We live in an age wherein people are known by the ideologies to which they subscribe. I expect it has always been that way to some extent. People readily label other people. Labeling helps keep people sorted into neat categories so we know what we ought to think of them without bothering to get to know them. Racism is one of the first products of this labeling and sorting, but the sorting goes on ad infinitum and includes ideologies. It is the mark of an unthinking and unloving people. Possibly, it may merely appear more prevalent or more rancorous today simply because we have more and more sophisticated tools in this age with which to distinguish ourselves from those whose ideologies differ from ours. We frequently speak of our own country, for example, as one becoming more and more “polarized,” especially regarding politics. At the risk of being labeled a moderate, myself, I must confess that I long for a day when people listen to one another and can separate good ideas from bad without quickly sorting a person into some pre-labeled ideology category and dismissing anything else he has to say. I think this is one reason I have been so committed to the classical Christian education project over the years. When I brought my oldest son to Trinitas at his ripe old age of four, our grand, founding headmaster, Mr. Trotter, told me that one of the school’s goals would be to help my little boy become a young man who could exchange ideas with other people no matter their views and still appropriately love them even if disagreeing with their ideas. I paraphrase, but that was the gist of it.
I have been hooked ever since that day, and am now more than ever convinced that classical Christian education accomplishes that goal with its students better than any other kind of education. Classical Christian alumni are people who know how to think and how to love their neighbors. They are independent thinkers.
The past few weeks we have been examining the results of an education survey by Cardus and the University of Notre Dame. The Association of Classical Christian Schools has compiled a report on the survey titled “Good Soil.” As we continue working through the report, this week we’ll summarize another of its seven profiles: Independent Thinkers. Just to refresh your memory, this report examines alumni between the ages of 24 and 44 who graduated from six different types of schools: public, college preparatory, Catholic, Evangelical, homeschool, and ACCS schools (like Trinitas). All of the alumni surveyed grew up in Christian homes.
As we saw earlier in our review of the “Good Soil” report, classical Christian alumni continue to practice their faith after leaving school in far greater numbers than any other group. It may surprise us, then, to discover that they are also twice as likely as any other group surveyed to hold views that reflect an independence of mind. Rather than having their thinking dictated by an ideology, they seem to weigh ideas on their merit. They are readers. Nearly 90% of them read at least ten books each year. That should not surprise us, but it might surprise us that these faithful people read broadly; again, nearly 90% read non-religious material at least once a week.
They are as tolerant of other religions as any group surveyed, yet more than 60% of them—far more than any other group—agreed that it was fine to say something in public that was offensive to other religious groups. Again, this shows that classically educated people are interested in discussing ideas and weighing them on their merits. Only about 15% thought that religion should be a private matter kept out of social and political debate.
When it comes to matters of social issues, the independence of mind holds up. While about 55% of classical Christian alumni actually know an LGBT person (more than any other alumni group surveyed), about 75% believe gay marriage is wrong. This statistic goes directly against a recent study of the general population showing those who know an LGBT person are far more likely to agree with gay marriage. It corroborates the assertion that classical Christian alumni can separate people from their ideas, appropriately loving the people even while completely disagreeing with their ideologies.
Classical Christian alumni are independent thinkers. They value people, and they value ideas. Perhaps it is owing to their study of the Ancients—Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, The Judges of Israel—that they understand how good people can fall into bad ideas and bad people can actually hold some good ideas alongside their bad ones. Whatever the reason, these classical Christian alumni are able to hold tightly to their Christian faith and proclaim it publicly, all while embracing a broad range of good ideas that bridge a wide stream of ideologies.