This fall ACU introduced the 2014 freshman class to a new liberal arts curriculum. The roll out of new freshman classes raises many questions. Why was there a need to change the curriculum? What can students expect from these changes? How will this further the mission and vision of our university?
Dorothy Sayers, one of the great writers of the 20th century, also asked questions concerning the nature and purpose of education. In her piece “The Lost Tools of Learning,” she frames her essay by raising a critical question: “The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects – but does that always mean that they actually know more? Is not the great defect of our education today… that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.” Sayers identifies the primary task of the educator – teaching students how to learn – and suggests returning to a more classical education to fix the flaws of modern schooling. For Sayers, this necessarily includes an understanding of education wherein students are taught to think critically and evaluate wisely.
The current shift in ACU’s liberal arts curriculum is in step with Sayer’s classical vision. More importantly, the change in curriculum helps ACU fulfill its own vision, which is to “educate and equip followers of Christ to transform culture with truth.” The godly saints of the past who confronted culture and powerfully proclaimed the Gospel were often those who could engage with the world by clearly sharing truth. Paul – a trained Pharisee – understood Jewish thought and “reasoned with [Jews in the synagogue] from Scripture, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead…” (Acts 17:2-3). Yet when Paul confronted the Greeks in the Areopagus, he used Greek thought and philosophy to argue for Christ. Clearly, God used Paul’s knowledge of Scripture and Greek philosophy to share the Gospel with all men. With Paul as an example, countless generations of Christians have followed the same path: the Apostolic Fathers argued from Scripture and reason to defend the faith and refute heresy, Athanasius defended Trinitarianism against the threat of Arianism, Augustine stood firm in the City of God while the nation of Rome crumbled, Anselm developed a lofty vision of God as the greatest conceivable being, the Reformers rejected elements of Catholic dogma and argued persuasively against Rome’s claims, Jonathan Edwards led revivals in the American colonies while also writing philosophical defenses for the faith, and the list of saints certainly continues. These generations of believers have given contemporary Christians the model for genuine cultural transformation: by resting on the truth of Scripture and developing the intellect, Christians will affect change.
In many colleges and universities today, instructors provide students with content in order to prepare them for a job. To be sure, this is an important goal. But, at ACU, we believe education is much more than this. For if students cannot think critically for themselves, they will be unprepared to face the next heresy that emerges or the next real-world problem. As Sayers asks, “The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects – but does that always mean that they actually know more?” By redesigning our curriculum, ACU will be able to answer this question in the affirmative: our students will know more. They will know how to think and solve the next generation of challenges.