Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thoughts On Higher Education – Part 3

…continued from Part 2 – Why Not To Work For A Big Company and What To Do About It
A college education is now perceived by most Americans as being necessary to “succeed” in the business world. Indeed, I felt this way when I attended college – there was never a consideration on my part to stop my education at the high school level. As I pointed out in Part 2, though, there are now some very fine alternatives to college – and they don’t cost a fortune, nor do they take place in anti-Christian settings.

As I pondered this concept, two questions came to mind. If I ever feel that my kids cannot achieve their full potential without a college degree, should I reevaluate what I want them to attain in this life? What is it all really about?

A very wise man, one who had vast resources at his disposal to “experiment” with this idea, once endeavored to answer that very question. He devoted himself to study (Ecclesiastes 1:13) and to explore wisdom. He sought out pleasure, and cheered himself with laughter and wine (Eccl. 2:1-3). He took on great architectural projects, and planted vineyards and gardens –massive projects that were a great source of pride (Eccl. 2:4-6). And he amassed great wealth and acquired many possessions with which to delight himself (Eccl. 2:8-9).

For the first time, I noticed that this progression from the Old Testament parallels the typical American dream. Get educated – set yourself up to have some fun – do great things that can be seen by men – gain wealth – and retire to do something that rewards all of your efforts. Incredibly, it’s right there in the Scriptures – a test of the American dream, played out by the wisest man who ever lived.

King Solomon pondered education, toil, possessions, and amusement. What was it that he learned?

“For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!” – Ecclesiastes 2:16
Solomon concluded that even wisdom is not something that lasts, and while being a wise man is not a bad thing, it is not the ultimate goal. So, what is it that we should spend our lives striving for? Bible readers know the answer that is forthcoming. At the very end of the Old Testament book, the ultimate goal of man’s life is revealed:

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13
When all that makes up a great life by human standards is considered - a college education, or wealth, or possessions, or wisdom, or great accomplishments – all of these pale in comparison to the one true goal given to mankind. Fear God and keep His commands. I believe this is the lesson that God has been pointing me toward as he placed the burden of writing these articles on my heart. My children are nearing the end of their time under my roof. The time to make decisions about their future quickly approaches. Can they really be happy if their ultimate lot in life is to have a Bible, a little bread, and a prayerful heart (like the famous 1918 Eric Enstrom photograph at the top of the page)? I must deeply consider what the Father wants for them. Whether it necessitates a college degree – or not – there is one principle that must override every other desire.

I want my children to know God and to have an eternal relationship with the Creator of the Universe. God wants that, too.

Because that is what it’s all about.

Back to Part 1 of the Higher Education series
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Worldview Class #2 – Part 7 – Biblical Christian Philosophy

While teaching a Sunday morning class at church on the topic of various worldviews, I plan to share some of the more significant findings which our class is learning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.


We have defined philosophy as the “rational investigation of the principles of knowledge.” Put more clearly – How do we know what we know?

Unlike the humanistic worldviews, Biblical Christian philosophy centers around one very unique belief – there is a God who exists and who is markedly different from the “natural” world. While most humanist viewpoints limit all things to only the natural world, or in the case of the New Age movement, a “non-natural” world ruled by man’s spirit, the Christian worldview opens the door to the “supernatural”.

As we will see in the future sessions on biology, it is “bad science” to eliminate the possibility of God at the outset of a philosophy, simply because one chooses not to believe. A tottering, ever-changing philosophy can be constructed - but is it wise to assume with no evidence to support it, that God does not exist? For this reason, many philosophers have come around to the idea that the Biblical Christian philosophy is the one which makes the most sense. C.E.M. Joad, once a staunch humanist, made this claim late in his life - “I now believe that the balance of reasonable considerations tells heavily in favor of the religious, even of the Christian view of the world.” In discussing philosophy, Sir Francis Bacon said, “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

The universe tells of a Divine Creator. Many scientific principles support the claim of intelligent design far better than that of humanist worldviews – non-spontaneous generation, DNA theory, and the delicate balance maintained between oxygen and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere – all of these tell of something much greater than random events. My favorite scientific principle to discuss is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which I like to summarize as “Things fall apart”. We all experience this natural tendency toward decay and disorganization in our everyday lives – dust falls on our mantle and picture frames, junk mail piles up on the counter, the garage begins to tend toward disarrangement shortly after we clean and organize it. Such tendency toward disarray is accepted as normal in our minds. So why is it so easy for some philosophies to accept the idea that something so complex as the human body could be created from nothing, though a series of random events? Such a belief radically violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics – and yet scientists stand by it, claiming that anything is possible given enough time.

For the Christian, we live in a world which moves gloriously to God’s principles and laws. Gravity – a law unto itself – works without fail, because God made it so, and because he wants the consistency of such a principle to tell of his constant and unswerving nature. If gravity were random, life would be far more unpleasant, and such a life would not speak of an unvarying Divine presence. God made gravity to be the way it is for a very distinct reason.

Finally, God made our minds to be a reflection of His mind. We are created in His image, making us unique among all of God’s handiwork. As such, He has given us curiosity and the desire to learn and know. Philosophy is not a thing which should be avoided by Christians – quite the opposite. We possess a philosophy which not only explains everything around us – we possess a philosophy which is right. It is unfortunate that our world pushes aside the Biblical Christian viewpoint as being irrelevant, or not belonging in the same class as other humanist philosophies. In fact, the dedicated Christian should be willing and prepared to defend his or her own philosophical viewpoint with anyone. Supernaturalism explains more than simple naturalism. C.S. Lewis summarized the concept brilliantly,
“The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment that one attends to this it is obvious that one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event, and that therefore something other than Nature exists. The Supernatural is not remote and abstruse; it is a matter of daily and hourly experience, as intimate as breathing.”
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Friday, March 19, 2010

A Debt Burden for Future Generations

One of the life lessons I continually strive to teach my children is this – don’t get into debt. A modest home mortgage is usually acceptable, but I urge them never to make a credit card charge that they can’t pay off at the end of the month, and not to take on student debt loans which will saddle them with debt precisely at a time when they can’t afford it.

Something even worse than taking on excess debt would be to take it on with no intent to pay it back – but instead, to pass the debt burden on to my kids. What kind of parent would do something like that? Hopefully no one you know.

But this is precisely what the government is doing with yet another spending measure. Oh, they will tell you that the Congressional Budget Office claims that the bill will reduce the deficit. But did you know that the House can send the CBO’s study back to them as many times as they need to – and change the assumptions used until the “facts” fit the story they want? It’s true. And you will note that the CBO’s report was due out last week, but the release kept getting delayed until it was finally produced yesterday, with numbers that Nancy Pelosi said she “loved”? What I want to know is this – what did the CBO come back with the first time? This is no different than hiring a crooked accountant to cook the books for a company until it looks profitable – except that the Congress-CBO game is perfectly legal. Such is the system we live in – but no one will talk about this rule.

The graph above shows that we cannot afford the government programs that we already have in place past the year 2035, and this is only taking into account Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security - three government programs which have been run with poor financial discretion to date (can you say “bankrupt”?). I'm fairly certain that Medicare wasn't sold to the people as a deficit-producing program - but that is exactly what it has become. Add to this the certain deficit that bailout bills and healthcare will accrete, and the conclusion that I draw is that our children will be born into debt slavery. It’s not fair to them – they never had a choice.

Thomas Jefferson suggested a unique approach to the issue of taking on debt. Jefferson believed strongly that any new government debt should be paid off by current taxpayers, so as not to burden the next generation. He favored limiting any government debt terms to nineteen years – precisely to keep the repayment in the generation which enjoyed the benefits. What a brilliant idea! If only we had adhered to that concept after Jefferson proposed it!

Current-generation debt, not next-generation debt…I could live with that. As long as the CBO is obliged to tell the truth.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Aha – What Healthcare is Really About

Yesterday, I made a mental note to write out these words (I guess if I “tweeted”, that would have been my outlet):

“The healthcare bill is no longer about care for Americans or about lowering costs. It has come down to one thing – if it passes, it will be to protect the egos of three arrogant people.”

I pondered the veracity of that, and decided that it is pretty close to complete truth. With all that I read about the bill (which as of this minute STILL has not been published for our review), it seems that the goal has been lost. Still, a part of me thought that the statement above might be a little harsh.

And then Dennis Kucinich, Democrat Congressman from Ohio, changed his mind today and announced his support for the bill. And said these words,
“You do have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama's presidency not be destroyed by this debate. Even though I have many differences with him on policy, there's something much bigger at stake here for America.”
So…..I guess my original statement was true. It’s no longer about healthcare for America– it’s about something much more self-centered. Is that what government was designed for?

Still unsure? Nancy Pelosi revealed the same thinking when she said, “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why We Have Three Branches of Government

The whole healthcare debate rages on, and we may see the conclusion this week. Debate can be a good thing. It often allows the free exchange of ideas, especially if those ideas are placed accurately into the market of free thinking. Then others can join in and endeavor to understand the issues, make points, and perhaps vote their wishes through an elected, representative government.

So, what exactly is in the 2,700 page healthcare bill? The truth is – no single person knows. President Obama doesn’t know entirely what all those words add up to, nor do Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. It was written in a hurry by many, many people, and I don’t see that a great effort has been made to reconcile those pages against each other, or even to boil down what is in there for the purposes of public consumption. The politicians pushing the bill just want a vote on it, and soon. Their vote cannot be made in a wise or knowledgeable way – our senators and representatives cannot know all of the implications or mandates in those 2,400 pages unless they read and study it. None of them has confessed to doing so – so their vote would have to be cast in ignorance. Is that good government?

The issue that bothers me most in this debate is the push being made by the executive branch (the office of the President) to ram this legislation through, with a blatant disregard for balance. While the majority of the American people are now polled as being against the healthcare legislation, the President continues to push for its passage.

He has the right to push for what he believes in - really. But he is also pressing Congress for a “nuclear option” – to pass the bill through the reconciliation process (I won’t cover that process here – suffice it to say the process exists as a little “trickery” to pass legislation with a 50+% vote, accompanied by a promise to change the bill at a later date.) Those future changes promised by the reconciliation process are not guaranteed, hence, the Stupak coalition and the possibility that a distaste for abortion may actually be the death-knell for this bill.

Even more disturbing is a process being discussed called the “Slaughter solution”. Under this scheme, Democratic leaders will pass the bill by simply “deeming” the Senate bill passed in the House - without an actual vote by members of the House. Yes, it’s for real – the Democratic House Rules committee chairwoman is advising on this possibility. Oh, by the way, her name is Louise Slaughter. Ironic, isn’t it?

And this brings me to my point. Our founding fathers designed our current system of government to have three branches – executive, legislative, and judicial. Checks and balances were created between the three to prevent any one branch from “taking over”. It’s a wise system – created by men who saw how a monarch could seize power and govern at his whim. As journalist Bill Whittle recently said,

The modern Tea Party movement is made up of people peacefully protesting tax rates that, taken in total, approach half of all of their income; protesting the takeover by unelected czars of entire sectors of the economy; protesting the drunken orgy of spending not only the present wealth of the nation but the wealth of our children and our children’s children; protesting waste on a scale where a billion dollars – one thousand million dollars – is essentially undetectable, a rounding error… all of that, which its critics decry as mouth breathing paranoia… while the founders, enshrined in the mural surrounding these documents and which these same critics claim to revere – these founders, the greatest minds ever assembled in one place in the history of the world – took their country to war against the greatest military force on the planet because of a one-cent tax on tea.

Think about that! Forget the penny tax! It was never about the tax. It was about the idea of being ruled by people who cared not a whit about your lives but who only saw you as a source of revenue for their own grand ideas.

The why of America – when it’s all said and done – is simply this: we will be governed with our consent, but we will not be ruled.

Does that remind you of anything? For the full text of Whittle’s excellent article, read here.

I am trusting that the founders’ vision will result in a good outcome. If the executive branch twists the arm of the legislative branch to push through harmful, financially unsound, and unpopular legislation, there is always the possibility that the judicial branch will step in to intervene. And ultimately, there is always the possibility of the people of this nation rising up with a little “revolution” on their minds, right?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thoughts On Higher Education – Part 2

…continued from Part 1 – The Old Model – Why We Used To Get a College Degree


Recapping Part 1 - The value of working for a big company used to be substantially different – the employment was stable, companies helped fund employee health plans, and pension plans were offered to aid in retirement. Today all three of these benefits are being stripped away by the big companies – they no longer want the added expense. Thus, in a fairly short amount of time, the idea of owning one’s own business has grown extremely attractive. And here is a key point - you don’t need an expensive college degree to hire yourself as the owner of your own business.

To be sure, some professions still require a college degree in order to participate – such as the medical or teaching fields. My oldest child is considering the medical profession, so I’m not off the college hook by any means. But if these fields are not your goal, you may want to reconsider the idea of paying tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a degree from a university. I believe that the day is fast approaching when that little piece of paper called a diploma will mean a lot less than it has in the past.

The second reason that I hesitate to send my kids to a school of higher learning – especially a state school or Ivy League institution – is due to the culture that pervades these places. I went to a state school - so did my wife. I saw the drunkenness, partying, disregard for authority, and even the Marxist thought that pervades many of our universities. I attended a Psychology class where part of the standard curriculum was to show pornography to the class during one entire class lecture, in an effort to expose students to "another viewpoint" (by the way, that was one of the few days in my four year college career that I skipped class). I saw boys and girls openly groping each other in their dorm rooms, with the door open, in an effort to impress others with their exploits.

All of this had an effect on me - most notably, to strengthen my faith and cause me to step out and be "set apart". Sending my kids into such an environment scares me – it should scare any Christian parent. I have little doubt that my children will be able to handle that cultural pressure after they leave our nest - much like I was forced to adapt. But is it absolutely necessary for their development? Must I pay tens of thousands of dollars to an institution trying to undo the very moral character that my wife and I spent eighteen years nurturing in each of our children? Is there a chance that one of them might stumble, and be forever lost and separated from God's kingdom? There is that chance - and that makes the choice about higher education a very important decision.

One more thought strikes me - and it is bound to be unpopular with many. My own vision for my two girls is first and foremost that they grow up to be stay-at-home mothers, raising and homeschooling their own children in an effort to perpetuate a multi-generational vision of God-serving families. "Stay-at-home mom" was the vision that my wife and I had for our own family when we first were married (homeschooling came a little later). We vowed not to let a desire for money overtake that vision. And so, even though she was very close to overtaking me as the biggest moneymaker in the house, my wife quit her job just before our first child was born. We have never regretted that decision, and I am firmly convinced that God has blessed my career and our earnings because of it. Am I saying that women should never have careers or earn money, even after they have children? No, I am not - that is not a Biblical tenet. I'm simply saying it is the vision that I have for my own family. God tells us, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). So I’ve chosen a vision. It may not come to pass, and I will be fine if God wills another direction for my girls.

Want another practical viewpoint – from a real, live, potential college student who has decided to pursue a bold path? Check out Miranda Trujillo’s excellent blog post here. When dealing with the idea of higher education, she writes:

College. It prepares you for a career. As I have said before, I want to be a Godly wife and mother someday. My first priority is making sure that I can someday put my kids first - raising, training and educating them with the bulk of my time. So college, first of all, would train me for an occupation that I would neglect once children came into the picture - maybe even before children if the occupation kept me from focusing on my home.

College also takes lots of money. Money that I don't have. So not only would it train me for a career that I wouldn't use for long - it would put me into debt for this training. Debt that might cause me to continue working at the career I don't want in order to pay off the training I needed for the career I don't want... [italics mine]

That last part is brilliant. I pray that my own kids maintain such a perspective, and that they marry others who are this wise.

Finally, what can we do to prepare our children to earn a living – without the necessity of transferring thousands of dollars to a university? The Christian Home Educators of Colorado have devised a solution – it’s called the AME program. AME stands for “Apprenticeship, Mentorship, Entrepreneurship”. This program pairs willing mentors with interested students to explore, learn about, and work in various professions – without the expense of “checking it out” for years in college (where it is still rare to gain exposure to practical, hands-on experience). Moreover, a student can decide to change their profession after some work experience without the expense of tacking on an additional year or two of college. Finally, the program is designed to bring students under the Christian mentorship of professionals – with an eye toward developing them to work for God’s service (something you don’t get in most colleges). Check out their link at AME.

To Part 3 – Ultimately, what is it all really about?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Thoughts On Higher Education – Part 1

It’s hard for me to believe that I am less than two years away from making a decision about college for my oldest child. In all honesty, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was receiving my own college degree.

For many years, the question of higher education for my children had a known formula – get a college degree, find a good job with a stable company, earn a comfortable amount of money, and take care of their family above all else.

So why am I suddenly having serious doubts about this plan?

I think the root of my concern is twofold: 1) I believe that the “value” of a traditional college education has been fading over time, and 2) I see many university programs as being fundamentally anti-God. Do I really want to pay thousands of dollars to an institution that would purposefully try to lead my child away from God’s eternal reward? And then place them in a career where they work, not for God’s kingdom, but for man’s - for half of their waking hours?

I truly believe that the value of a college education, seen even from a worldly viewpoint, is quickly eroding. Things are not the same as they were in the world of business twenty years ago, when I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. To be sure, my university experience taught me much in terms of social skills, working with others, and how to live with another human being in a twelve foot-by-twenty foot space for a year (a skill I'm not anxious to repeat, but I leave that to God). But those lessons can also be learned outside of the college campus – and you don’t have to pay $10,000 a year, or more, for the privilege.

During my four years of university, I also learned how to manipulate thermodynamic equations, take Laplace transforms, and calculate the magnetic field surrounding a charged Gaussian sphere. And yet, in over twenty years of employment for various technical and engineering-driven companies, I have never had to perform a single one of those exercises. To make the point even more plain, I left college with no clue as to how to wire a simple three-way house electrical switch (the kind used at the top and bottom of a stairway), even though I accepted my diploma – in electrical engineering. This is not to say that I’m ungrateful or spiteful of my college education. I'm thankful for how God has blessed me through the education I received. It has served me and my family well for twenty years. God has blessed us tremendously through my career (and He has divinely intervened at least a couple of times…but that is another story).

My degree got me interviews with big companies, even though my practical knowledge was very limited. That model works well when big companies exist to hire college graduates. The model worked like this – you pay your money to a college institution - who gives you a piece of paper after four or five years of modest effort – and that piece of paper becomes your “ticket” to interview for the world of big business.

But this model has less value if the goal is to work in smaller business or, better yet, if you want to run your own business. If business ownership is the goal, then practical knowledge and a grasp of how to manage a startup is what is needed. And fortunately, starting out a career saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt is not required to run your own business. That money (the money that the parents and student have saved for a college education) could be directly applied toward a business startup, preferably after a period of industry mentorship and training.

Think about it – if you have $50,000 saved or purposed for higher education, you can: 1) pay it to a university, get a degree, and jump on the big business bandwagon, or 2) spend some time in a mentorship or training program (while likely earning some money) and then use the $50,000 as seed money to get your child started as the owner of their own business….having already been exposed to the career they will pursue. How many of us have wanted to start our own business at one time, but lacked the money to do so? Would it have been a better investment of that money to apply it directly to our dream, instead of indirectly through a university? For some, I'm sure the answer is "Yes".

These are hard words, full of risk, for those of us who face the decision about higher education. But keep this in mind - isn't the ultimate desire for Christian parents to keep their children directed toward a godly purpose? As long as we keep that final goal in mind, and dutifully ask for God's wisdom, we can count on His intervention to make the right decision...and take the right risk.

To Part 2 – Why Not to Work for a Big Company and What To Do About It

Related Reading:
Washington Post article – College Costs Rise While Educational Quality Suffers