Dangerous Assumptions: What Are Students Learning?

The news in recent weeks confirms, once again, that in schools across America, children are learning their lessons well. Of course, the question begging for an answer is: What lessons are they learning? Answering that question involves a little worldview analysis. But first, what was reported?

The national media drew attention to what was going on in two high school classrooms. In one situation, a teacher in Colorado used his geography class to promote left wing invective against President Bush for his State of the Union address, equating him with Adolf Hitler. The other case involved a New Jersey honors class that held a mock trial debating alleged war crimes committed by President Bush.

In both cases, the teachers claimed to be helping students develop “critical thinking” skills. To be sure, “thinking” was going on in the classroom, but as it turns out, “critical” is not the correct modifier. While the political rant by the geography teacher was clearly over the top, assigning a mock trial seemed innocent enough. Yet, what children were actually learning was something far more removed from developing an ability to think well.

The Priority of Assumptions

To get at the root issue, we must consider this insight by C.S. Lewis: “The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones being argued, but the ones that are assumed.”

What “dangerous idea” is assumed in putting President Bush on trial? It’s found in the underlying assumption that Bush’s actions are somehow similar to, say, the Nazi leaders of WWII who stood trial in the first international tribunal, or someone like Slobodan Milosevic, who committed crimes against humanity in Kosovo and Bosnia. Grouping Bush together with these men assumes his actions to be “morally equivalent” to theirs. In doing that, there is a failure to make a distinction between legitimate acts of war and flagrant genocide. What we find, then, is that by assigning a mock trial of this nature, students learn to accept the assumption upon which it is based.

Moral equivalency comes out of a Postmodern view of truth. In a Postmodern world, whatever a local community declares to be moral is moral. This sets up one community’s values against another’s, with no way to arbitrate between the competing views. Therefore, Postmodernists conclude that we must embrace each moral view as equally valid. This idea is taught in schools under the banner of multiculturalism, which claims that no culture is morally superior to another. These views are summed up in the popular catchphrase, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Students Are Learning Their Lessons

Even though moral equivalence is not taught overtly, the lesson is apparently coming through loud and clear. According to Barna’s 2002 research, 54 percent of teenagers base their moral choices on feelings and beneficial outcomes. In addition, 83 percent said moral truth depends on the circumstances. And more surprisingly, 91 percent of born-again teens do not believe there are objective moral absolutes. 1

These statistics affirm that, when it comes to thinking about moral behavior, this generation is in a freefall. Contributing to that freefall are school projects that fail to make distinctions among moral choices. Instead of developing moral clarity, these assignments contribute to children’s moral confusion. The result: Students believe they have gained the ability to appraise complicated moral and legal issues when, in actuality, they do not have the mental framework necessary for the task.

Consider this scenario: You are asked to engage in a discussion with three scientists on quantum mechanics. How much would you contribute to the discussion if you had never taken a course on the subject? It would be a very short conversation! That’s because you have no information to even begin thinking about the topic. You literally have no ideas in your mind from which to draw-no terms, definitions, or concepts. On the other hand, if you had a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics, you could maintain a dialogue with your peers for an extended period, and actually have something to contribute.

The same is true when it comes to moral reasoning. Teachers are asking students to engage in something they are not prepared to do. Without a basic understanding of the vocabulary and principles of moral language, a student cannot meaningfully participate in any discussion of what is right or wrong. In fact, students come to the exercise with very little to say of an informed nature. They are, at best, sharing their personal preferences, or at worst, pooling their ignorance. This is not education, it is indoctrination into a worldview where morals are reduced to personal preferences without objective standing.

Restoring Moral Reasoning

To develop “critical thinking” skills, students must first be instructed in the principles of moral reasoning. This kind of thinking is not learned by osmosis; it is an acquired skill. It is developed through studying the arguments of moral philosophers, past and present, who have thought deeply about the issues. Moral reasoning is reinforced by reading stories of characters who acted honorably or dishonorably. And it comes through discussing the lessons learned from history, noting the consequences of moral choices in the lives of those who have gone before us.

But more importantly, moral reasoning assumes a biblical worldview; one that tells us we have built-in moral sensibilities because we live in a universe designed by a Moral Lawgiver. In Romans 2, Paul notes that God’s moral law is written on our hearts. Men everywhere attest to this inner moral law. C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, illustrates this fact from a variety of cultures. He notes that while people in difference cultures express their moral ideas differently on the level of behavioral details, there is a consensus regarding objective moral truth. For example, he writes that cultures may differ on the number of wives a man may have, but there is agreement that a man cannot have any woman he pleases.

Some will object that a biblical view of ethics cannot be taught in publicly funded schools because it is a religious view and we can’t teach religion. But this misses the point that every moral perspective is equally religious. Worldview analysis demonstrates that Postmodern ethics are based on a theology of atheism, a religiously held belief that God does not exist. To present a Postmodern view of ethics in exclusion of the biblical view is not somehow religiously “neutral.” It is, in fact, discrimination against the Christian viewpoint. What we find, then, is that students are captive to a narrow, biased, and exclusive view of moral issues: the Postmodern view. Under anyone’s definition, this is indoctrination, not education.

Meeting the Challenge: Summit’s Student Conferences

The “dangerous assumptions” of Postmodern education is a prime reason why Summit’s worldview training is so crucial. We equip students to see through the facade of today’s popular deceptions to the underlying assumptions. After spending two weeks under the instruction of the nation’s leading Christian thinkers, authors, and professors, students develop the ability to discern between competing worldviews.

A dad wrote to share his son’s response after attending one of our leadership camps last summer. The son said, “Dad, the organizational power of worldview training is amazing. I can take any objection to biblical Christianity, any perspective that is contrary to biblical teaching, and trace it back to its foundational roots, exposing its error, its non-biblical view.”

Another student wrote:

Well, I’m not really a “go out and get ’em” kind of person, but the Summit info and perspectives have really helped me sort through the garbage I’ve been sitting through this semester.

I’m taking some prerequisites for a CA teaching credential program, and one of the classes is “School and Society.” It’s an interesting subject to me, but unfortunately it has been taught solely from a Marxist and socialist standpoint. There have been numerous defamations of Protestants, as well as the perpetual assumption that white people are greedy and racist, because they hold power and wealth. What bothers me more than that, however, is the lack of reason for the forced ‘respect’ (read: affirmation) we are told we must have for all lifestyles.

I agree that we must respect other people (not necessarily celebrate their behavior), and my reason is because they are all made in the image of God. I asked my professor [why we should respect other people], and she could not give me an answer other than that people must be treated with respect. I also asked her how we know that things aren’t as they should be, how we know that brutality is wrong, how we know that exploitation of people groups is wrong. I asked her, “What is the good, by which we determine what is not good?” and she could not answer this question. Yet she continues to heap guilt upon us for the social crimes of the white race and admonishes us to celebrate all lifestyles.

To be frank, I find her approach rather forceful, even militant; in that she wants us to believe what she says even when she cannot give a foundational reason for believing it.

Comments like these keep us going! You can help us expose more students to this life-changing training by telling them about our Student Worldview Conferences.

We equip students to not just survive, but actually thrive in a post-Christian academic environment. And while we don’t claim to take care of every problem a student may encounter, we can guarantee they will come away with a solid foundation for understanding why Christianity is the only worldview that stands up under intense scrutiny-the kind of scrutiny found in most classrooms across America, high school or college. In addition to the intellectual stimulation, our camps supply plenty of relational opportunities for making new friends, outdoor activities, incredible food, and, of course, good ol’ fresh Colorado air-or, Tennessee or Ohio air, depending on which conference location you attend.

So think of the brightest Christian students you know and email this commentary to them, or direct them to our website for information about our life-changing summer camps. But hurry, sessions are starting to fill.

P.S. My wife and I made the Summit an integral part of our daughters educational experience before they went off to college. One attended a small Christian college, the other a large art school, which was liberal. Both benefited immensely!