My old blog site is back up here. My first ever blog was May 28, 2008. I called my site “FEBA Forever” because I was using a military metaphor to help launch our college ministry at University State. FEBA stands for “Forward Edge of the Battle Area.” The writers of the New Testament sometimes used such military language, and it’s a helpful way to illustrate the idea of moving forward. In the military, it is not unusual for special reconnaissance assets to operate significantly forward of FEBA. They often operate deep behind enemy lines, but not always in uniform.
Over 4 or 5 years the old blogosphere atrophied from neglect, and I hadn’t posted in years. Now that it’s resurrected, I am reminiscing about how we started with about 8 college students and had a total attendance of 17 at our first open-air meeting on campus. Now we have 3 home churches and well over 100 people involved in the college ministry. The old FEBA site was part of my church’s web, so a disclaimer is in order. Some of the content in the early days was directed to my church (e.g., I name names, use “insider” terms), so it may not always make sense. Nonetheless, I think I’ll repost some of the blogs here for old times’ sake.
In college Hack #5, I argued that factual knowledge precedes skill. I used the metaphor of language. You can’t think in German if you didn’t learn the vocabulary. I was reminded of this recently when talking to a student who had spent a year in Japan. By the end of his study abroad, he was having dreams in Japanese. He told me he spent an entire weekend recently watching Japanese language TV without subtitles, just to get to where he could think again in Japanese. I think this is a good metaphor when it comes to understanding how God thinks. What’s your Bible vocabulary?
Review of Stephen Lutz’ new ebook
Go read Stephen Lutz’ new ebook The Future of College Ministry. It’s short (10,000 words and 30 pages), free, and insightful. The first third is an update of his 2010 book College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture, in which he re-examines his earlier predictions. The next section presents competing metaphors for understanding how college ministry will respond to the challenges and threats developing and anticipated. The final section is a list of the 7 points of greatest vulnerability for college ministries, with corresponding suggestions for becoming “antifragile”—which he defines. I’m not going to give away any of the content at all. I’ll restrict myself to this cursory glance at the structure, because you should read the book yourself. What part of short and free didn’t you understand? The last section is the most valuable because Lutz pretty much nails it (except for #5, but my critique is too long a discussion for this post). What makes it remarkable is that he’s describing how my church has been working in the college ministry sphere for decades. I wonder if Lutz understands the implications of what he is saying.
Universities are fatally flawed. They are required to neglect half of their core mission, or face elimination. The biggest casualty of this flaw is teaching and student learning. If you understand this basic fact of the university, you will be way ahead of the pack in being equipped to accomplish something during college. Let’s start with a metaphor.
Prognosticators predict the decline of the modern university as we know it. Tuition rises faster than inflation (and even healthcare costs!) as state subsidies fall. By 2030 state support of higher education will reach 0% as our aging population drives healthcare costs to 100% of state and federal budgets. OK, I exaggerate, but healthcare costs will asymptote out at the maximum level possible and conversely state support for education will bottom out. Meanwhile, students owe $1.3 trillion in federal and private education loans. Concurrently, the rise of distance learning and contingent faculty are transforming the economics of “credit delivery,” as colleges go to great lengths to promote retention and degree completion. Will the secular university survive? That’s a topic for another day. Here I want to consider whether the additional pressures faced by the sectarian institutions place them at greater risk. Specifically, will restrictions on freedom of religion harm Christian colleges?
I’ve taken social psychology three times. Once as an undergraduate and twice as a graduate student. However, I cannot remember any specific facts from these courses. I got A’s. I must have studied. I’m sure I learned important things. I remember each of the professors, but nothing in particular comes to mind when I reflect on the material. In contrast, I still remember learning grammar during my second year of high school. I remember spending days looking for prepositions at the end of sentences and determining whether parallel constructions in sentences were truly parallel. I also remember how to do math, which I use all the time. Especially statistics. I will never forget how to find the mean, median, or mode. Although I forget some of the details, I still understand even complicated statistics, like the basic differences between factor analysis and principle components analysis. This brings up the issue of skills versus facts. Which is more important to learn during college? What focus makes the better course?
Grade inflation is a permanent feature of the contemporary University landscape. I’m not even going to quote any statistics or facts or figures—you know it’s true. Instructors need good teaching evaluations, and students are happier in the A to B- range than in the C+ and below territory. Standards are lower than ever, partly because there’s so much work to do that spending 30 minutes each grading 100 five page papers seems like a bad idea. Think about it, that’s 3000 minutes or 50 hours. There is no chance that a professor (or graduate student) with a bloated section of a popular course can spend an entire work week (yes, we work more than 40 hours/week) doing nothing but grading the final paper at the end of the semester. So the choices are to not assign a paper, to assign a really short paper, or to grade them in 3 minutes each (that’s still 5 hours). When these conditions prevail, there are a lot more multiple choice tests or lighting fast grading, and eventually A’s and B’s become the norm, not C’s. I’m sure there are other pressures that elevate average GPA’s at college, but what does this mean for you?
You may shuffle into class in your sweats, flip-flops, and graphic T but college is not always as casual as you think. That is, I am stunned at how naïve students can be in their dealings with professors and administrators. We all have horror stories of really inappropriate communication ranging from rude and demanding to virtually nonexistent. The cost of unprofessional behavior can be high; we sometimes mock silly students (behind their backs), we won’t respect you, and most importantly we may not help you.
Good news! It’s not that hard. You can up your game with a few tips. It will be worth it.
Classes are like pizzas
Pizza is Pizza. Well, not really. There’s so many levels of pizza, ranging from the cardboard flavored wedge of yellow American cheese-flavored food product atop a ketchup covered “crust” to the artisanal wood-fired delicacies covered with fresh basil and buffalo milk mozzarella. So although you need to take Social Psychology to get your degree, the quality can vary widely. There is a tension between getting the courses and schedule you need to accumulate points toward your academic credential and learning something you can actually use. You might have to cough down something from under the heat lamp, or you might be served an expert’s best recipe prepared fresh each day for a truly memorable experience. I’d eat anything Mario Batali puts in front of me, even if his interpretation of pizza that night was a pasta dish or poached fish. I’d also take any class Dr. Poelstra offers irrespective of the title.
One of the biggest barriers to attending Campus Bible Study (i.e., generic for whatever faith group you’re with) is the need to do a little schoolwork. Students often moan about projects and studying for exams, and attendance always dips during finals. Christian college students need to fellowship, evangelize, and serve. Not study. OK, some study is mandatory. Unfortunately, failing out is an even more surefire way to miss Campus Bible Study.
If only there were a way to make the business of A’s more efficient, so Christian students could get back to being “on mission” (that’s what you’re all focused on, right?). Well there is. Time to get savvy. There are tricks to success that are rooted in solid research. Powerful ways to shorten study time while simultaneously raising grades. Here is the first.