College Education As My Generation Knew It Deserves To Die

May 28, 2014

College education as my generation knew it deserves to die, higher education must flourish.  In four hundred years of living in the Americas no Reynolds had to go to high school let alone college to live satisfactory lives. There is vanishingly little evidence that the kind of jobs we still hold in the family, outside of my own, actually require high school or college education.

When government decided to get involved in college and university education at the end of World War II much good was done and that good has rightly been celebrated. Who has a bad word to say about the GI Bill?

I do.

In the midst of the good done by the GI Bill, scientific research funded and spreading the benefits of liberal arts education, came harm. Colleges faced explosive growth that could not be sustained in the long term, but became the “new normal.” They begin to pump out larger numbers of professors and never stopped doing so when growth slowed.  In many fields, particularly the humanities, the glut cheapened the value of professors.

Colleges also began to multiply disciplines as money sloshed through the system. Undergraduates demanded greater options and program offerings and as a business colleges responded. Put simply, the more difficult the subject area is the fewer students are attracted to that field of study. Whatever the merits of the fields, less rigorous disciplines began to sprout up all over colleges unrelated to long term social needs or market demands.

College became a rite of passage for the entire middle class and as a result the social aspects of college programs exploded. Many colleges soon had more administrators and social programming workers than professors. Athletics had already become semi-professional, but this increased and soon entered other areas. The “school play” became the drama department and the school choir at even a small school aspired to Eastman School of Music quality. Professionalization led to the growth of programmed “amateur” activities.

All this cost money and was passed on to students and parents in rising tuition. Easy student loans made it possible for anyone to pay, at least for a time, and so the system has continued to this day. Every year tuition goes up and more treats are offered students to attract their dollars. This cannot go on forever, cracks already are appearing, but even if it could there was a great loss.

What got lost? Higher education.

The Roosevelt family did not send young Theodore to Harvard to get a job. The family could have found a job for him, if a job was necessary. They sent him to become a gentleman and patriot leader. A consumer centered commodity based system does not even do a good job training for jobs, but it cannot produce a lady or a gentleman.

Many, if not most jobs, Americans will do require little education beyond basic literacy and numeracy. My challenge is this: if a woman or man could read, do basic math well, and communicate fluently how many jobs could be mastered at the end of a paid apprenticeship?

All those jobs should be removed from the college curriculum in the future. College structure is an expensive, out of date, and slow way of achieving goals. In some areas, the traditional professions (medicine, ministry, law), higher education is necessary. Scientists will continue to be trained in elite communities as will the (relatively) small number of professors needed by society.

The rest of us should get on with it . . . unless there is actually more to college. By “more” I do not mean hanging out with friends, going to sports events, and meeting new people. One can do all those things at jobs while getting paid. Nor are the “life skills” learned in dorms directly applicable to “grown up” life. Never again will an American be forced to live with people they do not know in spaces they did not pick unless they end up in prison or a monastery.

The “more” in higher education should include “finding Obi-wan:” the mentor who will train leaders in higher ways of living. This cannot be done by part-time faculty underpaid and facing classes of hundreds.  Jesus and Socrates modeled good mentoring by finding a small group and spending years in dialog.  Leadership training can take place, and historically has taken place, in the armed forces, but college is a great peacetime option.

The “more” in higher education must provide moral training. A good school must be good, but for the last few decades schools have cooperated with moral degeneracy in sexuality and the majority encourage it. When my father went to state university in the 1950s, immorality existed, but was discouraged by officialdom. It made a difference.

The “more” in higher education must train in tastes and feelings. The heart can be educated as well as the mind. I did not come to college loving opera, but education expanded my tastes and now I can love more. A higher education also can teach me when my tastes are poor or the art I love unworthy. U2 is nostalgic to me, but I also know the limits of their musicianship, because of higher education.

The “more” in college should encourage out of the box thinking and entrepreneurial activity. Modern colleges are stagnant and view moving quickly as a ten year plan. We developed “credit hours” and “programs” when file cards and folders were the only way to track progress. This leads to individualizing curriculum while standardizing methodology, but this will never produce higher education.

Higher education individualizes methodology while making sure that there is a standard curriculum.  People are individuals in learning styles, but citizenship, common culture, and truth require a body of knowledge that all leaders should know. American students should know the history of their nation, warts and all. Students should master their own and another language. This liberal arts education is for everyone who wants it and is equipped to get it.

There are too many liberal arts colleges in the United States for the number of students who are prepared to benefit from a liberal arts education. Many students have never experience mentoring in their huge centralized high schools. More than a few students are only in college to get a “good job” and to enjoy themselves. A small number are there to “find themselves” . . . college as an expensive version of the old Victorian “Grand Tour.”

There is no good reason for society to subsidize education for jobs that does not lead to jobs. There is no constitutional right for a rite of passage subsidized by the state. People should party on their own dime. Self-exploration is part of “higher education,” but should be in the hands of professors. Education is not a series of selfies, but showing students artistically rendered portraits that help them know themselves.

Oddly, schools will need more mentors and teachers to provide a higher education. Sadly, graduate school as it now exists leaves the successful graduate student looking to be paid for research in his or her field with a relatively light teaching load. Success in field is viewed as teaching fewer and fewer students on a smaller and smaller field of study.

There is a place for such research, but most students do not need it for a higher education or for a career. Nobody has shown a correlation between academic publication and success in higher education teaching.

Colleges, as my generation knew them, did good, but also less good than they might. Those schools will change or die. Research will continue. Highly technical professional training will thrive. Higher education, real liberal arts study, will also be in demand. If a higher educational institution can produce leaders who read well, write well, think well, and live well, then parents and students will come.

John Mark N. Reynolds

Dr. Reynolds is a Senior Fellow of Humanities at The King’s College in New York City, and a Fellow of the Center For Science and Culture at The Discovery Institute. He is the former provost of Houston Baptist University and was the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24