conservatives hope that Facebook can offer a new way to pressure teachers and schools to conform to their vision of proper public education.

Will it work? So far, some teachers have reported being threatened and disciplined for their anti-Bolsonaro or pro-LGBTQ classroom comments. Back in the twentieth century, USA conservatives tended to fight against textbooks instead of individual teachers, because they usually couldn’t find out much about what classroom teachers were actually doing on a day-to-day basis.

I wonder if Facebook will allow conservatives to take their fight right to the teachers themselves.

Sorry, I Didn’t Catch Your Name

What do we call them? When we want to talk about white, American, conservative evangelicals, is there a better, shorter, catchier term? Otherwise we either have to keep saying “evangelicals” when we don’t really mean ALL evangelicals, or keep repeating the whole too-long description.

hello-my-name-is.jpg

CAWEP? WACE? ???

I’ll plead guilty. In Fundamentalist U I often talked about “evangelicals,” when I really usually meant white, American, conservative evangelicals from the 20th-century interdenominational fundamentalist tradition. In a book, I feel like I can get away with using “evangelicals” as a short version of that long mouthful, because in context (I hope) it was clear what kind of evangelical I was talking about.

In other formats, though, I would like a better term. For example, in talking with journalist Trey Kay today of Us & Them fame, I kept wanting a better, clearer term. We kept talking about what “evangelicals” thought about the supposed War on Christmas. And I kept having to pause and specify that it wasn’t really evangelicals as a whole we were talking about. We were only talking about that specific subgroup: white American conservative evangelicals.

It is not a nitpick or a quibble. It is a vital and important distinction.

us and them war on christmas

Why are the evangelicals so mad? …they aren’t.

But to my knowledge, there is not a convenient, catchy, everyday term out there to capture what we mean. Is there one out there already? Or can we invent one?

Some of the options out there are no good. I’m not okay with “Christian Right” as a label. It can be useful in some cases, but if we’re talking specifically about conservative evangelicals, then it doesn’t fit. Sure, many evangelicals WANT to claim the right to speak for all Christians, but it doesn’t really do justice to the diversity of conservative Christianity.

Or, how about John Fea’s term “court evangelical?” Since 2016, it has been a great term to understand the kind of evangelical who has jumped on the Trump train. For these purposes, however, “court evangelical” is too specific to our current time and place.

We need a term that captures what we really want to talk about, without having to say “white American conservative evangelical” every time. And without having awkwardly to correct everyone who says “evangelical” when they really mean “white American conservative evangelical.”

It has to be pronounceable. And short enough to use regularly.

How about CAWE? Or WACE? CWAEP? (pronounced see-wape, with the “P” from Protestant) CAWEP? I don’t like any of those, but I prefer them to our current muddled practice. Any better ideas out there?

If Dunking is Dangerous…Then What?

It’s not flashy. It won’t make a lot of headlines or get a bazillion retweets. But the students at Cal-Berkeley have been answering a question we’ve been asking here lately. Namely, if it is dangerous to “dunk” on our culture-war opponents, what are we supposed to do?

berkeley antifa

Okay, be honest: Which picture would you click on first? This one…?

Here’s what we know: Since the riots in 2017, students and administrators in Berkeley have taken steps to improve the climate of free speech and civil discourse on campus. According to Inside Higher Ed, it has been more than just empty talk.

Crucially, progress toward real free debate and civil discussion did not come from one side alone. Berkeley’s College Republicans booted their former leader for his destructive, provocative tactics. The club committed to hosting conservative speakers who wanted to do more than simply start fights.

The university, too, opened up more physical space for un-approved demonstrations. They continued to invite conservative speakers to campus and to host civil debates between pundits of various culture-war persuasions.

What does any of this have to do with dunking on D’Souza? Tons.

berkeley christ

…or this one?

First, a recap: I took some lessons from the history of creationism to worry about the after-effects of the Twitter-shaming of conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza has been fond of making historically inaccurate claims about the racial histories of the Republican and Democratic Party. With great success, Princeton historian Kevin Kruse has used Twitter to lay out the evidence against D’Souza’s claims.

So far, so good. But if we have learned anything from our continuing culture wars about creationism, it is this: Mere evidence alone will not win culture-war battles. Indeed, it will tend to prolong and embitter them.

Some smart readers asked the obvious follow-up question: If it is dangerous to simply shame and humiliate our culture-war opponents, what then? Do we simply watch quietly (and politely) from the sidelines as pundits spew falsehoods and bad ideas? That doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Maybe the students at Berkeley have given us a better answer. It’s not something that can be done unilaterally, but perhaps if both sides make real efforts to shun vapid, venal provocateurs we can move forward.

History for the Country-Club Set

Were/are you a history major? If so, you probably have experienced something like this:

  • Uncle at Awkward Family Gathering: Erm…so…how’s college?
  • History Major: Fine. Good, I guess.
  • UAFG: Umm….what’s your major?
  • HM: History. I’m taking a seminar in post-colonial Caribbean insurgencies. It’s amazing. I had no idea the US had such an active military presence throughout the region. Have you ever read Fanon? Like, really read it, not just read about it? I hadn’t—well I had sort of heard about it. But now we’re interrogating it as a historical text and I can’t get over how 2018 a lot of it is…
  • UAFG: Oh.
  • ….
  • UAFG: So…
  • UAFG: Are you thinking about law school?

New numbers published by the American Historical Society point to some sad trends in undergraduate history majors. Overall, the number of history majors is declining fast. But there are some weird quirks in the decline.

AHA history trends 1The headline is that fewer and fewer college students are choosing to major in history. The obvious culprit is the job market. Though it might not be true in practice, students and their parents tend to see history and other liberal-arts majors as non-professional degrees. Unlike, say, electrical engineering, history doesn’t have a clear and lucrative job path right out of the graduation gate.

When we poke the numbers a little, though, other trends emerge. For example, the declines among history majors are strongest among Asian-American students, and stronger among women than men.

AHA history trends 2And though the declines are pretty consistent across different types of colleges and universities, they are not universal. At Yale, for example, history has returned to its top spot as the most popular undergraduate major.

What’s going on? First, it’s important to remember that this report focuses on changes in enrollments, not absolute numbers. So, though history may have the largest declines in enrollments, it might still be a very large and very popular major. And while the declines are less steep among some groups, such as African Americans and Native Americans, those groups may have started out from lower enrollment numbers to begin with.

Benjamin Schmidt, author of the AHA report, points to the 2008 economic bust. As he puts it,

the timing of the trend strongly suggests that students have changed their expectations of college majors in the aftermath of the economic shifts of 2008. That the declines have continued among students who entered college well into the economic recovery shows that the shifts are not just a temporary response to a missing job market; instead, there seems to have been a longer-term rethinking of what majors can do for students.

Having noted all that, it’s time for a little wild speculation. Why do Yale undergrads flock to the history major? It could be that affluent, privileged, “country-club” students have the luxury to ignore the job market and follow their academic hearts. Or it could be that Yale undergrads have their flinty hearts set on law school and see a history major as a great preparation.

In the end, it serves as yet another reminder that when it comes to American higher education, elite schools like Yale are not usually trend-setters, but rather oddball exceptions. Time and time again, historians and journalists cite a few elite schools as evidence of the state of American higher ed, but as this evidence reminds us, conditions at those elite schools are usually vastly different than they are on Earth.

Who Pays Tuition to Have Students Killed?

I’m sorry to hear about the death of American missionary John Allen Chau. I don’t want to argue over it—whether he died a hero, a “terrorist,” or a “self-important, arrogant, deluded, foolish . . . pest.” Instead, I want to point out that Chau’s life and death demonstrate the one way that “Fundamentalist U” is now and has always been radically different from mainstream higher ed.

north seintinel island

“Fields white unto harvest…?”

If you haven’t heard the story yet, here it is in a nutshell: Chau was a missionary working with an organization called All Nations. He had made several efforts to contact an isolated group of islanders in the Indian Ocean. The hundred people who live on North Sentinel Island are protected by the Indian government. They have had very limited contact with outsiders.

Chau hired some locals to take him near the island. Islanders paddled out to meet their boat and fired a volley of arrows at Chau, one lodging in his Bible. Chau took a solo kayak and paddled to the island. Later, locals saw islanders burying a body that looked like Chau’s.

missions cartoon guy

The mission: From Liberty University student newsletter, c. 1982

Clearly, the missionary impulse is alive and well. Chau wrote in his diary that he didn’t want to die, but he accepted the risks in his effort to spread the Gospel to the world.

But that missionary impulse hasn’t survived on its own. It has been nurtured and supported by organizations such as All Nations. It has also been taught and encouraged by evangelical colleges and universities. And this missionary focus, I argued in Fundamentalist U, is the thing that most sharply defines evangelical higher education from mainstream schools.

Mission centered

From Biola’s student paper, 1939.

In Chau’s case, it was Oral Roberts University. ORU celebrated the fact that its teaching had led directly to the death of a former student. As ORU put it,

Oral Roberts University alumni have gone to the uttermost bounds of the earth for the last 50 years bringing hope and healing to millions. We are not surprised that John would try to reach out to these isolated people in order to share God’s love. We are deeply saddened to hear of his death.

In most ways, evangelical colleges and universities look and feel a lot like mainstream schools. They promise to prepare students for careers. They promise to help shape students’ values. They promise to keep students safe.

When it comes to missionary work, however, evangelical colleges throw the higher-ed playbook out the window.

missionary cartoon ad

From the Moody Student, 1969.

For generations, evangelical colleges have maintained their focus on guiding students toward missionary careers. Especially among schools with roots in the Bible-institute tradition, the pressure on students to think about self-sacrificing missionary work was often intense.

One student who attended Moody Bible Institute in the 1920s was a case in point. His father was an atheist. His mother was Catholic. Neither of them wanted him to attend MBI. But he went anyway. And the central lesson he learned there was that he had to give his life to Jesus as a missionary. As he later remembered,

It dawned on me that I had a responsibility toward the Lord’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  You see, you can’t be in the Moody Bible Institute very long before you’ll have to face that.

The dedication to sending young missionaries out into the world remained central to evangelical higher education throughout the twentieth century. To offer just one small example of the scope of these schools’ missionary efforts, consider a poll from Biola University in 1962. In that year, according to the student paper, 47% of its graduating class was heading out to full-time missionary work.

IMG_1919

Classroom notes, MBI, c. 1940s

This focus on missionary work—today and in the past—has been the thing that has made evangelical higher education most radically different from the mainstream. In addition to all the ways it has mimicked mainstream schools—with sports, careers, social life, and academics—“Fundamentalist U” also trained students to give it all up, to sacrifice themselves in missionary labor.