With Colleges Turning into Indoctrination Camps, What Can Christian Parents Do?

By John Zmirak Published on March 10, 2017

As we saw in Part One and Part Two of this series, free speech and liberal arts education are dying or dead at most American colleges, while expressions of Christian faith are increasingly penalized. What is a student or parent to do? The options are narrowing, year by year.

Ideally, we’d want to see those strong believers who can make the grade walking the storied lawns of Harvard, Yale, and other elite institutions, honing their arguments with top-notch secular thinkers, gaining five-star credentials, making connections, and witnessing to their faith. But few of those things are possible anymore at most such universities, where matters grow worse year by year. Such schools are clutched tight in the whitened knuckles of tenured radicals, with ever-expanding “speech codes” that repress free expression of thought, and curricula driven not by reason or love of culture, but ideological fervor.

The Ivies Don’t Want You

When schools like Middlebury College can let violent mobs assault professors and silence free speech, while Yale lets angry snowflakes drive celebrated faculty members to give up tenure and quit, we can no longer pretend that these schools are really elite. They might have famous professors, massive endowments, and kids with high SATs, but they are becoming little more than leftist seminaries, which preach a new and puritanical creed that’s not just neutral but hostile to Christianity and Western civilization. Each year, they churn out far too many lazy, sloppy thinkers who react to ideas that offend them by starting riots, throwing tantrums, having meltdowns, or claiming that they are victims. Sooner or later, employers will catch on and figure out that it’s time to stop hiring Yalies — except those with the courage (which these days borders on recklessness) to swim against the tide and speak their minds.

Middlebrow Schools Won’t Protect You

You might think that an ordinary state university, or long-standing Catholic college, would be a friendlier venue for conservative, Christian students. But that’s no longer broadly true, as the teachers and administrators at schools eager to polish their reputations ape what is taught and practiced at elite campuses. It wasn’t at Harvard that a journalism professor called on “muscle” to grab the camera of a student journalist who was documenting a leftist riot. It was at the University of Missouri. It wasn’t at Oberlin that a Christian student was silenced by her professor for questioning same-sex marriage — and another professor who spoke out on her behalf was fired. It was at putatively Catholic Marquette University.

Faithful Schools Under Fire

Even colleges with a traditional evangelical Christian orientation are under heavy pressure from theological progressives to compromise biblical teaching and practice on crucial moral issues. It doesn’t help when the regional accrediting authorities threaten to yank the school’s right to grant certified degrees or dispense federal student loans, as happened to Gordon College in Massachusetts. Even when such schools (for now) dodge Big Brother’s bullet, such controversies give ammo to progressives on campus and in the faculty to push such colleges in an ever more secular direction.

We cannot count on institutions to form our children; too many have been infiltrated, either openly or quietly, and betray their founding missions.

Intentionally Christian Colleges

There are a few smaller, more recently founded colleges that we might call “intentionally Christian,” which push back against the overwhelming pressure of trends within academia, to teach traditional liberal arts and sound theology. For highly motivated, intellectually talented students with an interest in academic pursuits, journalism, or the arts, choices such as The King’s College in New York City or Hillsdale College in Michigan make sense. This is where many of the believers who once might have braved the Ivy League will now end up instead, so there’s some hope that they will produce the new cultural leaders which the church desperately needs.

What About the Rest of Us?

But there aren’t anywhere near enough spots at such colleges to educate millions of Christians who simply want a basic college education so they can get started with their lives. Nor is a traditional liberal arts education meant for everyone. Millions of young people want to get training in business, marketing, nursing or math and science, as a preparation for useful, productive careers as citizens and parents. It used to be that universities would require such students to complete a liberal arts “core curriculum,” enriching them with the fundamentals of English literature, Western civilization, American history, and civics — on top of what used to be solid high school education in those subjects.

None of this is true anymore. Apart from a few small, niche colleges that are worth seeking out for select students, there are few schools which you can count on to provide your children with a decent basic education. Many do a good job preparing people for jobs, if they can keep their heads down and not be swayed into secular radicalism by peer pressure and propaganda. But that’s the best you can hope for.

Instead, parents must be proactive. They must see that raising children of faith in today’s environment is a solemn and difficult duty, conducted in mission territory where “soft” persecution is already underway. We cannot count on institutions to form our children; too many have been infiltrated, either openly or quietly, and betray their founding missions.

Supplement your student’s learning with materials from a “classical Christian” home school.

What’s a Parent to Do?

As editor for ten years of the Christian-friendly, conservative guide to education Choosing the Right College, I was often contacted by parents who sought advice about where their children should study. Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some students — cussed non-joiners and misanthropes like me — would still do well at some Ivy League schools. (Recent graduate Aurora Griffin’s How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard recounts how one student kept her faith.) Other students really belong in the intense subculture of an intentionally Christian college. Many students (many more than you’d think) should skip college altogether and learn useful trades that pay better than most white-collar jobs.

But looking at the middle of the bell curve, I suspect that the wisest option for the average son or daughter of a conservative Christian family would run as follows:

  1. If you’re lucky enough to have a serious, academically and doctrinally sound Christian high school close by you, and you can afford the tuition, by all means use it. If not….
  2. Consider either home-schooling, or supplementing your children’s education — which might be much more meager or politicized than you could possibly imagine — with materials from a “classical Christian” home school (there are dozens to choose from) that focuses on the liberal arts. Such programs can provide much of what used to be offered in high schools and colleges in key areas of learning, from religion and philosophical reasoning to literature, art, history, and civics.
  3. Once you’ve done your best at home to fill in the vast, yawning moral, cultural, and cognitive gaps that exist in the average curriculum, seriously consider state universities with low in-state tuition as the wisest option. There is really no reason to saddle your child with anything like the Class of 2017 average of $37,113 in student debt for what will likely be a disappointing experience. Look closely at smaller or satellite campuses, and community colleges that allow students to fulfill requirements at lower cost.
  4. Look for single sex and substance-free dorms, if any exist. If not, consider the benefits of a student living at home and commuting to school. The “traditional college experience” was always overblown, and is in many places now toxic.
  5. Investigate chaplaincies, religious student organizations, and churches where your child can continue to live out and deepen his life of faith. Don’t be surprised if the chaplain who serves your denomination at a public university is far more doctrinally shaky than your pastor back at home. If so, steer your child to a more faithful local congregation instead, and make sure you keep in regular communication with him about his faith and the challenges which he faces.
  6. And above all, pray for your children. They will need it.
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  • Gary

    Discourage children from college majors in the “social sciences, and the arts. Some of the most liberal “professors” will be found there. Encourage kids to major in business, math, or what passes for actual science. Going to college just to be going to college is a horrible, money-wasting idea. Don’t help your children do that. Unless they want to go into something for which a college degree is mandatory, college is a bad thing do. For most kids, tech school is probably a better choice. Ask your kids to list all the pros and cons of going to college BEFORE they go and see if college makes sense for them.

    Children are at risk at any college. Good parents will have taught their children why Christianity is true, and why things like evolution are false, before they become of college age.

  • Jeannine

    Thanks for mentioning community colleges! Although community colleges are secular, a fair number of conservative professors end up there because of the obvious hiring bias of most colleges and universities. And both the college and the course offerings are somewhat less likely to be as politicized as their four-year counterparts. Also, most community colleges are commuter colleges, so the issues surrounding dorms are absent.
    Full disclosure: I teach at a community college.

    • Triple T

      I did some course work at a community college some years after I completed my degree. I found the workload to be about as rigorous and the faculty to be on par with those I encountered while completing my degree. There should be no reason to think any less of these schools.

  • Triple T

    At this pace, I shudder to think of what things might be like when my children are college age, some 10 to 12 years from now, barring some sudden barrage of common sense on campuses between now and then.
    I’ll use that time to do my job as a parent. I’ll teach my children what is right and wrong. I’ll teach them that there are times when you don’t get your way, and you accept it. I’ll teach them that they have nothing to apologize for by being white. I’ll teach them that being a person of faith is something to be proud of, even though others will tell them it’s not. And on the days they leave for college, I’ll pray that what I spent 18 years instilling in them sticks through the next four.

    • Char B

      God enable and bless you

  • Daniel McCarthy

    Well, as a market, we need to drive our kids to colleges tha make sense and then holdthho colleges accountable. Grove City is outstanding. Also, my daughter goes to WVU and has become more conservative. A leftist professor tried to bully a kid for not supporting Hillary and got directly put in the fire by the students. He no longer rants about politics.

  • SophieA

    Instead of avoiding the social sciences as was suggested below, students and parents can research departments to find conservative programs and professors. They do exist. My daughter found one such program and got her BA dual major in political science and philosophy. Then her conservative professor directed her to a conservative graduate program at a prestigious university where she earned her Ph.D. Now she is a very young political science program director at a small university. She is single handedly educating all her students who are required to take American Government with solid, conservative ideas thereby influencing the next generation of aspiring Ph.D.s for a very long time. And the process will continue to benefit other like minded students. We really can redeem our world as long as we are courageous enough to march into a field the enemy thinks belongs to them. Give the enemy no quarter.

  • James

    Yale graduate, John Zmirak, PhD, has benefitted from going to the right schools and earning his degree, no matter what he thought of the faculty or curriculum. Yet he asks the readers and their children to experiment with alternatives.

    Like it or not, no matter how much you know, often you need the piece of paper to keep your résumé out of the “circular file”. For-profit, online schools are more often scams than not and private student lenders are often much more predatory than the federal government. (Anything the government can do, private industry can do better, including preying on the young.)

    It’s easy to tell strangers on the internet what to do. What I am interested in is what Zmirak would tell his own children or those of his friends and family.

    • Zmirak

      This is the advice I give friends with kids. No one-size-fits-all solution.

  • Micha_Elyi

    #3 is almost congruent with Dennis Prager’s advice to parents. He says that if you feel you must pay for college for your child, choose the cheapest college you can afford. Cheapest. That’s not a misprint. (I agree with him.)

    P.S. When looking for single-sex dorms, go and personally check them out. And if they are altered over the summer, pull out and demand all your fees back. One can always enroll elsewhere or wait until next year with a job or a hike across Europe in the meantime. The all-men’s dorm at the college I chose turned out to be a 3-story dorm that was single-sex by floor and the females on the two female-only floors were often invading the bathrooms and showers on the men’s floor each morning. I should’a left then and there but I was a shy 18-year old and took what the college assigned me. Experience is an expensive teacher so avoid the price and learn from my experience.

  • bbb

    Really good advice.
    My personal list might put number 6 first 🙂
    Colleges and universities grew too big after the Vietnam war during Johnson’s Great Society. There was nothing great about it. The Sputnik fears and rapidly changing tech per computers required more American employees to learn such skills, math, and science.
    But today the H1B Visa has bumped Americans form the workplace because the foreigners work for peanuts and do not have healthcare provided.
    Today public college runs about $80,000 – 100,000 for a 4 year degree.
    And I know many good students who graduate from Christian schools only to quit college after one or two semesters because they simply cannot bear the anti-American communist indoctrination in social sciences, history, civics and English classes.
    No matter how many of their friends go to State U, it is very important to pick college carefully for bright students.

  • What do you mean “turning into Indoctrination Camps”??? They already were 35 years ago when I went to college.

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