Monday, November 16, 2015

Campus Chaos: A Call for “Higher Education”

Some analysts are not surprised about the chaos on the campuses of University of Missouri, Yale University.  Consider the values being taught on campus and the nature of their millennial students, those born between 1980 and the early 2000’s.  But Stanford Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims claims that parents of millennials are also part of the problem.  She supports this claim in her book, How to Raise an Adult.  The subtitle expands on her thesis-- Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

I haven't read Lythcot-Haims’ book.  However, a review of the book by Paul Bonicelli in The Federalist, entitled The College Kids Are Not All Right, presents Lythcot-Haims’ thesis and adds an important context beyond simply implicating parents. Bonicelli attributes the problems of the millennial generation to the deterioration of the framework of moral and ethical teaching in the home and the lack of reinforcement of lessons of the home by the child’s elementary and secondary school, church, and community.

As readers of Oikonomia will realize, I have been emphasizing the important role of the “traditional family,” church, school, and community in the rearing of young men and women with godly character.  See “Learning How to Respect and Exercise Authority and additional links below.   Knowing my thesis, you might say that I am guilty of highlighting a book with which I agree.  And you are right; but, allow me to quote a couple of paragraphs from Paul Bonicelli’s book review that, in my judgment, make it valuable in its own right.

First, Bonicelli highlights Lythcot-Haims’ indictment of the parents of today’s college students, noting that she… does a good job of reviewing the problems of millennials at the university and beyond. We all know how so many kids come to college and into the workplace needing their hands held, being sensitive to criticism, and being unable to simply function as mature and independent adults. But she does more than offer a litany of problems. She examines the roots of the problem—namely, pressure from parents and brand-plumping elite universities—and tells parents forthrightly they are hurting their own kids. Finally, she offers suggestions for how everyone can fix themselves.

Bonicelli later adds:  The book is replete with often heart-rending examples of unhappy, depressed, unnecessarily medicated kids and young adults whose entire lives have been micromanaged and dominated by parents oblivious to what their kids want or need.

But what impressed me about Bonicelli’s review of How to Raise an Adult was his criticism of the book’s lack of emphasis on the need for parents and our schools to raise good human beings.  Bonicelli attributes this void to the state of education at the elementary and secondary levels and the lack of moral training in our culture...  He makes his point by asking us baby boomers and Generation X readers to get in the time machine and go back to yesteryear when kids learned at home, in school, and at church or synagogue that the highest aim was a life well-lived.  Everywhere children turned they were encouraged to be upright, kind, self-reliant, giving, and hardworking. They were taught to abjure evil, sloth, immorality, selfishness, and idleness.  They got these lessons from their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  They heard sermons and homilies and got life instructions from whatever their religious institution taught as the moral law.

When they went to school, these lessons were reinforced through the curriculum and the standard of behavior required of them. Kids, understood implicitly as moral beings, had adults to rely upon to help them navigate life’s ups and downs as they matured.  For those rare kids who were spared much adversity in their young lives, there were lessons and examples aplenty in the things they read as a matter of course at school. No parents are perfect, but social pressure and the way things were constantly taught and reinforced living well.

Take one example: If one wants to know how human beings are supposed to face trials and overcome, how to be generous and giving toward others in need, great literature like the Bible, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Aesop’s fables offer excellent instruction with timeless examples for all ages and stations. For some kids in the past, that included Cicero and Aurelias, and Augustine and Aquinas.

For those of us tempted to dismiss Bonicelli’s point by pointing out that we cannot return to how things were before modernism and postmodernism emerged, he is quick to offer a counterargument: 

Pointing out that times have changed and that we can’t go back to yesteryear doesn’t impress me.  Right reason and experience tell us the truth about how to raise children into adults.   No amount of postmodern sophistry and relativism can overcome reality.   Our efforts should be put into fixing the problem the right way—one kid, one family, and one school at a time.

Having composed this snapshot of a great book review and a worthwhile book, I am more motivated to be a part of the solution.  Instead of bemoaning social unrest in our cities and on our campuses, and debating the causes, let’s be part of the solution to the problem by reaching out and mentoring—“one kid, one family, and one school at a time.”  As we do, let us remember to emphasize godly character more than “success,” and encouraging good stewardship of opportunities to serve others rather than simply encouraging pursuit of material wealth for personal gain. 

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. – 2 Timothy 2: 2

Further Reading:
Paul Bonicelli’s review of How to Raise an Adult:  See “The College Kids Are Not All Right
Related Oikonomia articles:
Dominion 101 - Spheres of Responsibility – Christian responsibility in three spheres (family, church, and government)
Jackie Robinson -- “YOU Don’t Belong Here!” – How character was developed in Jackie Robinson and Ben Carson through strong families.

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