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An Open Letter to My College Students

Mar 29 2012
In the end-of-semester stress and exhaustion, my students have lost touch with the meaning of their education.

College students and faculty know this point of the semester is the toughest. Spring break has recently passed, and finals are too far away to rejoice over the close of the term and too close to allow for much rest amid the amount of work still due.

The kids are tired.

Overwhelmed by the many day-to-day assignments, students can easily lose sight of the purpose for which they are struggling, which in turn may tempt them to cut corners in completing that work. "Get it done, no matter what" becomes the mantra.

I have seen this shoddiness in my students' work. And with more people attending college than ever before, I'm sure my students are not alone. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's 2011 Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses backs up my suspicions: Despite the increased investment of both time and money into higher education, too little substantial learning is taking place, and a commitment to excellence among students is a rare commodity.

What a pity. It's tragic for anyone pursuing higher education to hold it so lightly, but it's especially tragic for students at Christian colleges.

What follows is an open letter I wrote to my students last semester, during that inevitable trying time of the term, on these very themes.

Dear Friends,

I have been concerned about you for a while. In class, I see you overtired, underprepared, and just plain distracted. In e-mails, I read informal communications, irreverently addressed, with just a hint of entitlement. In assignments, I find evidence of haste, incomprehension, and apathy.

These trends worry me; they actually grieve me—for your sake. I know that an academic experience can be better than the one I witness many of you having. It can be empowering, not drudgery, not simply checking off items on a list of requirements, jumping hurdles to attain the all-important degree.

Call me idealistic, but I believe education is more than that. We are commanded by God to love him with all our minds, and I believe education enables us to follow that command. Gene Edward Vieth makes this case in Loving God with All Your Mind: "The mental faculties of the human mind—the power to think, to discover, to wonder, and to imagine—are precious gifts of God. The Christian who pursues knowledge, seeks education, and explores even the most 'secular' subjects is fulfilling a Christian vocation that is pleasing to God and of great importance to the church."

Beyond the command to love God through these practices, learning enriches your life; it challenges your thinking and helps to sharpen it; it trains your reading comprehension and communication skills; it enables you to integrate yourself into the community (local, extended, contemporary, and historic). Amid this process, you may not recognize its work: I cannot point to one lesson or one reading or one class period that enacts one outcome of education's overall achievement in your life. But the lessons, readings, class periods, and assignments in this class and in all your classes should—over time—inculcate in you a critical eye, a curiosity about the world around you, a better understanding of that world and of your place in it, an appreciation for the good and an ability to discern it, a desire for what is excellent, and the competence to create works of excellence yourself.

Related Topics:Education; Higher Education

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An Open Letter to My College Students