Tag Archives: Christian education

Freedom of Speech for Me but Not for Thee

There is great ferment in contemporary American society over the idea and practice of freedom of speech. The history of the United States of America from 1788 to today could almost be derived from the history of interpretation and application of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Perhaps reading that history would reveal that from its institution until today, the right to freedom of speech has been prized most by groups with the least political and cultural power. The dominant culture has been less enthusiastic, because freedom of speech grants unearned power to those who do not have it and exposes those with power to criticism and threat of losing power. However, history demonstrates that once the formerly powerless groups gain power and themselves become the dominant political and cultural force, they become critics of freedom of speech. I know it sounds cynical, but I think most appeals to lofty ideals in defense of free speech turn out to be little more than clever rhetorical ploys.

As an example, consider the change that has occurred on American college campuses since the Berkeley Free Speech Movement that exploded onto public consciousness in 1964-65. At that time, left-leaning students demanded freedom of political speech on campus. The enemy was the old conservative establishment on campus and in the country as a whole. On college campuses today—and in many other centers of power–the political/cultural left is overwhelmingly dominant. Not surprisingly, the new leftist orthodoxy is as great a suppressor of dissent as the conservative establishment ever was, perhaps even greater. Speech defending conservative morality and politics and even speech advocating free speech is condemned as “hate speech” or “racism” or some other form of despicable speech. The list of ways to misspeak grows longer every day. It seems that hardly anyone really believes in free speech. They pretend to support it only when it is to their advantage.

I do not deny that there have been some true believers in free speech. Sincere free speech advocates past and present appeal to the value of truth. The appeal assumes that everyone can (or should) subordinate their private interests, beliefs, preconceived notions, and desires for wealth, power, and honor to the communal quest for truth and goodness. Allowing everyone to participate in public deliberations, whether we agree or disagree with them, serves the goal of getting a clearer picture of the actual state of affairs and of what is possible. And that makes us all better off in the long run. Or, so the argument goes.

These days, defenses of free speech come only from conservative circles with perhaps a few leftover liberals mixed in. Political leftists and postmodernists do not believe in truth, and they label all appeals to truth and fact as ideological defenses of the racist, sexist, homophobic, white, colonialist establishment. What matters to the political/cultural left is consolidation of its power. Free speech for conservatives would only hinder that consolidation.

Next Time: Consider the essay above an introduction.  In future essays we will examine the idea of free speech in detail. What does it mean? Where does it apply? How do churches, Christian schools, and other religious non-profit institutions deal with demands for more freedom of speech within their spheres or for more restrictions on speech?

If I Didn’t Know it Was True, I Would Think It’s a Wild Conspiracy Theory

I just finished reading James Lindsay’s new book The Marxification of Education: Paulo Freire’s Critical Marxism and the Theft of Education (2022). I recommend it to anyone concerned about education in the United States and, indeed, the world. If you are a teacher or a professor, if you have children or grandchildren, if you care about future generations, read this book. Or listen to Lindsay’s podcasts. If you know someone that falls into these categories, share this post with them. If I did not know from forty years of experience in higher education that Lindsay is telling the truth, I would think he was spinning a wild conspiracy theory.

In his book, Lindsay documents the work and influence of the Brazilian educational theorist Paulo Freire on American schools of education and, through the teachers trained there, on all levels of education. Until a week ago I had never heard of him, but he is one of the most influential theorists in contemporary education. His methods are used in virtually every school in the United States, public and private. Much of the time teachers, administrators, and facilitators have no idea of the theoretical background of these methods or of their aims. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, for I hate to think they know what they are doing.


South American liberation theology—a mixture of Marxism and Roman Catholicism condemned by Pope John Paul II (1978-2005)—was a formative influence on Freire. And the religious aspect of his work comes through quite often. He speaks of his educational method as inducing “conversion,” and an “Easter” experience. He speaks of hope for the coming “kingdom of God,” that is, socialist utopia. Che Guevara is at the top of his list of saints. Freire’s first book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was published in 1970, but the book that made him famous in the United States was his 1985 book, The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation. When I say that Freire is a “Marxist,” I am not speculating or trying to discredit him by association. He makes his adherence to Marxist analysis unashamedly clear in his own works.

Educational Aims

In traditional education the goal is to transfer to students the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the culture in which they live. Freire calls this the “banking” or “nutritionist” view of education. It reproduces the teacher in the student and hence perpetuates the status quo of society. But through his Marxist lens, Freire sees society divided into those who have power and those who don’t, the oppressors and the oppressed. Society should be changed radically in a socialist direction. He offers his method of education as a means to this radical end. Freire redefines what it means to educate, to be educated, and to know. “To educate” means to awaken the oppressed to their status and empower them to take charge of their lives by working for societal change. “To be educated” means to be awake to the power dynamics in society. “To know” is to be attuned to the nuances of your own experience as oppressed. The oppressors, too, need to be awakened to their guilt and complicity in oppression. The “oppressed” become perpetually angry and offended, and the Woke “oppressor” enters a life of self-loathing and perpetual apology. And everyone becomes an activist.

The upshot of all this, according to Lindsay, is that students get robbed of a real education in reading, writing, mathematics, and every other content area. And they become “emotional wrecks” in the process.

The Method

Freire’s method unfolds in three phases: generative, codification, and decodification. “Teachers and students” are replaced by “educators and learners” who learn together through a “dialogic” (conversation) method. In the first phase of the dialogue, the educator generates from the learners information about their “lived experience” in search of hidden relationships of power, privilege, and oppression. In codification, the educator creates an image that pictures these structures of power, privilege, and oppression in an objective way so that the learner can see them from a distance. The learner, then, comes to see themselves in this generalized image, but now they understand themselves as a part of a class of victims in an unjust power structure. Thirdly, the process of decodification applies the Marxist analysis to the codified image. Decodification awakens the learner to the systemic causes of their oppression and to the possibility and necessity of wholesale societal change. It sensitizes them to the subtle ways in which traditional language, rules, traditions, expectations, and norms serve to justify and reinforce the power structures of stratified society.


The Marxification of Education explores dozens of ways Freire’s educational theory and its offshoots are applied in colleges, universities, and K through 12 schools. I can highlight only two. Read the book!


The Freirean educational model is a perfect way to educate learners in Critical Race Theory. CRT contends that the United States is systemically racist and has been so from its founding. Only a radical reordering of society along antiracist lines (diversity, equity, and inclusion) can address systemic racism. In Freire’s “generative” phase, learners are canvased or surveyed looking for indicators of unequal power between people of color and white people. The next phase encodes those indicators in objective images, for example, a video clip of a white person double checking to see that their car doors are locked after parking in a black neighborhood. In the third phase, the coded images are decoded and interpreted through the lens of Marxist theory, that is, Critical Race Theory.

Sexual Minorities

Perhaps you have wondered why many public schools require young children to read or listen to books such as Gender Queer (written in comic book style) and others that contain pornographic illustrations of sex of all kinds and at all ages? And why would school districts and public libraries sponsor “Drag Queen Story Hour”? I did not understand these trends until I read Lindsay’s explanation of the aim and method of Paulo Freire’s theory of education. Reading Gender Queer and watching a grown man dressed in “women’s” clothes dance provocatively are part of the generative and codification phases of learning. These experiences elicit information from children about their understandings of gender, family, and sex, which can then be used in the decodification phase. The drag queen is a living illustration that rules are made to be broken, that the present social/moral order possesses no real authority but is imposed by those who benefit from it. Drag Queen Story Hour is a defiant and irreverent attack on the “oppressive” societal structures associated with sex, family, and gender identity. Children are thrown into a world without boundaries, they are robbed of their childhood, and their education is stolen from them. And Freirean educational theorists call it “learning.”

Optional Homework

Lindsay discusses many other terms and concepts associated with Freire’s educational theory. You may have heard of some of them without realizing their theoretical meaning. Do a quick search on some of them. Wikipedia usually has the basics even if it tends to sanitize the ideas a bit:

Cultural Competence, Comprehensive Sex Education, Culturally Relevant Teaching, (Transformative) Social-Emotional Learning, Problematization, Knowledges, Critical Pedagogy, Liberatory, Project-based learning, Decolonization, Conscientization, Queer Marxist Theory, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Antiracism, and Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED).

To be continued…

Academic Freedom in Context


I wrote this document to clarify my ideas on matters being discussed in the college where I teach. Your observations on how I could improve it are welcome.

Human Freedom—Conceptual and Practical

Freedom is primarily a negative concept. It names the absence of a determining, coercive, or deceptive force that channels human action to a particular end.

The concept of freedom does not contain within itself any evaluation of the ends toward which human action is obligated or desires to move. In other words, the bare concept of freedom contains no information about what is right or good. Freedom is of value only as a means to right or good ends. And freedom is of value to a particular individual only as a means to ends that that individual desires or feels obligated to seek. Hence freedom cannot serve as an end in itself; it is not a freestanding value.

Freedom is openness for action or inaction with other ends in mind. Freedom is meaningless (that is, without purpose as a means) unless the action it permits is directed by compelling ends. But to direct an action to an end is simultaneously to negate other possible actions. Hence freedom cannot be a means to any particular end apart from limits that exclude other possible ends. Interestingly, then, freedom, that is, unlimited openness for any logically and physically possible action, is useless (as a means) apart from limits!

Does the concept of limit, then, contradict the concept of freedom? Of course, unlimited freedom cannot coexist with limits. But we must remember that freedom is not an end in itself. It is a good only insofar as it enables an agent to act toward a good or right end. And freedom is a good to a particular agent only as it provides the conditions under which that agent is enabled to work toward an end that seems good or right to them. Hence an agent’s decision to limit its action to achieve particular good and right ends does not contradict the concept of freedom-as-a-means; it contradicts only the concept of freedom-as-an-end-in-itself.

Human Freedom in Community

As we concluded above, even considered solely as individuals—at least in a world like ours in which not all actions are good or right—to be a value freedom must be limited by the directing power of worthy ends. But we also live in a world with other agents. And other individuals have differing conceptions of good and right and of what ends to seek. Hence arises the possibility of another type of limit on freedom. When conceived as the freedom of multiple particular agents acting simultaneously, freedom may even contradict and limit itself; because the space in which these agents act overlaps. A new problem then arises: how may we harmonize the freedom of many individuals. Perhaps we could dream of a utopia where the desires and consciences of everyone are in complete harmony and everyone could pursue their desires without being limited by others’ pursuit of theirs. But that is not the world we live in. In the world in which we live the freedom of an individual is limited not only by the ends we seek and limits we impose on ourselves but by the freedom of others to do the same.

To live in our world we must live in community, that is, in some mode of harmony achieved by coming to a common understanding of the good and right ends to which freedom is a means. Through long-term experience we learn how to give and take, compromise, care, share, and otherwise enjoy the benefits of living cooperatively with others as compensation for the limits on freedom of action. These arrangements and rules are institutionalized and codified in tradition and law. The optimum balance of freedom and limits is called justice.

Academic Freedom in General

Just as we can consider human freedom as an abstract concept or as it applies to life in community in general, we can also consider the concept as it applies to a particular sphere of institutionalized social activity. The concept of academic freedom can be considered as abstracted from any particular academic institution. Drawing on our analysis above, we can say without extensive argument that academic freedom is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Whereas the concept of absolute freedom is not self-contradictory in itself, unlimited academic freedom is a contradiction in terms. For the modifier “academic” limits the word freedom. That’s what modifiers do. “Academic freedom” by definition directs—and therefore limits—freedom to serve the end of the academic enterprise, whatever that may be.

What is the end of the academic enterprise? The proper end of academia can be, has been, and (from my perspective) should be a matter of continuous enquiry. Historians of education often point to two master paradigms of education: (1) one focused on traditioning, character building, and moral training. This view may be called the classical paradigm, and it dominated education in the western world until recently. (2) The other paradigm directs its energy toward discovery of new knowledge, critical thinking, and developing skill in research methods. This view is relatively new, and some see its origin in 1810 with the founding of the University of Berlin. It has been called a never-ending, never-arriving “search for truth.” The clash of these two very different paradigms explains much of the contemporary debate about the scope and limits of academic freedom. If the end of the academy is traditioning, character formation, and moral training, academic freedom will be directed to whatever promotes those ends and exclusive of whatever thwarts achieving those ends. Similarly, if the end of the academy is the production of new knowledge and bold researchers, academic freedom will be directed to whatever activities promotes those ends and exclusive of whatever thwarts achieving them. An institution that attempts to work toward both ends will inevitably be involved in constant tension over the scope and limits on academic freedom.

Academic freedom, then, must be conceived as a means to a particular conception of the nature and end of the academic enterprise. The precise articulation of a theory or a policy on academic freedom must be accompanied by an implicit or explicit understanding of the ends of the academy. Discussing academic freedom without also seriously discussing the ends of the academic enterprise will produce nothing but a clash of subjective opinions and wishes determined as much by private interests as by rational discussion. And agreement on the one demands agreement on the other.

Academic Freedom in Individual Institutions

Drawing on our reasoning above, we know that the scope and limits on any coherent theory and policy of academic freedom must be based on a clear understanding of the nature and ends of the academic enterprise. Since there is no universally accepted understanding of the end of higher learning, there are bound to be differences among theorists on the end of the academy. And those different understandings have produced differences among institutions. In turn, those differences produce different understandings of the nature and scope of academic freedom, which will be reflected in policy. A research institution will naturally have a different understanding of academic freedom from that of an institution that conceives of its end as traditioning, character building, and moral training. It makes no sense for one type of institution to criticize the other for its policies on academic freedom. They are living from incommensurable paradigms. Let Providence be the judge of which institution has chosen the better end.

Academic Freedom in Christian Educational Institutions

What can we say about academic freedom in Christian institutions of higher learning? Much of what to say can be easily drawn from the line of reasoning developed above. Christian institutions of higher learning—if the designation “Christian” is not to be a meaningless holdover from another era—conceive their ends as determined by the truth, wisdom, and moral vision of the Christian faith. It makes sense that most Christian institutions of higher learning lean heavily on the classical (traditioning-character building-moral training) view of the end of education. After all, most Christian colleges were founded to defend, explain, and pass on the truth, wisdom, and moral vision of the Christian faith. And the concept of academic freedom that fits an institution devoted to research and production of new knowledge will not fit a Christian institution devoted to the ends I described above. Nor, of course, would it fit with any program of classical education.

In the past, from about 1880 to about 1980, Christian colleges were criticized by the dominant academic culture because they supposedly stifled the disinterested search for truth and the advance of knowledge in deference to their religious commitments. They limited the questions and answers researchers could pursue. Christian colleges were at fault for not accepting the view of academic freedom demanded by the dominant understanding of the ends of the academy. The academic enterprise should be carried on, they contended, according to its own internal rules rather than having to consider external authorities. Recently, however the dominant academic culture has begun criticizing both the Christian understanding and the older value-neutral research understanding of the ends of higher education and consequently it has begun to limit academic freedom in new ways. I am speaking of course of the rise of the political correctness, leftist politics, and wokeness that now dominates many institutions of higher education. The rise of political correctness signals a return to the traditioning and character-forming model of education but with a different tradition to pass on, a different moral vision to inculcate, and a different vision of how character should be formed. These institutions now openly suppress academic freedom in view of their new orthodoxy in ways they imagined Christian colleges did in the past in service to Christian orthodoxy. Measured by a classical liberal view of the social order and its value-neutral understanding of the search for truth the new orthodoxy is illiberal, intolerant, and unscientific. And so Christian institutions of higher learning must fight on two fronts to maintain their liberty to teach and learn according to their understanding of their ends.

If a Christian institution understands its reason for existence to be producing good human beings as measured by the Christian faith, if that is its non-negotiable end, then it will not accept any view of academic freedom that allows teachers to thwart achieving that end—either by restricting academic freedom to suppress politically incorrect speech or expanding academic freedom so as to undermine the Christian purpose of the college. Each particular Christian institution will have to define the scope and set the limits for academic freedom in its own way and according to its understanding of what activities help it achieve its ends or prevent it from doing so. But one thing is certain: the scope and limits of academic freedom in a Christian college must be determined not by an abstract concept of freedom, not by a general concept of academic freedom, not by a disinterested research ideal of academic freedom, and not by the new limits on academic freedom imposed by the politically correct academic establishment but by a clear and unapologetic understanding of the ends the institution holds dear.

Where Christian Colleges Go to Die

Faith and Beginnings

Most Christian colleges were founded by people of great faith. The original faculty and administrators believed wholeheartedly in the Christian mission of the college as the decisive reason for its existence. Many colleges founded within the last hundred years began as a protest and an alternative to the dominant culture of academia. Students, faculty, and donors were attracted to these colleges because of their distinctive Christian identity. They unhesitatingly confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior, crucified and risen from the dead. And they expected every teacher and administrator to adhere to this faith and to live consistently with this confession. Students, too, were required to attend worship and to live by the community’s moral code. Beyond this basic evangelical confession, some colleges required adherence to denominational confessions or expanded evangelical confessions, and they expected community members to live according to a strict moral code. Why, then, do so many of these colleges fall away after such a faith-filled beginning?


Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:1-4).

The Logic of Survival

Christian colleges face many of the temptations individual Christians confront. Of course, just as colleges do not have hearts and tongues with which to believe and confess, they do not experience bodily lusts that can lead them astray. However, colleges have a character formed by a combination of its tradition and its current community. It is a kind of collective personality we can call a “soul.” And this soul can be tempted by certain threats and allurements to abandon its founding principles. Holding true may prove costly:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul” (Mark 8:34-36).

The instinct for survival is basic to every human being. When the Lord bragged about Job’s faithfulness, Satan replied, “Skin for skin! A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 2:4-5). Christian colleges, too, want to survive, and that urge can drive them to compromise their Christian mission. Colleges are expensive operations, and the roadside of history is littered with bankrupt colleges. They need tuition paying students and gifts of money and property. In its efforts to attract students and resources, it will be tempted to broaden its base of support to include people whose priorities do not align with the Christian mission. The college survives but at the cost of its soul.

Ambition and Assimilation

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26)

If a Christian college survives, it faces a second temptation. Colleges are driven by ambition to achieve ever greater prominence. They move beyond the narrow circle of their denominations to gain a regional reputation, and then, they set their sights on national prominence. How does a college gain national prominence? Of course, a college can become well known for its winning athletic teams or its beautiful campus. But I am speaking about its academic ranking. Many factors contribute to academic standing, but one stands out as essential: the academic accomplishments of its faculty. Colleges ambitious to climb the rankings ladder must recruit highly trained, talented faculty and provide them with time and resources to conduct research that gets noticed nationally and internationally. Accomplishing this goal requires a change of priorities. (1) Academic potential becomes the number one qualification for faculty recruitment and retention. A college with national ambitions cannot hire and tenure Christian teachers if they are mediocre researchers. (2) It requires lots of money. Nationally ranked colleges and universities must build huge endowments to support reduced teaching loads and research. Seeking grants from government agencies and industry becomes part of faculty job descriptions. (3) The research faculty members produce must be impressive to the national and international community of scholars working the same fields.


If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels (Mark 8:38)

These academic changes will produce a dramatic transformation in college culture. The outstanding faculty will demand the freedoms and privileges enjoyed by their colleagues at “peer” and “aspirational” universities: virtually unlimited academic freedom, near unconditional tenure, and complete control over the curriculum. Having been recruited and tenured for their research prowess, they do not devote their primary loyalty to the Christian mission of the college but to their disciplines and their peers in the academy. Hence they find themselves embarrassed by remnants of the old Christian college culture that still remain, which, when measured by the ethos of the national academic culture, appear quaint and unenlightened.

The Kingdoms of the World

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matt 4:8-10).

The college’s new national profile will expose it to scrutiny by the dominant academic culture. Gradually, social pressure from without and from within will force it step by step to conform to the national culture. What began as a protest and an alternative to secular academia becomes celebration and assimilation to that culture. Politics replaces faith, social activism displaces evangelism, and self-expression crowds out moral conscientiousness. The college has gained the world but lost its soul. A poor bargain indeed!

Series Ends. Although there is more to say, this post concludes the four-part series on “open letters” to higher education. I will probably feel the need to revisit the topic, since I have spent all my adult life studying or teaching in colleges and universities.