06 May, 2010

Lutheran Higher Education in an Undifferentiated Landscape

The time has never been more ripe, so Seth Godin, a higher education market researcher, for fundamentally re-shaping institutions of higher education, or for creating new ones that buck current models. In his 3 May "The Coming Meltdown in Higher Education (as Seen by a Marketer)" in The Chronicle of Higher Education Godin makes the devastating criticism--long spoken by many, but now believable, I suppose, because it's coming from a marketing type--that "most undergraduate college and university programs are organized to give an average education to average students." He doesn't think this is a good thing; and he goes on to detail escalating costs that have spiraled way out of control in the higher education arms race toward...sameness.

Fact is, precisely what Godin identifies as the factor underlying the great "undifferentiability" in U.S. higher education is a plague upon sectarian or religious education, as well. De Tocqueville saw the great strength of our nation in its almost infinite number of smaller associations and religious establishments, each with their own unique character- and society-forming impact upon their adherents. In sectarian higher education, and, in large part, in sectarian parochial education, this strength has been reduced to nearly nothing at all, as institutions of higher and lower education bend to the will of the great non-differentiating factors of public rankings, perceptions of the marketplace, and accreditation.
Let us think of a better way. Instead of bringing an undifferentiated education from Lutherans to Lutherans, let us think of ways to bring a most differentiated education from Lutherans to Lutherans, one that is actually distinct not because a campus happens to have a Lutheran chapel, but because the Wittenberg way permeates the entire intellectual program. This will, of course, upset the apple cart. Neither curriculum nor student body nor, alas, faculty and administration can or will be the "same old same old." But before we are swept as one more undifferentiated thing into a meaningless higher education landscape, let us, let us for the sake of our young people and our children and grandchildren, for the sake of preserving a Lutheran identity and with it a culture imbued by Lutheran theology that can understand Lutheran theology and bring Lutheran theology to bear on the wider world--let us for the sake of all that try something new that's really old, something better, something that revels in the distinctiveness of Lutheranism.

1 comment:

Bethany said...

Amen to that.