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After the Avalanche

The Reemergence of Colleges in Christ

When C.S. Lewis wrote that there was more distance between us and Jane Austen than between Jane Austen and Plato, he was remarking on a cataclysm that colleges and universities had not escaped. The charters of colleges founded before the Age of Jackson reiterated the claim that the purpose of an educational institution was always, as the founders of Columbia (then King's College) wrote, to teach Jesus Christ. As late as 1838, the statutes of the University of North Carolina forbade any derogation of the Christian religion in the university. The marriage between Christ and classical literature was then 16 centuries old. Beginning with St. Justin Martyr's principle that whatever has been said rightly belongs to Christians, the Church espoused the teaching of a Christian classicism intended originally to provide an effective apology and, after Constantine, to make schoolboys not only intellectually well-furnished citizens but Christians.

Before the mid-19th century, most entrance examinations assumed an ability to read the New Testament, Vergil, and Cicero in the original languages, as well as a mastery of Euclid. Today, this standard is not even attained by most who teach in colleges and universities.

Before 1860, colleges were not marketplaces of ideas. That students were to be taught not what to think but how to think was considered absurd. Colleges were microcosmic cities calculated to make their citizens members...

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