What is the real purpose of college? Recent graduate Sarah Soltis, who was raised in the Christian faith, shares the reasons she decided to attend a liberal arts university, William & Mary University, and later to transfer to a Christian liberal arts college, Grove City College. She talks with host Dan Hummel, whose educational journey followed a far different trajectory.

Learn about Sarah Soltis & Grove City College

Read Sarah’s Article in Plough: Do Universities Educate

With Faith in Mind is produced at Upper House in Madison, Wisconsin and hosted by Director of University Engagement Dan Hummel and Executive Director John Terrill. Jesse Koopman is the Executive Producer. Upper House is an initiative of the Stephen & Laurel Brown Foundation.

Please reach out to us with comments or questions at podcast@slbrownfoundation.org. We’d love to hear from you.

Transcript

00;00;04;23 - 00;00;29;18

Speaker 1

Hello and welcome to With Faith in Mind. I'm Dan Hummel, today's host and the director of University engagement at Upper House. This episode is part of our series on Christian education at the Crossroads. And we're welcoming Sarah Soltis to the show today. We're exploring the student experience in Christian higher education. I came across Sara when she wrote an essay in Plow Quarterly late last year titled Do Universities Educate?

00;00;30;04 - 00;00;50;23

Speaker 1

It was a fascinating piece. It's a mix of first person storytelling and more philosophical suggestions about education as formation. And we'll get into what that phrase might even mean. And we'll get into the article and bigger topic here in just a minute. But I do want to introduce Sara a little more. Sara is currently a senior studying English at Grove City College.

00;00;51;13 - 00;01;16;13

Speaker 1

She is editor in chief of Grove Cities, The Collegian magazine and managing editor of The Front Porch Republic. And she's published her work in Plow The American Conservative, extensive magazine and many other places. So, Sara, before jumping into the particular topic of your article and the journey you went on to arrive at Grove City College, I just wanted to get a give our audience just a little sense of who you are, where you come from.

00;01;16;25 - 00;01;27;29

Speaker 1

So what's one part of your upbringing that is really notable maybe for this conversation or just some part of your your early life that you'd want to share with the audience?

00;01;28;26 - 00;02;01;00

Speaker 2

Yeah, well, I think I will. I'm sure we'll get to this later. But I grew up in a strong Christian home and I went to a classical Christian school, and I have memories, like very early on of praying in class with my and my kindergarten class and my kindergarten teacher praying with us. So that's when one kind of thing that maybe Chris Christie I didn't know who I am, that that's how I was shaped and raised.

00;02;01;28 - 00;02;29;23

Speaker 2

I remember actually when my kindergartner, my kindergarten teacher, prayed one maybe Thursday, just some random day, and she prayed that we would all come to know Jesus with a personal relationship. And I remember walking away from school that day. Just very kind of curious about what that might mean. And that kind of started my own my own journey towards those questions.

00;02;30;06 - 00;02;37;15

Speaker 2

But yeah, so that's a little bit of background glance. I guess that my upbringing.

00;02;38;04 - 00;02;44;05

Speaker 1

And you went to a Christian school basically from kindergarten up through high school. Is that right?

00;02;45;02 - 00;03;02;27

Speaker 2

Yeah, I did, Yeah. K through 12 classical Christian school. And yeah, I realize that I am I'm very blessed to be able to do that because that's a rare thing for people to be able to do and to afford to do. But I've been really blessed.

00;03;03;26 - 00;03;22;05

Speaker 1

Yeah. And this will be the first time I'll I'm going to insert myself into this conversation a little more than than usual, because I want to draw a contrast between your story and my own. So I also grew up in a very strong Christian home. We were a missionary family. And so I actually spent a number of years in Germany as a as a kid.

00;03;22;05 - 00;03;46;16

Speaker 1

I actually went to kindergarten in Germany, you know, a real kindergarten. And I was homeschooled until we came back. And then I had one year in Christian school, second grade. We were at the sort of church that had sent us on mission. But from third grade on, I was in public schools, mostly in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I spent a lot of my middle school and all my middle school and high school years.

00;03;46;19 - 00;04;19;02

Speaker 1

So in some ways we have the same shared Christian home. In other ways, I had a much different, I think, educational experience than you. Certainly the you know, the high school I was in was massive. It was about 2500 students, which I believe is as big as Grove City College around there. And yeah, yeah. And as you talk about fellowship being so key to education, you know, scale is one of those things that sort of works against fellowship, right?

00;04;19;02 - 00;04;44;27

Speaker 1

When when you have big box, big class high school or college fellowship looks differently. So yeah, thanks for sharing about where you where you came from. I want to jump into the to the article itself, which I commend people to read called The Universities Educate. Sir, I wanted to start with asking why did you decide to write your story in such a sort of public forum as an article.

00;04;46;17 - 00;05;12;15

Speaker 2

Right. Yeah. So I guess the immediate answer is that I was an Internet plow this past summer. So I was I wrote the essay for Plow because I was working at Plow and kind of thinking in this plow environment, there was a cohort of us interns who were all Christian college age kids, and we all had just very different experiences with education.

00;05;12;25 - 00;05;44;19

Speaker 2

And we happened to be talking a lot about education during our internship there. So that kind of got me thinking about Plow specifically for for sharing my story. But in a broader sense, kind of beyond that, I, I wrote it because I had been thinking for a while about how I had been shaped growing up and how my formation, how my upbringing affected my educational aims and my goals.

00;05;44;19 - 00;06;21;27

Speaker 2

And in going first to a secular college and then transferring to Grove City. So I guess all that to say, I just been wrestling with those questions of shaping and desires for education for a while, and I knew that these are questions that people are asking on a broader scale as well. And I think just in sharing my own story with friends and people at various like at Grove City and around where I live, people have been touched by it.

00;06;21;27 - 00;06;36;10

Speaker 2

So I, I felt that, I mean, maybe sharing this would kind of contribute to that broader conversation about what is education for and how should Christians think about education in such a tense climate often.

00;06;37;15 - 00;06;57;06

Speaker 1

Yeah, And I think, you know, you mentioned this in the article a few times, but, you know, you went to college right when COVID hit. And so there's so many people asking questions in the last few years in particular about what is the maybe worth of education in a financial sense, but also what do people getting out of it?

00;06;57;06 - 00;07;20;20

Speaker 1

What's the value of education for, you know, people's lives, people's careers? So I think you're also hitting on a question that has a particular resonance for your story. But I think a lot of people are asking I know people here at UW are also trying to think about that. I know the university itself is trying to articulate the value of what they offer in ways that resonates with a post-COVID.

00;07;20;28 - 00;07;48;03

Speaker 1

You know, 18 year olds. And and going forward, I wonder if we could if you could just give us sort of a sense of as you were thinking of college as a high schooler, what were you looking for? And and I know that changed over time, but sort of how were you anti-ISIL hating college and sort of evaluating what the best option was when you were, you know, in high school.

00;07;48;03 - 00;07;48;26

Speaker 1

Later in high school.

00;07;50;11 - 00;08;26;09

Speaker 2

Right. So when I was in high school, like I said, I had catered to all that, a classical Christian school. I was pretty set as a senior on getting out of the Christian bubble. I was probably the last person in my class who would have wanted to go to a Christian college. So I was I was very set on well known colleges, prestigious colleges that could give me some sort of liberal arts education because I still wanted the liberal arts training.

00;08;26;09 - 00;09;10;10

Speaker 2

I wanted to study English. So I looked at nearby colleges. Right. And from in Maryland, that could give me some sort of liberal arts training and also would look good down the line on a resumé and also had opportunities for things like study abroad and different special programs. And William and Mary, I toured there as a senior and I was just very delighted with the the campus and what it seems like their focus is where I loved their their focus on history or their apparent focus on history right there in Williamsburg.

00;09;11;23 - 00;09;40;23

Speaker 2

And they definitely kind of checked the boxes in my mind, at least for somewhat prestigious and also nearby and accessible for me. And so I was really thinking, I want to put it in these terms maybe, but I was thinking about prestige and what would look good and also what would give me good tools for doing whatever it might be that I wanted to do in the world of literature and literary studies.

00;09;41;19 - 00;09;52;14

Speaker 1

Was there. You mentioned English as sort of what you wanted to study. Is that something you were interested in going all the way back or was that something you came to sort of later in your high school?

00;09;53;23 - 00;10;19;21

Speaker 2

Yeah, I think I I've always been interested in literature. I really knew that I wanted to study literature sometime in the middle of high school. And we were actually reading Virgil's Aeneid in Latin in my Latin class and talking about somewhat similar things in my literature class. And that's just I mean, that that sort of integration is a testament to the school that I grew up at.

00;10;20;22 - 00;10;34;05

Speaker 2

But seeing those kind of overlaps and thinking about the canon and the great books in that way, when I was 15, 16, that kind of left me that I wanted to study literature.

00;10;35;04 - 00;10;56;23

Speaker 1

Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I won't try this contrast too often, but that is not what my high school English experience was like, so that sounds quite ideal. So in particular, the integration of the language training with, with the literature that that opens up imagination in students, I think that often isn't even awakened in a lot of students that don't have that opportunity.

00;10;57;19 - 00;11;16;17

Speaker 1

I wonder, as you were talking about your your thought process of why you wanted to go to William and Mary, were there other people speaking into the process? Did you I mean, I assume your parents were somewhat involved, but was there anyone else you were seeking advice from or was it really sort of on you to figure out where you wanted to go?

00;11;18;12 - 00;11;57;05

Speaker 2

Yeah, my parents were definitely involved. I had a family friend who had done college admissions counseling, who was helping me out with with various parts of my applications. And she was a fan of William and Mary as well. I yeah, had some teachers and parents that I knew in my school community who were supportive in that direction of looking for these sorts of well known, well-respected liberal arts ESQ colleges that were outside of the Christian Christian thought sphere, I guess.

00;11;57;20 - 00;12;27;14

Speaker 2

So I it was a lot of my own initiative. It wasn't that someone told me, like, you need to go out to a secular school. That was kind of my own desire. But I think all those people were supportive of that desire in me and there definitely is a drive, I think, for excellence in in a lot of Christian parents use and their kids to to Christian college Christian school growing up.

00;12;27;23 - 00;12;43;06

Speaker 2

So they kind of the idea of a prestigious university kind of fit with that because my parents wanted me to succeed and yeah, and we all kind of thought that doing this might be one way to do that.

00;12;44;12 - 00;13;00;24

Speaker 1

Yeah, and maybe we can just talk a little more about that. So I remember feeling this too, like when you talk about like getting out of the Christian bubble or like sort of getting away from I mean, there's part of that's just like a probably a universal 18 year old feeling that you just want to get away from the culture that you grew up in.

00;13;00;24 - 00;13;22;25

Speaker 1

But I think a lot of Christian students go through that. And I think you identified one reason right there, which is there's a sense of excellence, particularly if you're set up for that and sort of excellence in a lot of American context. Are these like really elite, often non-Christian schools. And so that's like the highest achievement you can make in terms of getting into a college.

00;13;23;25 - 00;13;35;22

Speaker 1

So that that might be one. One reason why that's appealing was there. I don't know. I'm just asking you to sort of reflect it. Was there any other reason why sort of getting out of the Christian bubble, so to speak, was appealing at that time?

00;13;38;19 - 00;14;11;17

Speaker 2

Yeah, at that time I was probably mostly motivated by the potential future success and the whole excellence factor. But I think earlier on in high school I had that rebellious stage that every Christian teen probably has where I was questioning some of the just general philosophies and ideas related to the Christian Bible, questioning some political things that a lot of Christians in school shared.

00;14;12;20 - 00;14;38;06

Speaker 2

So maybe that that was a seed of perhaps for the desire to get out of the Christian bubble. But I was somewhat naturally just pushing back against these things that I had been fed my whole life. And I think that makes sense because I don't yet understand, like why it is so important to be in a Christian community and how vital and life giving that can be.

00;14;39;05 - 00;15;05;05

Speaker 2

Because I was 14, I, I just didn't totally get all the, all the things that I had been given and the blessing that they did, they all kind of comprised. So maybe that played in as well. And I think for a lot of Christian high schoolers that does the idea that maybe, maybe I need to figure out for myself what's true and I can't just accept what's been said to me this whole time.

00;15;05;15 - 00;15;11;26

Speaker 2

That idea plays in for people and I think that there's a natural aspect of that.

00;15;12;26 - 00;15;33;03

Speaker 1

Yeah, yeah, I think you're right. I think there's sort of a fish and water situation where you don't really realize all the support systems that you have in your in your youth until you don't have them. And then you suddenly realize, oh, there's a lot I really appreciate about that, that context and particularly the Christian community part, that it's really hard to recreate it.

00;15;33;03 - 00;16;01;26

Speaker 1

A lot of college experiences. Okay. Well, I one of the quotes in your article, which I love, I always love a Chesterton quote, I think we all do. But he has just read part of it. He says there is no education apart from some particular kind of education. There is no education that is not sectarian education. And I want to apply that to your time at first at William Emery, and then we'll go to Grove City.

00;16;01;26 - 00;16;20;09

Speaker 1

But yeah, when you went to William and Mary, what was the now that you're looking back on it, what was the formation, the educational formation you were entering into, and particularly just what were the benefits of it and then the downsides of it as you sort of experienced it that first year on campus?

00;16;22;11 - 00;16;55;01

Speaker 2

Right. I think I definitely did. When I came there, I had a sense that I was entering into an excellent educational sphere, and that was one of kind of my first responses. After a little while, though, that did wear off, I think the benefit was that it was still a good name and it still still was promised to be a successful name for me.

00;16;55;17 - 00;17;42;10

Speaker 2

But when I yeah, when I was at William and Mary, I found that a lot of the classes I was in were just not very deep. Some of that had to do with the fact that a lot of them were freshman classes and it was covered and so, so much was limited. But a lot of our discussions were very kind of horizontal sphere discussions and what I mean by that is were in a entry level English class freshman, English class, and we're reading The Tempest and we talk about we're not really talking about justice or truth or any of these kind of maybe vertical ideas, but I had grown up thinking about we were just

00;17;42;10 - 00;18;06;17

Speaker 2

talking about what does this tell us about colonialism and what does this tell us about gender theory and what does this say about Shakespeare's ideas about women and the other? And those are those are interesting questions. Those are in some in some ways in some conversations important. It's important that we live on a horizontal sphere as well as a vertical one.

00;18;06;29 - 00;18;40;18

Speaker 2

But I think I was just struck from my first couple of classes at how shallow and how. Yeah, horizontal. A lot of a lot of those conversations were at the same at the same time. One of the benefits was that it was a rigorous, in a sense, school in that I was reading a lot and everyone there was pretty committed to, to learning, but it wasn't rigorous in the sense of depth.

00;18;40;18 - 00;19;15;13

Speaker 2

And that was that was the main downside. It was it was one dimensional. And I think the depth that I eventually realized that I was longing for with the depth specifically given by Christina education and given by learning in a community where everyone accepts that there is there is a underlying like unity to to our lives. And there's a there's a real, real quality to goodness and truth.

00;19;15;13 - 00;19;28;25

Speaker 2

And these things that we talk about, there's something there instead of just like our own kind of wishes or desires, there's there's something actually to be said for that vertical plane of our existence.

00;19;29;28 - 00;19;53;08

Speaker 1

When when you, you know, came to these texts with that vertical, those questions about the virtues or sort of these vertical questions, as you call them, did you find that maybe not in the class proper, but maybe were other students interested in those and it just wasn't being talked about in class? Were professors interested in that? And they just didn't bring up in class or whether or was it sort of a lack of interest in those things across the board?

00;19;54;28 - 00;20;25;24

Speaker 2

Yeah, I from my I mean, I was only there for one year or so from my limited classes. I think it might have interested some of the professors in some way, but their primary interest was in, you know, more of the horizontal, one dimensional stuff, societal questions. I think other students probably were interested in that. Not a lot of people necessarily voiced that.

00;20;26;09 - 00;21;00;08

Speaker 2

I did find, and I'm sure we'll talk about this later more, but I found in some of the Christian fellowships that I was Christian communities that I was engaged in, like a Bible study in the church, and I was involved in Reformed University Fellowship. And so some of those Christians that I met had encountered similar quandary quandaries, I guess, in their in their own majors where they wanted to be talking about, you know, justice maybe or other other things.

00;21;00;15 - 00;21;06;15

Speaker 2

And they weren't they weren't really talking about them in that full way that they desired to.

00;21;07;24 - 00;21;31;01

Speaker 1

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Well, you mentioned sort of some ministries you were part of or churches. Yeah. Talk about it sounds like there might have been more stimulation there, I guess, in terms of intellectual emulation. But yeah. How did you think about your spiritual life and your your spiritual maturity and growth during that year that you were on campus?

00;21;32;24 - 00;22;16;22

Speaker 2

Right. Well, I was, yeah, very blessed to be able to to join or not join, but attend a local church and get involved with college ministry from from the get go. That was very difficult with COVID because even just a lot of my engagements with the college ministry that I was a part of were very virtual. Like there was not a lot of in-person engagement allowed by the school, but I think especially being able to go to church in person every week, was it was something that really sustained me through the first year because so much of so much of the rest of my life was virtual.

00;22;17;05 - 00;22;50;02

Speaker 2

And those people kind of understood the difficulty and isolation that I was experiencing. But of course I didn't really know them all that well. And so I think outside of my engagement with Christians at church and in limited ways with our UDF, I personally just felt very starved for spiritual nourishment and very isolated in my faith, even though I was still praying and trying to connect with the Lord.

00;22;50;21 - 00;23;22;05

Speaker 2

I just I felt like in a pretty kind of despairing, isolated place. And a lot of that I think was from the whole, just the whole emotional kind of stage that most people my age had in COVID. It was very depressing for a lot of us. I don't I don't know all the factors that went into that. But yeah, I definitely felt spiritually, spiritually starved.

00;23;23;12 - 00;23;44;19

Speaker 1

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I've been referencing my own experience. Like I'm I'm not even that young, so I don't know. I keep I'm not that old either. But it was 15 years ago that I was in college, but totally different than anyone who went through college in 2020, 20, 21. Really hard to. I mean, I obviously observed it from the outside.

00;23;44;19 - 00;24;31;05

Speaker 1

I work on a campus, but particularly the the isolation, I guess, of of being mostly a virtual seems very difficult to to grasp unless you experience that yourself. I want to get to your thinking around why Grove City was a good alternative. But I did want to just ask. As you were in your article, you make the distinction between your thinking about wanting to move on from William Mary to something more Christian between is this just like a COVID reaction or is there something deeper that is not sitting well?

00;24;32;10 - 00;24;44;07

Speaker 1

So how did you think through that? How did you sort of try to discern what was wrong and if actually moving would fix it or if or if that really wasn't the solution that that was needed?

00;24;46;02 - 00;25;18;05

Speaker 2

Yeah. So I think there are a couple things at play there. But one of them was that I knew that Christian colleges had a less intense response to to the COVID thing. So I knew particularly about Grove City because I had friends who went there that they they, they didn't have the most of the time, didn't have online classes and that, you know, they didn't have to wear masks outside, maybe just in the building.

00;25;18;05 - 00;25;50;07

Speaker 2

But it was just definitely a diminished response to COVID than then. My own experience, that of Virginia State School and some of that is size. Some of that is naturally like Christian colleges are more conservative. And so there's more of a there's just less of a need for the big, heavy response. And I had heard also from from my friend who is that there was beginning at Grove City the same time that I was beginning at when Mary that she was very much enjoying it.

00;25;50;07 - 00;26;25;01

Speaker 2

Even though COVID kind of dampened some of her experience, she she still loved it. And of course, that that was striking because most of my friends and myself included, really did not like much at all about our about our freshmen years at that school. But I also I knew that it was more than COVID, that that was kind of moving me in a different direction because my main frustration wasn't really COVID, it was that lack of depth that I was talking about earlier.

00;26;26;11 - 00;27;12;08

Speaker 2

And I think COVID played into that because COVID revealed some of the weaknesses, I think, in the modern university in that there's just not there wasn't so many there wasn't really anything for the modern university to give or do for all the people who were frankly suffering. I think under just all the jumps and changes that COVID brought and there's no it can't hold the kind of personal communal healing or conversations needed, I think, to speak to and restore some of the frustrations that people were feeling.

00;27;13;21 - 00;27;39;29

Speaker 2

So I guess what I'm trying to say is I, I knew that it was part of it, but I also knew that COVID was a sign of a underlying things and underlying other underlying issues that I didn't like in the in the modern university. And a large part of it was the the lack of room for for depth and lack of room for fellowship.

00;27;40;22 - 00;28;13;11

Speaker 2

And I think some of that that has to do with the fact that it was a secular school. So that also has to do with, like I said, this kind of modern university mindset where school isn't really about fellowship and it's not about like becoming a person. It's about gaining certain skills and preparing yourself for success. So there's a lot at play there, but hopefully that kind of answers some of my thinking about it.

00;28;14;03 - 00;28;34;20

Speaker 1

Yeah, that makes that makes a lot of sense and that resonates with some of the COVID response I saw here at UW Madison, which is a massive public university. There's about 35,000 undergrads that go here. And so, so much of the response to COVID in particular was very and I don't want to I mean, it was a very difficult situation.

00;28;34;20 - 00;28;58;19

Speaker 1

So I'm not even trying to cast blame. But, you know, a lot of bureaucratic response, a lot of it's so much just attention on sort of how are we going to keep the classes going, How are people going to get credit for their classes that a lot of the more human interactions and a lot of the more humanistic concerns were secondary, at least in 2020.

00;28;59;05 - 00;29;25;00

Speaker 1

And, you know, I think there's a there's been a massive fallout from that. There's been a massive response. One was a push as quickly as possible here at UW to get back to in-person as soon because there was a clear sense that the students didn't like it. And and the fact that the faculty didn't like it either, though some faculty wanted to stay remote as long as possible and then there's this this massive mental health crisis that we talk a lot about here on campus.

00;29;25;16 - 00;29;58;25

Speaker 1

The university has expanded its student life initiatives and it's, you know, counselors and all that kind of stuff as much as it can. And it still can't meet all the demand. That's been its response from a, you know, public secular university has been to, you know, try to offer as much counseling, as much support. But we know just because of where we are, the work that we do, that there's been interest by the university as well in thinking about spirituality, as they call it, as a dimension to student life and the resilience that students can build at at university.

00;29;58;25 - 00;30;22;05

Speaker 1

But that's been a really new insight by the university in the last year or so that maybe there's something more that we need to be doing then than what we have been doing. So I think you see all different types of responses and I think you've identified a couple of the key ones from your your perspective. I wonder when when you got to Grove City, what did you notice?

00;30;22;05 - 00;30;33;28

Speaker 1

And this is, you know, just drawing from your article, what did you notice was different? Like what was so alluring about going there? And then when you got there, what was so much better, I guess, than than your first year?

00;30;34;28 - 00;31;05;11

Speaker 2

Yeah, I think the short answer is community, and that's definitely a overused word, especially in college and college admissions. Everyone wants to tell you that they have a great community. But I, I got there and I was immediately welcomed by, you know, transferring is never, never easy. And transfers often have a difficult time. And I knew that. But when I came, there were other transfers who had similar experiences.

00;31;06;14 - 00;31;37;08

Speaker 2

And even beyond the transfers, like the English department had this wonderful welcome tea that they had for all the new English majors and people. People were just so, so ready to welcome me and to hear about my story and my experience. And I think a lot of that goes back to the Christian aspect. Also, the fact that it is is a smaller school.

00;31;37;08 - 00;32;01;00

Speaker 2

It's a lot easier to have some of that community. I knew before going that the community would be strong and fellowship there was was a strong feature because as I wrote about in my article, I had a literature teacher actually from high school who had gone there and she met with me one day when I was thinking about the the switch.

00;32;01;13 - 00;32;27;08

Speaker 2

And we just had this this great conversation, partly about education, but also just catching up from high school. And I think that conversation really kind of image to me, the possibility ease of Christian fellowship that I had maybe forgotten in my year at at Lehman Mary and maybe I didn't realize when I was growing up in high school.

00;32;29;00 - 00;33;06;29

Speaker 2

But yeah, I think because it changes when you're a kid, too, when you're a young adult in college, like the richness of Christian community is it's I think it's an equal richness, but when you're older, it's just it's different and you're a lot more cognizant maybe of how being surrounded by Christian people and people who have similar ideas about, you know, truth building goodness and similar understandings that to getting goodness exist, how being surrounded by those people can affect your life and specifically studying and school and education.

00;33;06;29 - 00;33;11;24

Speaker 2

And this whole project of literature, especially you.

00;33;12;15 - 00;33;38;29

Speaker 1

You talk in the article about, as you just mentioned, the importance of fellowship and community to formation and particularly educational formation. Can you just walk us through sort of conceptually and I'm thinking here of where you talk about soul formation and this sort of tradition of thinking about this? Yeah. What were the insights you gleaned from just thinking about that connection between community and education?

00;33;40;12 - 00;34;16;25

Speaker 2

Right. So I as I wrote about, I grew up in this classical sphere where I understood just kind of by the atmosphere that education is not about particular skills so much as it is about like shaping a person and forming a human being in a proper way. And so I just kind of had that in the back of my mind as I approached college and my life.

00;34;16;25 - 00;35;03;20

Speaker 2

And it wasn't a super conscious idea, but making the did make me think about it a lot more. Right? But I think education as far as formation just comes from this idea that, like people are not computers, people are people and they're they're shaped in a variety of ways. And learning, especially learning the liberal arts, like learning about history and philosophy and theology and the classical understanding of like what what education was was kind of those liberal arts.

00;35;05;20 - 00;35;37;14

Speaker 2

Those things make a person more, not more complete in a way like they want to be complete. Otherwise they, they make a human and shaped human into who they're meant to be or into who it can be. So yeah, just this kind of notion that education is not for specific things, but for the person and for shaping the person.

00;35;37;23 - 00;36;14;01

Speaker 2

And the idea that then taking that with community, the idea that you can't really do that devoid, you can't make a person devoid of other people, like if education is about making a person and making person, especially who can serve community and serve others, you can't do that. Just kind of with mechanistic, computerized like forms of learning, which is I think where COVID comes in a little bit.

00;36;14;09 - 00;37;00;19

Speaker 2

But yeah, so I don't know that that makes sense. It's kind of a long winded answer, but I think, yeah, just that idea of what education is for plays in and of course that like traditional sense of, of education as a liberal arts formation, especially in the Christian tradition where like universities began with people wanting to integrate and understand the world through a Christian perspective and be formed by that, not necessarily go out and invent something because of that, but to be formed as as humans and as Christians by their understanding of history, philosophy, theology, literature, those sorts of things.

00;37;01;16 - 00;37;25;09

Speaker 1

And then service in service of God. That's sort of the ultimate end of the education. Yeah, I think just to get some of philosophical for a second, I think, you know, a lot of the Western philosophical tradition, particularly since the Enlightenment has seen the individual as the if you think of like Rousseau and like the state of nature, like it's it's an individual person who has all this freedom.

00;37;26;11 - 00;37;56;18

Speaker 1

And so if that's your idea of sort of what education, you know, education sort of meet the ideal state of nature type person, it's going to be very individualized activity. And it's about sort of you mastering as you and your brain and your faculties mastering this area of knowledge. And I think the Christian tradition offers something a little different that either starts with the Trinity, which is, you know, three persons in one be in God.

00;37;57;00 - 00;38;21;09

Speaker 1

And so there's a relational component right there at the beginning, or it starts with Adam, who immediately needs a partner and has Eve. And so there's and then God is sort of the third, third person in that triangle as well. And so either either way, you started on the Christian in the Christian tradition, you're talking about living in community and learning and community.

00;38;21;09 - 00;38;43;21

Speaker 1

I think you mentioned that a few times in the article about how important relationships are to learning that you talk about mechanistic but depersonalized ways of education. I think of a lot of my I went to two large state schools for my education. Most of the classes were at least 50 people and many of them were like over a hundred.

00;38;44;06 - 00;39;19;00

Speaker 1

And so there's not even the ability for a professor to get to know everybody or to field all the questions. And in fact, you're just not really encouraged to ask that many questions because there's just too much to get through and there's too many people in the room to sort of accommodate all that. So I think what you sort of are landing on here at at Grove City is, is that truth that the the relationship part of education, we often take it for granted, but it's so crucial to how we learn and not just learn in like a knowledge way, but like learn in a it actually forms us type way.

00;39;19;19 - 00;39;49;07

Speaker 2

Yeah, I think. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I've, I've found that it's a lot easier to, to form those relationships and to ask questions of professors, of other students even at a smaller school where that kind of thing is is encouraged. Yeah. Also on the relationship front, like I talk about this in my article, but just the fact that this surprised me so much.

00;39;49;07 - 00;40;12;24

Speaker 2

I first came to Grove City, but the fact that I could be invited to speak to a professor outside of class about things that weren't really class, like the fact that my professors wanted to get to know me and wanted me to get to know their kids and wanted me to come over to their house or meet their dog.

00;40;12;24 - 00;40;38;06

Speaker 2

Things like that were just so surprising to me. And I am really blessed because that's like even at some Christian schools, that's not the case where you have professors who really care about about the students and care about getting to know the students. But I yeah, because of God's grace, I guess I've been able to do that with a handful of professors at Grove City.

00;40;38;28 - 00;40;57;19

Speaker 1

Yeah, Yeah. And I think for, for my experience, the place where that happened was actually grad school, because grad school gets you in a much smaller even than a big school gets you in a much smaller cohort where and you have a much more intense relationship with faculty, with professors because they're sort of mentoring you and other things.

00;40;57;19 - 00;41;26;01

Speaker 1

But, but you have to go to grad school for that. At a public university, you're not going to get that nearly as often. I mean, the undergrad experience, you mentioned it here just briefly about sort of the way that the professors welcomed you into other parts of their life and want to know about your life. If you could just summarize in the classroom, what does a good professor at a Christian college do that isn't happening at a in a non Christian classroom?

00;41;28;00 - 00;42;00;21

Speaker 2

I think the main difference between a Christian professor and a Christian classroom and a non Christian professor in a secular classroom is what I was talking about earlier with the horizontal on the vertical plane. I guess. And that I think those are I mean that's the kind of horizontal, horizontal and vertical planes of being, I suppose, but also of like endeavor and study and literature especially.

00;42;00;21 - 00;42;40;04

Speaker 2

I think those kinds of two cross sections are there and the Christian professor is a lot more likely in my experience to speak to those vertical questions about the, you know, the transcendental approaches to studying gayness and also specifically about Christ. And I found, yeah, in my literature classes, there's almost always a way to integrate discussion about the word when we're talking about, you know, the words of a particular text.

00;42;40;13 - 00;43;10;17

Speaker 2

And it's, it's not often forced, in my experience with Christian professors, it doesn't it's not like this kind of thing that's huge. On to our discussions about literature, but so much of literature, especially in the canon, that the tradition and tradition of the great books really does address some of these themes and questions of our faith and also addresses Christ specifically.

00;43;11;09 - 00;43;55;05

Speaker 2

So I think, yeah, the specific integration of faith is an obvious one, but also just generally those vertical questions is a difference. Also kind of integration with that, that canon or the great books tradition is, I found more common at a Christian school because while that kind of terminology is still present in lots of secular colleges, I think it's it's becoming more rare in your run of the mill like major secular state college to talk about the great books or to talk about the Western canon or really like the Canon at all.

00;43;57;08 - 00;44;14;14

Speaker 2

So alluding to some of those books that have shaped the Western civilization specifically is not, as of interest for for, I think, secular professors in a lot of schools, unless they have a specific liberal arts focus.

00;44;15;12 - 00;44;40;23

Speaker 1

Yeah, there's a few different reasons you could attribute to that. I mean, one is sort of a a move away from even talking about a particular canon, right. And saying that that that was a that's not the right way to even frame how to how to engage literature and that's happening and that that's definitely present. But I think another one I just think of a place like UW or I went, I did my undergrad at Colorado State University, both of them there.

00;44;41;03 - 00;45;02;05

Speaker 1

They truly are a university in the literal sense, which is they have like hundreds of majors that you can major in. They try to encapsulate like the universe of knowledge, and so many of those are so many of the ones that students pick. Now, I think of here at UW, the the largest major is computer science, and it's grown significantly in the last decade.

00;45;02;21 - 00;45;29;01

Speaker 1

There's just so much emphasis on training toward particular career paths that mean that the curriculum, what's going to get dropped from the curriculum or it's going to be seemingly less technical classes in the liberal in the liberal arts or the humanities where it's not there's not a clear sense of why a computer science major should ever be contemplating the nature of justice that that's I mean, I think we should and I'm sure you think the same thing.

00;45;29;10 - 00;45;57;04

Speaker 1

But in terms of if you have limited time and and you need to sort of usher through hundreds of people through this major in any given year, that's what's going to drop by the wayside. And so there's this larger sort of question of what is the point of higher education and how much of it is to train in particular fields and how much of it is to give this holistic, even even this space, this four year space to to explore some of these big questions?

00;45;57;04 - 00;46;26;13

Speaker 1

I think that's something that even in the gap between when I went to school, when you went to school or you're going to school, that's changed a bit. I definitely came in and I majored in philosophy in history. So I was one of those annoying people who want to just take four years to explore everything. But I still felt license to that in a way that I think both the university and a lot of students who are paying a lot of money to go to these schools also feel like I really need to make these four years count in terms of career development.

00;46;27;01 - 00;46;54;06

Speaker 1

And what's going to be lost is reading the aid first semester. You know, I need to get another computer science course under my belt or something like that. I don't know, maybe I'm being a little a little too simplistic, but I think that's a big a big part of it that is harder to actually address than that cultural argument about, like what's in the canon or because it's sort of structural within our broader society about what the purpose of colleges for right?

00;46;55;05 - 00;47;27;29

Speaker 2

Yeah, I think I think that's definitely on something. There was actually this interesting article recently in The New Yorker called The End of the English Major. I don't know if you guys read that, but basically it's talking about how the English major is dying at a lot of colleges. And it was specifically looking at Harvard, where I think it said there's like maybe 60 undergrad English majors, which is is crazy because Harvard is two or three times the size of Grove City and there's more than 60 English majors in at Grove City.

00;47;29;04 - 00;47;55;07

Speaker 2

I think that attests to what you're saying, that there's just a shift away from the desire to or the idea of being able to study these kind of more liberal arts fields because of because of the drive towards things like computer science and all the STEM fields. And that's true. Like, that's not only true at secular colleges, it's also true at Christian colleges.

00;47;55;07 - 00;48;07;23

Speaker 2

But for whatever reason, there are there is still an invitation to the liberal arts at some Christian colleges and some secretaries of of those Christian colleges. And I've been blessed to be a part of that.

00;48;08;20 - 00;48;33;27

Speaker 1

Yeah, that that's interesting. I remember seeing that article in The New Yorker as a someone who got a piece in history. I often track the sort of it's the same trends in history, in philosophy. It's this just like pretty trend in who's majoring and and then the types of jobs you can get. I mean there's mixed data on if you major in English history or philosophy where you earn more over your life.

00;48;33;27 - 00;48;51;16

Speaker 1

I mean, I don't even like the phrase these questions are hard, hard way to sort of even quantify the value of these things, because I think there's more than just earning potential. But often that's how these things are discussed. And even there it's it's hard to make the case if those are the terms are going to make cases for what should be in a university curriculum.

00;48;51;26 - 00;49;15;04

Speaker 1

It's hard to make the case for more history in an English but but such. So it is. I have two more questions for you, Sarah, and they're more, I guess, personal. One is just curious if you now that you're a senior and you're thinking about I'm sure you're thinking about next next stages, how do you how do you think has your has you're thinking, I don't need to know.

00;49;15;17 - 00;49;23;16

Speaker 1

We don't need to know exactly what your going to do next. I know that's probably what you're asked. Like, but has your thinking changed about around that because of your experience at Grove City?

00;49;24;29 - 00;50;00;18

Speaker 2

I think so. I think I've shifted away from some of the prestige oriented thinking that I ended high school with, and I'm yeah, a lot more interested in like, how can I, how can I form people, whether that's as a teacher or in and various other ways, how can I contribute to this project information that isn't really just education but is so much of our lives is, is information in a broader sense, especially as Christians like.

00;50;01;12 - 00;50;38;29

Speaker 2

I mean the Great commission is independent on on all of us and yeah, so how can I thinking about that in a career lens or in a vocation lens more than about like what? What will make me look good and what will get me money from the world or success from the world? Yeah. And yeah, Grove City has allowed that kind of question, those kinds of questions about about information to blossom, I guess in my mind.

00;50;39;28 - 00;51;11;14

Speaker 2

And I've also gotten to know people who are not really interested in making a lot of money or even, yeah, doing well respected things, but more interested in, you know, forming family and contributing to the local community and serving the local church, those those things as like honorable endeavors. I knew that growing up, but being at a school like Grove City, that's a lot more emphasized in pronounce.

00;51;13;16 - 00;51;35;16

Speaker 1

Very interesting. One last observation I'll make about my experience here at UW in particular, I was just doing a project where I was looking through some of the commercials that UW makes about itself. So this is how it sort of tries to portray itself to the broader public in Wisconsin and the sort of I mean, there's all different types and they emphasize the economic benefits of the university and everything else.

00;51;36;00 - 00;52;07;28

Speaker 1

But the one that the sort of theme that repeats over and over again is this metaphor of breaking boundaries. And UW, you know, we are where we empower you so you can break boundaries. And they mean that in all different ways. A lot of it around knowledge, but a lot of it's around identity and other things. And it made me just think that that's really the type of education that UW is trying to offer, is this sort of there's an assumed sort of Whig ish or progressive view of history that we're always just going to be advancing in advancing.

00;52;07;28 - 00;52;32;00

Speaker 1

We need to break more and more boundaries. We need to get to that next frontier in the scientific field or or in this political debate or whatever. And as you describe sort of how some of your your peers at Grove think about, you know, settling down, serving in a local context that just seems so underwhelming, I think, to like a UW audience.

00;52;32;00 - 00;52;47;02

Speaker 1

It's like, no, no, no, we got to go break boundaries. This isn't about sort of producing good citizens in a like a quietest way. It's about like producing the next inventor and the next genius and stuff like that. So even there, just singing about the ideals of like, what is this education for? Like what do we hope people do with it?

00;52;48;06 - 00;52;53;08

Speaker 1

There's a significant difference between your school and UW as well, I think.

00;52;54;06 - 00;52;55;07

Speaker 2

Yeah, Yeah.

00;52;56;29 - 00;53;24;08

Speaker 1

Last question for you and I'm putting you on the spot, but is there as an English major, if you could just will everyone to read one book that would sort of benefit them in countless ways? What would be that book, Maybe from the great tradition, maybe something else, But what would be the book that you'd sort of if you could just make everyone have a copy right now and read it together, what would it be?

00;53;25;16 - 00;54;14;16

Speaker 2

Oh, man, there are definitely a couple. But I think the first two that come to mind are, I'm going to say tail. Okay, come to mind are women, because we were talking about that earlier. And I think that is such a such a big a big part of our cultural heritage. Yeah. And I think Virgil's really interesting because a lot of his ideas about piety and about like forming a home are somewhat parallel to ideas that would later be picked up by the Christian tradition and by like medieval writers and evil philosophers.

00;54;15;15 - 00;54;55;10

Speaker 2

So and I love Virgil. I think he's great. So I think that's definitely something that everyone should read, but also perhaps in a more Christian lens. I think Augustine's Confessions is a book that everyone would profit from reading, and I think it's especially of interest to some of these questions about formation and about our faith in mind, because, yeah, because Augustine encounters pagan education and he talks about how he's searching for God and he's finding God in the beautiful things of the world.

00;54;55;10 - 00;55;13;20

Speaker 2

But he's not actually finding God until until he really is hit with his need for God. Um hmm. I think it's just a beautiful account of of how God draws us to himself. So those two are two recommendations.

00;55;14;18 - 00;55;32;04

Speaker 1

Great. Well, thank you for those. That's about a thousand pages for everyone to read. Now. And take it slow, too. I hate to sort of speed read the confessions or something like that. Well, thank you, Sarah. Thank you for sharing your story and some of your reflections on education. It's been a pleasure to have you on the podcast.

00;55;33;08 - 00;55;34;06

Speaker 2

Yeah, thank you so much.

00;55;36;13 - 00;56;05;07

Speaker 1

Thanks for joining us. If you've enjoyed today's podcast, be sure to subscribe and give us a rating on your favorite podcast app. Also, be sure to check out our upcoming events on Upper House dot org and our other podcast UpWords where we dig deeper into the topics our in-house guests are passionate about With Faith in Mind is supported by the Stephen and Laura Brown Foundation is produced at Upper House in Madison, Wisconsin, hosted by Dan Hummel and John Terrill, Our executive producer and editor is Jesse Koopman.

00;56;05;28 - 00;56;10;03

Speaker 1

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