Volume 17, Issue 1: Cultura
The Academic Civil War
And Jesus said, "Seek first vocational-technical training and all that Kingdom of God and righteousness stuff can be added later." Matthew 6:35
Parents today expect colleges and universities to train their kids for careers and professions. But this vocational turn
in higher education stems from the secularist victory in America's academic civil war against classical Christian colleges.
That victory resulted in a total redefinition of the purpose of higher education on explicitly anti-Christian terms.
Abandonment of the classical Christian model in higher education and the ascent of vocational-technical college
training began with the 1862 Morrill Act, Congress's opening of a higher education front during the Civil War. It was no
accident that the federal government passed this direct attack on classical Christian higher education in the midst of the War
Between the States, because that conflict was not fundamentally about slavery or national unity, but about the relationship of
Christ's Kingdom to the new Republic. The predominantly Unitarian North opened this academic front with the mission of
undermining America's historically Trinitarian colleges and universities. Their classical Christian curricula had mentored
virtually every major leader of the New Nation since devout Puritans founded Harvard in 1636. The Morrill Act was the
North's long-term strategic move to displace the academy's classical Christian tradition and to reconstruct the nation on
purely economic, technological, scientific, democratic, rationalistic, and secular (i.e., anything-but-Christian) foundations.
The leaders of the federal academic assault were devoted secularists who understood far better than most Christians
the deep religious implications of this academic war for subsequent generations. For example, Horace Greeley, the
prolific abolitionist editor of the New York
Tribune (publisher of Karl Marx's essays in America), wrote in 1858, "We want a
seminary which provides as fitly and thoroughly for the education of the Captains of Industry as Yale or Harvard does for
those who are dedicated to either of the Professions." Horace Mann, the father of the American government school system and
a Calvinist-turned-Unitarian, encouraged "daily reading of the Bible, devotional exercises, and the constant inculcation of
the precepts of Christian morality in all the Public schools" so it would disarm critics who knew where his secular vision
for education would lead. Using the rhetoric of religion, Mann outflanked pious evangelicals with god-words while establishing
a new educational system at war with God's
Prior to 1862, education was almost universally understood as the shaping of a person's life and character through
personal, covenantal nurturing and rigorous study of the classical liberal arts from a biblical perspective. Prior to the Morrill
Act, the "useful arts" had no place
within the Christian liberal arts curriculum. A young man would pursue his vocation through
an apprenticeship with an experienced mentor only
after completing his Christian liberal arts education. But technical
training, which ignored or minimized a Christian worldview foundation, took a giant leap forward when the Morrill Act granted
direct federal aid to the states for the establishment of colleges of agriculture and the mechanical trades. Cash-strapped,
war-weary state legislatures that had earlier ignored appeals for technical education quickly accepted the new federal grants and
approved the new type of school. The new federally funded land-grant universities redefined education as egalitarian
training to serve the American National Will, not "sectarian" interests like serving Christ and His kingdom. Their federally
bankrolled success soon pressured even staunchly traditional Christian liberal arts colleges to add new departments of technical
education and engineering to compete for fewer students and
There are many reasons for the church's drift away from the classical Christian liberal arts college education, but
the Morrill Act-inspired belief that practical skills can be taught without religious assumptions wasand still ischief
among them. What was practical and useful and productive was soon more important than what was true, beautiful, or
good. "What's your major?" was a new idea in 1878 and was soon the second most important question facing college students.
Sadly, the most important question for many Christian parents became and remains, "What kind of job can my kid get when
he graduates?" Thus, the priorities of Matthew 6:33 have been overturned even among well meaning Christians, just as
the strategists behind the Morrill Act had hoped for one hundred and forty years ago.
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