Academics who are interested in understanding the world in which we live, producing good citizens, and thinking beyond their own disciplinary cage should reconsider throwing all their eggs in the university basket and give serious attention to the possibility of taking up a post in an institution of classical learning.

Prior to the pandemic, the humanities were struggling. Religious colleges and universities have been on the decline in enrollment since the 2008 market crash. This has left humanities professors in a bit of challenging position. As the job market thins out and the number of Ph.D.-credentialed scholars rise, there are fewer jobs to accommodate the talented pool of applicants.

Added to the economic challenges of university education, there is a growing challenge to maintain standards as bureaucrat practices drive out the core functions of the university.[1] Certainly, this has something to do with the economic factors involved, but it also has something to do with the constant capitulation to one particular ideological perspective.

Unfortunately, universities have been transformed. And I say that not in any positive way. They have been transformed into ideological centers and information houses with little to nothing left for teaching students how to process that information critically and carefully. Worse than that, they have deepened and encouraged the entitlement culture found in our public schools. Conservatives and Christians have been hitting the same drum for some time. Both will point out the ideological nature of these institutions in their hiring processes. There exists this unjustified discriminatory practice. And they’re right! Lest there is any doubt, there was a study that received significant attention in 2016 representing these trends.[2] I wish we could say that those trends are changing, but no evidence seems forthcoming. With the recent economic crisis following the pandemic, further gutting of the core functions devoted to a traditional vision of the university will almost inevitably occur.

For these negative reasons, it seems that scholars/academics need to take up other potentially rewarding vocational opportunities. We are seeing some of that. Some are becoming generalists and teaching at community colleges and state schools.[3] There is something to be said for that, but given the concerns raised above that can only last for so long. Others are entering into alternative industries like oil and gas, IT, or energy by using their academic skills of writing, research, and communication (and a small sampling maintains an academic publishing record).

Others—and this is my recommendation—are investing their time and energy in classical education. And it seems to me there are good reasons for investing in projects of this sort. So rather than consider some of the negative reasons for moving away from the university setting, there are several positive reasons for considering classical education.

As I am writing this to you, I have recently accepted a position as the Head of School over Alpine Christian School. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this school is located in one of the most attractive places to live in Texas. Having published over 40 articles, several books, edited several important contributions, and working in secular state universities, one Roman Catholic university, and evangelical institutions, I am intimately acquainted with the academy and the university setting. But this letter is not really about me. I say that only to say that there are reasons, as an academic, to consider classical education as a fulfilling context for faithfully carrying out one’s vocational objectives, and you may be surprised and find the rewards are greater.

As I see it, there are some distinct advantages to assuming a classical education post. Consider that because the university is progressively bogged down in ideological concerns and a mounting stack of paperwork, time for crafting the best lectures is dwindling. Let’s not even talk about time for research. In most cases, research may comprise 10-20% of one’s schedule, if one is lucky.

Additionally, classical education is comprehensive in that it takes into account the liberal arts. As such, classical educators are concerned with bringing all the disciplines to bear on particular questions that concern the transcendent. Classical educators, too, have a concern for an ethic of love toward enduring values of the true, the good, and the beautiful. I am reminded of the greats that comprise a solid education historically: Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Dante and John Milton, to name a few. A classical education covers the spectrum of classical poetry, philosophy, history, politics, and theology.

For these reasons, academics with specialties are needed in classical settings. And they are needed for precisely the reasons you might expect: to give expert knowledge on these important works. And all of this is an aid to forming a unified picture of the world through the lens of these masters. It prepares students to stand on truth and logic when they enter institutes of higher learning or any other vocation. Furthermore, it presumes something that is lost on moderns—namely, a proper anthropology.

But what is that anthropology (i.e., the study of human nature, and no, I am not intending this in the contemporary sense)? Following the ancients, we’d need to say that, at a minimum, it means that humans are not only embodied but also ensouled beings. The significance of ensoulment means that humans are distinct from the material creation. Humans embody (metaphorically speaking) values, ideals, and ideas that are not those of the animal creation. It implies that humans have a destiny—a destiny probably distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom. Following Plato and the ancient Christian thinkers, it means that humans will survive bodily demise and that they have a purpose that is heavenly.[4]

These ideas permeate the life of the classically trained mind. Rather than consumed with the latest consumerist fads and fixated on the immediate need of the day, classical minds are conformed to the ideals from the great heritage that sustains and continues to shape a culture that endures beyond the cultural fashion.

As one college professor has put it, “the academy is less and less compelling as a location for thinking and teaching critically and christianly.”[5] This is not so of classical education. Classical education draws from the best thinkers, so that we might remember from where we came in order that we might progress as a society. Ultimately, classical educators are interested not simply in producing the most sophisticated and well-rounded thinkers, but they want to send out ‘good’ people—and not in some trivial sense but in the classical sense of developing settled dispositions toward the true, the good, and the beautiful.

So, if you are an academic interested in understanding the world in which we live, producing good citizens, and thinking beyond your own disciplinary cage, then you really should reconsider throwing all your eggs in the university basket and give serious attention to the possibility of taking up a post in an institution of classical learning. Here, your skills will be utilized with greater impact on society, and, if you are a Christian, then your skills will be utilized for the purposes of satisfying God’s intentions for the world.

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[1] For an interesting discussion of this, see “The University Is a Ticking Time Bomb.”

[2] See “Liberal professors outnumber conservatives nearly 12 to 1, study finds,” The Washington Times.

[3] For a recommendation, see “Why More Professors Should Be Generalists.”

[4] For more on this, see Joshua R. Farris, An Introduction to Theological Anthropology: Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine (Baker Academic, 2020).

[5] Rod Dreher, “Goodbye Christian College, Hello Classical School?” The American Conservative (July 2020).

The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.

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