A College Miseducation

A college degree used to be the mark of an educated man, a member of the bourgeois who’d seen fit to better himself, certainly for the sake of financial reward but oftentimes also for the love of scholarship. Nowadays, though, the most common misconception about college is that you attend to get an education.

In a nation where college has come to be synonymous with sleeping around, partying, and doing what you want without Mom and Pop looking over your shoulder, it’s a safe bet few kids these days attend college because they love learning. Even those that do will likely be sorely disappointed, as few college professors these days, particularly in the community colleges people attend for basic classes like history and English, have much to offer in the way of tutelage. Those professors who actually teach a useful topic generally do so with an agenda.

Don’t get me wrong. I intend to obtain a bachelor’s, although my reason for doing so is to assist my post-Air Force job search and not to get an education. Sometimes, though, college classes can be instructive. Case in point is my Emergency Medical Technician course. This was the only college class I’ve ever taken in which I can truthfully say I learned something I didn’t already know or couldn’t easily discover given ten minutes of my own time. Interestingly enough, most of the people who completed this class will go on to work in well-paid blue-collar emergency response jobs without ever even completing an associate’s degree. My other college classes, however, were universally useless to me when it came to expanding my knowledge.

My best and most recent example of an educationally useless college class is the U.S. History course I completed almost two weeks ago. This history course was intended to cover American history from the discovery to the beginning of the War Between the States.

From the beginning, our white professor, Andrew Raposa, clearly had an agenda, which was to convince us that African slavery was the single defining issue of American history. In a fast-track course covering roughly 450 years of history we had to write four papers explicating essays by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. While we barely touched on the root causes of the War for Independence, glossing over that war and the Constitutional Convention in about two hours, we spent two of twelve three-hour class periods discussing slavery. Our final exam asked only one major question regarding reasons for the Declaration of Independence (answer: "The Stamp Act of 1765"), but required we memorize and regurgitate the steps between Americans viewing slavery as a "necessary evil" and as a "positive good."

Professor Raposa’s secondary agenda was to undermine Christianity, particularly Reformed Christianity. He spent an entire class on the Salem Witch Trials, showing us an anti-Puritan documentary on the incident, after which he led us in a discussion of the motivations behind the Trials. He concluded the major reason for the Trials was the strict nature of the Puritan faith, and that the Puritans were basically intolerant nuts. What Raposa neglected to do was explain why a relatively minor incident in American history, which claimed only 19 lives, deserved so much attention.

One problem was that although he obviously despised it, Raposa was completely uninformed about Christianity. Our brief contextual discussion of the Reformation included the professor’s contention that the major difference between John Calvin and Martin Luther was that Luther rejected the idea of predestination. Not exactly. Martin Luther said, "All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned." Now that’s an affirmation of predestination if I ever saw one.

Additionally, Raposa taught that Calvin and Luther believed in "works salvation," where if you lived a good life you could earn your salvation. My suggestion that the Reformation was actually primarily motivated by Sola Fide and rejected the Romanist notion of earned salvation elicited a blank stare from the professor. Perhaps he’s never read Luther, who said, "So the Christian who is consecrated by his faith does good works, but the works do not make him holier or more Christian, for that is the work of faith alone. And if a man were not first a believer and a Christian, all his works would amount to nothing and would be truly wicked and damnable sins."

Our professor "taught" us about the "Great Awakening," forgetting to distinguish the First Great Awakening from the Second. He said George Whitefield was "brilliant at manipulating controversy" to "guarantee huge crowds," and insisted the preacher’s sermons were "grand public entertainment" in which he would "act out roles from the Bible." At one point, Raposa said, Whitefield even had himself tied to a cross and hoisted into the air in imitation of Christ on the cross. I’ve searched for evidence of this claim, but can find absolutely nothing supporting it.

I could go on about the professor’s bashing of Christianity, but suffice it to say he bashed it while knowing next-to-nothing about it.

There were other problems throughout the class. For instance, Raposa told us that prior to the founding of Jamestown, England’s only other experience with colonization was in Ireland. Raising my hand, I suggested that the English rule of Normandy constituted a sort of reverse colonization. "I’ve never thought of that," said the professor, who then felt obligated to explain to the rest of the historically ignorant class why England was connected to Normandy. Further research reminded me that Wales was also a pre-Jamestown English colonization experience.

One obstacle to actual education during this class was that the lacking education of my obviously public-schooled classmates required precious lecture time be spent discussing historical facts any high-school graduate should already know.

"Washington didn’t actually chop down a cherry tree," the professor told us, eliciting a surprised response from the students. Ferdinand and Isabella drove the Moors from Spain in addition to funding Columbus’ voyage, taught the professor, who astounded my classmates when he said scientists in Columbus’ time didn’t actually believe in a flat earth. Only my hand went up when the professor asked how many of us knew what the Crusades were, so he had to spend twenty minutes explaining them. The incident I’ll never forget because it was so indicative of the ignorance of both the students and the professor came a few weeks into the course. During a break, one student mentioned to Raposa that he’d been reading and came across an unfamiliar term. "What does ‘Anglo-Saxon’ mean?" Professor Raposa hesitated a minute, saying he wasn’t entirely certain of the term’s origin. The answer is pretty simple, especially for a history major like our professor. The Anglo-Saxons were the pre-Norman inhabitants of England. The term is derived from the coupling of the Angle tribe and the Saxons of Saxony, Germany.

I didn’t learn a thing from my entire history class. Well, no. That’s not true. I did learn about staple crop economies. I told my family about this at dinner one night, however, and my 14-year-old sister piped up. "Oh, I already know about those. I just read about them in a book the other day."

Well, I did learn one other thing. Remember those papers about Garrison’s essays I mentioned? I paid special attention to the first two papers, researching Garrison’s essays, analyzing them, and refuting them. I met all the requirements for the assignment, even abiding by the page-limit, yet both my articles only received B’s. The professor explained that he didn’t want us going beyond the assignment requirements, so he marked my papers down. I learned that if you want to succeed in college, you should only do the bare minimum.

This was just one class. I could mention my journalism class, which taught me nothing. Or my argumentation class, which taught me nothing. Or even my American government class at the highly-regarded Patrick Henry College, which taught me (you guessed it!) nothing. This isn’t intended as a commentary on my own intelligence, as I’m a mediocre student at best. Rather, the problem is that college classes these days don’t teach anything that the average student from a good homeschool high-school hasn’t already learned.

If you must get a college degree, do so for the benefit it can have on your career. Don’t attend college to get an education.

March 22, 2006

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