The Australian universities—especially in the area of the humanities—are failing to educate the next generation. And we are now at a point where the existing tertiary institutions cannot be saved, and we need to instead create new centres of learning and ultimately, discipleship.

The humanities are  no longer about the transcendent pursuit of truth and virtue, but the pursuit of a cultural Marxist paradigm of ‘social justice’. Dr. Stephen Chavura, commenting on the pivotal role which the university had in the thinking of Sir Robert Menzies, wisely warned:

The corruption of the University will, in turn, corrupt our democracy, for the University is a crucial character-forming institution for leaders, and it takes character to stand against the tide of populism that always threatens a democracy.

C. S. Lewis presciently predicted this precise problem in his book, The Abolition of Man. Lewis outlined that in the opening chapter with the provocative heading, ‘Men Without Chests’, that human beings are comprised of three parts: the head (i.e. intellect), the chest (i.e. virtue) and the stomach (i.e. appetites). 

However, with modern man abandoning the idea of natural law—and the universal virtues associated with it—a moral vacuum has been created between the head and the stomach. Ergo, we have become ‘men without chests’. As Lewis memorably explains:

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilisation needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

This poses an even deeper question as to what is the goal of education. In a garish display of postmodern relativism, the University of Sydney has declared that it is to ‘unlearn’ everything. Such is its faith in progressive positivism that nothing received from our forebears can be counted on to be true or good. The result is—as is being increasingly acknowledged—a complete betrayal of truth.

Classically, education was about the formation of the person rather than the accumulation of knowledge. In short, it was about the development of virtue. Trevin Wax explains the goal well when he writes:

The oft-asked question concerning credentials is: What degree do I need so I can do what I want to do? That’s the wrong question. The better question is, what kind of person do I want to become? It’s not about your résumé, but your heart. It’s not about knowledge alone, but wisdom.

Education, rightly understood, shouldn’t start with the end goal of a degree in mind. It should start with the vision of who you want to become and how your educational journey will form you into a particular kind of person. It’s about truth, goodness, beauty. It’s about cultivating a heart of wisdom, not just a mind that can pass the tests or turn in the reports. It’s about the passionate pursuit of truth, not the convenient road to a degree.

This is because we ourselves are the project. As Wax goes on to explain: “We don’t just do projects; we are the project. We may think we are working on readings and assignments and debates, but in reality, they are working on us.” The point that Wax is making is a much-needed remedy to so much of today’s philosophy of education, as simply gaining a set of credentials. 

This is because the goal should never merely be a piece of paper, but to become a certain type of person. To embody the very truths one has understood with the head and experienced with the stomach. To become a truly virtuous man or woman. Education is formation, not just information. So, if you’re considering educational opportunities and plans, don’t look for answers to questions about credentials alone. Embrace a different set of questions altogether.

The modern university is failing to produce men who have any chests. And in a sign of just how vacuous the current education system has become, one might even add women without breasts, since not even one’s biological gender is certain anymore! Hence, the newly established Christian liberal arts college in Sydney, called Emmanuel College, may well come to provide a valuable alternative to today’s tertiary nadir.

Rather than throw up our hands in despair these institutions provide an important opportunity not only for true diversity, but for a distinctly Christian intellectual witness, and to model truth and virtue, godliness and righteous in a generation which calls evil good, puts darkness for light, and bitter for sweet (Isa. 5:20).

                                                                                                – Mark Powell