Core cuts would undermine formative Christian education

Photo courtesy calvin.edu
Photo courtesy calvin.edu

Most college students don’t want to be formed by their education — we want to consume it. Course catalogs (appropriately named) provide us with myriad possibilities.

During lectures, we collect trendy ideological accessories; we dress our identities in words like “pacifist” and “feminist” while most of us are too privileged to know what those words mean, let alone how they might begin to shape our everyday lives.

Let’s face it: many of us aren’t learning — we’re shopping. And we’re demanding that the university bow to the mantra of modern students (or risk decreasing enrollment): “Let me make up my mind for myself.”

So the initiative to cut Calvin’s core curriculum actually makes a lot of sense. Core gets in the way, takes time and undermines the modern tendency to make education a commodity that students are at liberty to use any way they desire.

Thus, as state schools and universities offer better prices and increased academic freedom, schools like Calvin are becoming less and less relevant.

In a world where the customer is always right, it seems the “liberal arts” may be doomed to failure. At a school where the student is always right, core doesn’t work.

But Calvin is not just another “liberal arts” school — we are a Christian college, and because of that we cannot separate ethics from political science or theology from business.

Such separation (or “specialization,” as it’s often called) produces pastors who are unable to articulate the political significance of the Eucharist, political “imaginations” that are invariably anchored to realist presuppositions and businesses that exploit their workers “unto the Lord.”

What makes Calvin so unique is its supposed rejection of this separation — its insistence on the expansive narrative of Reformed theology: that God created it all and all of it matters.

But I am worried that cutting core at Calvin will only increase the dangerous distance between students and this narrative — the very narrative that makes our education coherent.

For while the modern university would have us believe that we can know without narrative, Calvin College has called us to claim our identity as a storied people under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

It’s the reason why we talk about God all the time. It’s why our mentors use words like “discernment” and “vocation.” It’s why our professors lead us in prayer before class.

At Calvin, your education belongs to God.

Moreover, the argument that students should have the freedom to take the courses they “want to take” seems to underwrite the notion that education has everything to do with ideas and nothing at all to do with shaping desire.

But if education is really “about what we love,” as James K. A. Smith has argued, then don’t students need requirements like core to get in the way of our consumerist tendencies? Don’t students need courses, professors and church communities to shape us into the people that we would not otherwise “pick and choose” to be?

Don’t get me wrong: curriculum is but one dimension of this many-sided conversation. And if core gets cut this spring, I’m not under the impression that Calvin will become an overnight bastion of secularism devoid of the resources necessary for providing students with a holistic education.

Still, I’m worried. I’m worried that this debate is, at least in some respects, a microcosm of the broader temptation to overhaul education for students who would rather buy academic degrees than reinforce a way of life.

If this is the case (though I hope it isn’t) then I pray Calvin will discern accordingly. Who knows? Maybe it’s a good thing that core is a little “coercive.”

About the Author

Kyle Luck

Kyle Luck is a Chimes guest writer for the 2012-13 school year.

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