Intelligence Plus Character

The Importance of Classical Christian Education


First published in November 2005, Chuck’s commentary on classical Christian education seems even more urgent today.

“Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. . . . We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

You may remember that I quoted these lines, which come from Martin Luther King, Jr., when I was talking about a student’s convocation speech at Dartmouth College. But they are worth pondering, because they raise a very profound question: How, in today’s society, do we provide the kind of “true education” that King was talking about, that develops both character and intelligence?

Never have we needed more urgently to find an answer to this question. The modern secular university can not cultivate character in a value-free environment, because if there is no truth, there is no standard of ethics by which we can measure character. So the university has simply given up on it.

And not only are our schools and colleges not teaching character, but they’re increasingly abandoning academics as well. The typical student at a great secular university will not learn much about the history of Western civilization. My alma mater, Brown University, an Ivy League school with a great reputation, no longer has a core curriculum. You can go through the school without ever knowing who Plato, Aristotle, Darwin, or Freud were. In fact, you could major in African drum-beating. So from my perspective, the modern secular university has abandoned both the pursuit of classical learning and the development of character. That’s why they’re particularly dangerous places today, and it’s why Christian students must be well grounded before they go there.

And this is also why I so strongly support the Christian classical education movement that is beginning to spread across the country. It combines, you see, the two historic goals of a liberal education: the cultivation of knowledge and the cultivation of character. It shows us the continuum in the intellectual history of the West that goes back to the Greco-Roman era and, therefore, enables us to better understand our own postmodern era. If we cut ourselves off from the past, we can’t understand the present. And it’s particularly critical, in my mind, for Christians to understand the philosophical and cultural currents that have shaped our society.

Let me give you just one good example. Galileo, as everyone knows, was thrown in jail for challenging Aristotle's philosophical assumptions about an eternal universe. But, as I mentioned in an earlier broadcast, Francis Bacon, sometimes called “the father of modern science,” was influenced by the Protestant Reformation, and he embraced Luther’s idea about abandoning the constraints of tradition and going back to the root: the Bible. He applied this principle to freeing science from philosophical assumptions and instead looking at what God has made – go back to the root of things, as Luther did. This allowed modern science to pursue truth uninhibited by philosophy.

Why is this relevant today? Because we’re dealing with the same issue. Naturalism is the philosophical assumption that binds modern science. And this is at the heart of the intelligent design debate, but you only see this when you know your own history.

I believe that every serious Christian needs to be classically grounded, not only to understand the history of our own civilization, but also to contend for truth in the marketplace. So I hope that you will check for a classical Christian school in your area – as a place for your kids and as a cause to support.

What is ethics all about? Find out by ordering the DVD series, Doing the Right Thing, and viewing it with a group of your friends. You’ll also want to read the article, “The Failure of Modern Ethics,” by Rick Wade.

Has Harvard Forgotten the Question?

Chuck Colson

We first aired this BreakPoint commentary back in 1995 but, well, things haven’t changed much since then.

How did someone like Chuck Colson—well-educated lawyer, public figure, savvy politician—how did someone like that end up committing the crimes of Watergate?

That’s the question Harvard University students asked me to address a couple of years ago.

I confess, I accepted Harvard’s invitation with some trepidation. I had publicly scoffed at the university’s $20 million endowment to establish a chair on ethics. The money was wasted, I’d written. Harvard can’t teach ethics because it steadfastly disavows the only basis for ethics—the idea of absolutes.

Now I was going to have to back up my statement before some of the nation’s best and brightest students.

So I arrived on campus somewhat nervous. The lecture hall was full to overflowing, students in the aisles and against the walls.

I took to the podium, breathed a prayer, and began.

If you’ve been listening to this program over the past two weeks, you’ll remember some of the things I said. I started out challenging the Socratic method of teaching ethics—which Harvard uses. That method deals only with right thinking, I said; it can’t inspire right action.

This was a direct blow at Harvard’s own program. But, amazingly, there wasn’t a murmur. The students didn’t seem to mind that I’d just poked a hole in their $25,000-a-year education.

I pressed on to Immanuel Kant, the great eighteenth-century philosopher. Kant taught that ethics is a matter of rationality—reason compels us to do right.

But Kant was wrong, I said. Reason isn’t enough. And I told my own story: an Ivy League education, honors in law school, an aide to the president of the United States. Oh, I could use reason; but that didn’t make me good. I still made wrong decisions, and I still went to prison.

So much for Kant and the power of reason.

That was an attack on the very basis of Western rationalism. And the students didn’t seem to notice.

By this time, I decided to bait them.

I told them that the lesson of history is that Christianity is necessary to make people good. Only God can change a person from the inside.

No one seemed outraged. Not one student challenged my basic thesis.

The passive silence frightened me more than if the students had been actively hostile. A debate would have meant they were ready to fight for their convictions; the silence meant they had none.

There was a time when young people would have asked the right questions: What is truth? What is the meaning of life? Now, I fear, they don’t even know the questions to ask.

The speech may have done some good after all. Harvard has publicly abandoned its course on ethics, now entitling it Moral Dilemmas in Management. Webster tells us that dilemma means two unacceptable alternatives.

So two cheers for Harvard; at least it’s being honest. But woe to the students. These are our nation’s future senators and CEOs, and all of them are sadly ill equipped. Think about it: unthinking, unquestioning students on their way to becoming our nation's leaders, shuffling into the future, oblivious to the ethical foundations crumbling beneath them.

What is ethics all about? Find out by ordering the DVD series, Doing the Right Thing, and viewing it with a group of your friends. You’ll also want to read the article, “The Failure of Modern Ethics,” by Rick Wade


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