What not to look for in an academic department

Here’s a composite email, representing a kind of question that the office gets frequently–and which generally gets passed on to me.

Dear Dr. Bauer,

My high school junior is applying to colleges. He’s a strong reader and an excellent writer, and he’d like to study literature or possibly philosophy at a good school.

Could you help me identify some universities that aren’t completely dominated by liberal faculty and their agendas? We would like him to be in a department that emphasizes reading and writing and discussion but that doesn’t take a politically correct/feminist/postmodernist approach.

We are heartened to see that you are teaching at William & Mary. Would that be a good place for him to apply? Thank you for any help you can offer.


Worried Parent

I dread these emails, because I can’t really answer the question that’s being asked.

I should say right off that I’m sympathetic to the underlying concern, which is: I don’t want to send my child off to a place where he will be mocked and made fun of for beliefs which may be out of step with those of the majority of his classmates. I’m getting ready to pack my oldest off to college this fall. I too have parental worries.

But this particular way of expressing that concern has three major problems with it that I’d like to point out.

1. Failure to understand the nature of academic departments.

Academic departments, particularly in the humanities, are hardly ever homogeneous. (I’m talking here about medium to large departments at secular, or for-all-practical-purposes secular, schools; the most homogeneous departments around are those at smaller religious schools that require adherence to a confession or creed, but those aren’t generally the schools I’m being asked about.)

Your typical good-sized department will probably contain one or two observant Catholics, two or three observant Episcopalians, a handful of nominal Presbyterians and Baptists who are for all practical purposes secularists, a couple of militant left-wingers out to make converts, one or two ex-hippies, the odd evangelical, and an array of folks who have never had a religious thought in their lives. In any university, you’re likely to find sympathetic faculty and hostile faculty, Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians, gay faculty and straight faculty, faculty with kids and faculty without kids. Universities are kind of like real life in that way (if in very few others). There will be many different voices and many chances to hear them.

2. Failure to understand the terms.

What does “liberal” mean? Votes Democrat? Has different views on sexual morality? Doesn’t go to church? Will advise your child to ignore his parents from here on out?

These terms (liberal/ politically correct/ feminist/ postmodernist) tend to be used as general scare-words, not as representations of particular points of view. “Liberal” and “conservative” are almost empty terms at this point; they’ve got to be defined. Particularly in certain homeschooling circles, “feminist” FAR too often means “Everything that’s wrong with the twenty-first century in my opinion.”

(Hint, people: that’s not what the word means.)

Perhaps you have a particularly definition in mind. You may indeed find it worrisome that your child will be taught by Democrats. (See Point #3.) Fine; you’re entitled to your worries. Just be sure that you define those terms clearly for yourself if you’re going to throw them around.

3. Failure to understand the purpose of higher education.

Eighteen and nineteen-year-olds should be mature enough to take classes from faculty they disagree with–or else they’re not mature enough to be at university.

Higher education isn’t just about absorbing information; it’s also about learning how to listen to someone with whom you largely disagree, pick out what’s valuable, and figure out how to respond to the rest. It is also –and this is even more important–about allowing yourself to be challenged. If you go into university unwilling to even listen to opposing perspectives, you’re not likely to benefit a great deal. You’ll be so busy defending yourself that you won’t be able to entertain the possibility that, in some areas, you might be wrong.

I myself have had a very frustrating time teaching students who come into William & Mary primed to resist the lies of “liberal faculty.” (That includes a lot of home educated students, who register for for my classes because they think I’m safe.) Every time I say something that strikes them as possibly “liberal,” all of their defenses go up and they tune me out. I can’t play devil’s advocate or dialogue with them–they immediately put me on the list of untrustworthy professors and stop listening.

And at that point they become unteachable.

I’m often asked how home educated students stack up against others in my classes. My overwhelming impression is that they’re more fragile. They’ve got little resilience; I can’t push at their presuppositions even a little bit. Maybe they’re afraid those presuppositions will shatter.

See why I can’t answer the questions in those emails?

What should these parents be asking instead? How about: How can my student find a group of likeminded peers, a religious community, a church, to support them as they study? In my opinion, that’s far more important than finding faculty that agree with you. How can I find a Dean of Students office that thinks parents should be partners in education, rather than telling them to bug off and leave eighteen-year-olds to their own devices? I think the most destructive attitude to encounter in university staff and faculty is the one that says: They’re grown-ups. Pay your tuition and get out of their lives. Do you know of a faculty member in literature/philosophy/biology/history who is thoughtful and trustworthy and willing to mentor? One or two close relationships are important; a whole faculty that agrees with your entire belief system is not.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.

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47 Responses to What not to look for in an academic department

  1. I really appreciated this. As a young homeschooling mother, I was not too long ago in the position of the student, and will in eleven/twelve short years be in the position of the parents here. I find it quite destructive to education to be afraid of ideas that contradict our own belief systems.
    I fear that people believe that, if we acknowledge that much of the world disagrees with us on any point, we are secretly acknowledging that those that disagree are probably right.

    If a parent finds himself or herself unable to dialogue and interact so that we do not create fragile eighteen-year-olds, is it time to find a good school in which to enroll our junior high or high schoolers? If we teach history or religion or English, and are unable to do it without constantly fretting about the ‘awful’ beliefs our children will one day potentially encounter, should we be the teachers at all?

  2. Mrs. Ayana says:


    Thank you for this article and addressing terms that are often thrown around but have not been clearly defined. I constantly keep before me that we are raising our children to be independent NOT dependent. I want my children to become adults who can think and stand on their own morals not mine!
    When my parents sent us to college they made sure that they visited and set up a local support group at the nearby church. You are going to get a “worldly” education at some point in your life. Childhood should have been when that protective foundation was laid.

  3. Katy says:

    Thank you for this response. My children are not yet college ready but I am preparing myself and them for that day. My goal is to have young adults ready to face this world with strength, intelligence, and wisdom. (As far as I am able, anyway) While I would like, as a homeschool Mom, to hide and protect my children from all that is evil and wrong-that is wrong. I must guide them and give them strength. All of us must learn at some point to stand on our own two feet and God, Mom and Dad will not and should not always be there. We should strive as parents to teach our children how to rely be discerning, well thought, and Godly. Thank you for all you and your Mother do for homeschoolers. God Bless

  4. Sarah B. says:

    I wholeheartedly agree! My kids may be young (7 and 5), but that also means I have friends who have just come out of college and know the atmosphere. Colleges are, by and large, there for people who are willing to listen, debate, and thus grow and learn. This can strengthen or shatter beliefs, but the point is to be able to at least hear an argument and mentally process it. This is another great reminder of goals that I can set for myself and my son as we go through this whole home educating process. Thanks!

  5. Beth says:

    My daughter (in high school) recently began homeschooling after having attended selective public schools for gifted children her whole school career. This fragility is the thing we’ve found most striking in the homeschool community; children have been so protected by their parents (and have had so little experience managing on their own outside of situations that their parents have previously vetted) that my daughter finds little in common with them. We find this to be true across the philosophical homeschooling perspective–unschoolers, secular homeschoolers, religious homeschoolers. I worry about these children’s futures, and frankly we may return my daughter to public school over this issues. I feel that it is critically important for children, regardless of their belief system, to be able to listen to other’s belief’s and ideas and to discuss these different ideas thoughtfully. Otherwise I fear for the world’s future.

  6. BM says:

    Dr. Bauer has some very good and sensible points here. The main point of weakness is the way she characterizes diversity within the university setting. In a 2005 article in the Washington Post surveying a study of university professors one clearly sees from the data produced by the study that very little diversity actually exists. (Please note that though the terms liberal and conservative are notoriously slippery and often unhelpful the references in the study here are self-references used to describe one’s self.)

    “By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

    The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.

    “What’s most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field,” said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. “There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It’s a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you’d expect to be dominated by liberals.””

    I’ve worked in a university connected setting for a decade now and there are a scattered few ‘observant’ Christians of various stripes who take their faith seriously in the context of their given field of study. However, my impression and those of numerous other careful commentators on higher education is that even amongst “church going” Christians they have a difficult time connecting their faith with their scholarship, if indeed in any effort is made at all.

    Just some clarifying thoughts.

  7. Brigette Staley says:

    Excellent points! I, too, am a homeschooling parent and a former college English instructor. I have observed intellectual defensiveness from Christian students in general. Even when I taught mostly “adult learners” at a conservative Christian college, I encountered the same fearful approach to any controversial issue. (In Argumentative Writing courses, that includes just about everything!) Even if my students left the class with the same opinion on an issue that they came in with, I wanted them to be able to risk exploring the thinking of others with whom they disagree. This was an insurmountable challenge for some. Ironically, many of my older students chose to write papers in defense of homeschooling–expecting me, as an educator, to be naturally opposed to their position. I am an enthusiastic believer in the potential of educating children at home; however, I discovered that many parents approach homeschooling from a position of fear rather than possibilities. This includes fear of secularism, government control, institutions, bullies, teachers, science, and so on. I confess that it is easy to be sucked in to these fears myself. I do wonder, though, that we Christians who claim to believe in an Almighty God, the author of Truth, are so threatened and afraid.

  8. Ulla Lauridsen says:

    Wow, this is interesting. I have chosen home schooling because the help my younger, dyslexic son could get in school was extremely lacking, not out of any fear or loathing of the schools influence – but I have very strong opinions on a number of subjects, political and religious, and I have always tried to pass those on to my kids, knowing that they would hear other, conflicting viewpoints in school.
    Now I realize that I really have to rein myself in when I teach the home schooled kid and present him with a variety of viewpoints and try to foster thinking in him.
    Thanks for at great post, Susan.

  9. LV says:

    “Eighteen and nineteen-year-olds should be mature enough to take classes from faculty they disagree with–or else they’re not mature enough to be at university.

    Higher education isn’t just about absorbing information; it’s also about learning how to listen to someone with whom you largely disagree, pick out what’s valuable, and figure out how to respond to the rest. ”


    I’ve noticed there are some in classical ed. who in matters of faith, politics, etc. never get past the grammar stage in terms of how they teach their children. They raise good parrots but not good thinkers. What a wonderful opportunity we have as homeschoolers to teach our kids to think and to develop and defend their worldview from a position of strength and integrity, not just repeat what they’ve heard as kids.

  10. CaptiousNut says:

    Only 15 years out of school….I don’t remember much if anything about my university professors.

    Of course I concentrated on math and economics – far more objective fields than I believe what Susan is covering here.

    Out-of-state tuition at William & Mary looks like 45k per year….

    This line is, of course, 100% correct:

    ***Higher education isn’t just about absorbing information; it’s also about learning how to listen to someone with whom you largely disagree, pick out what’s valuable, and figure out how to respond to the rest. ***

    But it’s only correct in theory. In Cambridge, Massachusetts in the circles of all those *highly educated* people….they won’t even talk to you if you stray even the slightest. Not only can you not drive an SUV, you can’t even choose a Dell Computer over an Apple!

    The quote above should be aimed more at professors and administrators than at a handful of meek homeschoolers.

    Even though I think it completely wrong to spend that kind of money and humanity on *college* unless someone is going to acquire marketable, technical skills (even then I’m skeptical)….I have far more respect for the parents that ask a few questions about what they are buying than the ones who don’t.

    And what’s worse – a homeschooler who’s aware of and uncomfortable with professorial bias?

    Or the government school-educated student in that same classroom who can’t perceive any bias? Or who just sees it as something that must be incorporated into their work to get a better grade? (The latter was me back in the day!)

  11. Scooper says:

    I don’t have advice, just thoughts and a vote of resonance. I’m a homeschooling mom of three. Until three years ago I was a history professor at a Christian liberal-arts university. I did my graduate work in American History at a large state university. Your demographic assessment of the departmental make-up is spot on, right down to the token evangelical. I had to chuckle. Spiritually, it was a difficult place to be but it was incredibly beneficial. Oh, how I broadened my perspective and learned to embrace those who were different, allowing myself to be mentored in the craft by those who were athiests, gay, liberal, feminist, etc. I never worked with a single faculty member who was not charitable and gracious.

    When I took my first teaching post at a Christian college, the most difficult students were the ones (often homeschooled) who were close-minded, dogmatic, and antagonistic. Their own arrogance got in the way of their education, which was sad. They were often among my brightest students. Typically their parents were overly involved and also terribly fearful of anything that even hinted of political correctness.

    I am a far better educator, parent, and individual as a result of my oh-so-secular education. You are wise to encourage parents to relax about the worldview of humanities faculty and to seek out a mentoring body of believers or campus ministry instead.

  12. Faith says:

    I completely agree with Susan about what a higher education should be and the maturity of thought and expression that incoming freshman should display. But, it’s not just homeschoolers who are fragile. I cannot even begin to count the number of students I know from both public and private schools who are incapable of an original thought or even a marginal defense of their beliefs or opinions. Our entire society has done a supreme job of creating good parrots as well as young adults who crack from the slightest pressure against their own opinion, or worse, openly rale at a good debate.

    Susan, though I wish diversity, free speech, and debate reigned supreme in the institutions of higher learning of the U.S.A., our experience is that these ideals are DEAD. Twenty college/university interviews plus many dozens of conversations with students and faculty at these facilities later… we have extreme disappointment in how little the educational dollar can buy. DH and I found that in nearly all cases, the professors are unprofessional, ill-mannered, and extremely narcissistic. How dare any student express an original thought much less argue an opposing opinion! It was made clear to us at every single institution that the student who flourished was the one that never, ever dared disagree with a faculty member over even a trivial point. In the words of my dear cousin, currently a professor of environmental science and research associate at a rather major university, “My colleagues possess completely fragile egos. The under graduate does well to never question anything.”

    If the faculty cannot handle a challenge to their own opinion, then why should they expect inexperienced 18 year olds to do so?


  13. UmA says:

    So how does one avoid the fragile homeschooled child scenario?

    • Sandra says:

      Deliberately expand their perspective.

      In their teen years, we did all sorts of things to expand the perspective of our kids…..quick list off the top of my head includes rigorous book studies with challenging teachers; film and worldview class (my son taught for senior project), philosophy classes at a local liberal arts college, performance – in our case it was piano, choir and speech, rhetoric class with current events homework.

      Make them write both sides of an issue. Debate both sides of an issue. Study classic liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, social theory, political theory.

      And something you may not think related to this but we have found helpful: self-awareness. They need to go on to campus strong in their identity. Everything from learning style to religion to personality profiling. These are really helpful to center kids in their own understanding of self, which instills confidence and style.

      In his college application process our son ended up on the phone with the chancelor of a private Christian college to debate their policy of students signing on to a manifesto of belief. He objected to the idea itself because 18 year olds are not ready for such declarations. We have taught our kids many sides of an issue and have told them they don’t need to have it all figured out by 20 years old.

      We have also told them where in our faith we are unsure or not firm in our convictions so that they see how faith works patiently with uncertainty. I think that is key – that our kids are comfortable with uncertainty and can move forward trusting clarity will come in good time….a sense of “it’s okay not to know everything.”

      • Jeff says:

        Thanks, Sandra, for this really excellent follow-up! My kids are not even in kindergarten yet, but, from the perspective of someone who teaches undergrads, the kind of instruction you are describing would be useful to all sorts of incoming students — not just homeschoolers!

  14. Christine Guest says:

    I was reading aloud this post and the comments to my husband. He said, “I was arrogant as an 18 year old, and I wasn’t even homeschooled!”

  15. I didn’t intend for this to get so long. And I agree that by college, students need to be able to deal with people who don’t agree with them. But I also am tired of being treated like my influence is something that my kids will need to recover from.

    I think that parents who write such emails recognize that there is an accepted orthodoxy on many campuses. Where the campus heirarchy sees it as their job, even mission, to enlighten students to new ways of thinking. Not just to consider that there might be other approaches or perspectives, but to convince them that the ways of their parents were in fact, unenlightened views from perspectives that were at best irrelevant and might even be dangerous (to world peace, the environment, etc). Open mindedness is great in theory. But does that extend to openness toward a conservative campus newspaper, Christian student groups or (gasp) military recruiters at job fairs?

    I can see that I am already beginning to sort through schools, even though my oldest are only in middle school. I’m trying to discern the difference between a school’s reputation and the excellence of the education that it really offers. Does it value the great books of the past, even while adding other worthwhile, but lesser know works? Or does it dismiss the “Western Canon” as outdated writings by dead, white men, who were probably imperialists and slave owners to boot. Does it see anything in our culture that is worth of retention and reform? Or should it all be overthrown in revolution and never mnd the consequences. Should social and romantic relationships be subjected to unfettered experimentation, or do they realize that there are human hearts and souls at stake, who might not all be ready to withstand the emotional and physical consequences of “anything goes”?

    Is there a sense that one side is righteous and can do no wrong, while the other side is evil and pernicious and shouldn’t even be allowed a forum for discussion? In other words, would our tuition dollars go to support a community where unrepentant “revolutionaries” hold staff positions or are commencement speakers, while guest speakers holding “conservative” viewpoints are disinvited over security concerns.

    Does the university consider my offspring to be dependent children when calculating tuition amounts and financial aid; but independent adults with regards to mixed gender dorm assignments, mental health concerns and criminal issues like underaged drinking or sexual assault?

    I guess, in short, I’m looking for a school that thinks that the sucessful student that they are considering is an interesting, well-rounded person in part because of the efforts and attentions of his family, not in spite of it.

    • Sandra says:

      I resonate with this. Thank you! Just for encouragement to all: our adult kids have not had to recover from our influence at all; in fact, I think they grow more appreciative of how effective their tools of learning really are – more and more every week they are on campus. I have friends whose kids in college are the same way.

      We do reap a harvest of righteousness, really. There’s lots of really excellent, adjusted, open, aware homeschooled college kids who are “wiser than their teachers” Psalm 119. But with wisdom that is peaceable.

  16. Janet D says:

    Hmmmm….very interesting post. Sad that many homeschool students are not coming in with a greater respect for true academic learning and debate…I have heard these were supposed to be some of the benefits of homeschooling. However, I agree with posters above that it is also somewhat a sign of the times (or perhaps a sign of the young).

    Someone once told me that one of the underpinnings of a post-modern society is the unstated belief that the truth is dependent upon how many people agree with you – if more agree, you’re in the right, if less agree, it proves you’re in the wrong. I don’t know if that statement is true or not, but it certainly seems that a great number of people in our society believe it to be true, with many on the war path to win as many converts as possible to their particular ideology. Meanwhile, truth based on reason and facts and refined through mind-sharpening tools such as academic debate, languishes.

    On a side note, Sebastian, you might want to look at the http://www.ctcl.org web site – the site for “Colleges that Change Lives”, based on the book of the same name, written by The New York Times education editor Loren Pope. I can’t say I know a whole lot about it, but a dear hsing friend of mine has found it very helpful in searching for colleges appropriate for her rising senior son. Their stated purpose: “We support the goal of each student finding a college that develops a lifelong love of learning and provides the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life beyond college….In following Mr. Pope’s ideals, we believe that the criteria most college bound students and their parents and counselors use, such as name and prestige, do not acknowledge the importance of understanding an individual student’s needs and how they “fit” with the mission and identity of an individual college community….”

    Susan, I would also be interested in your suggestions to develop a “less fragile” student. I don’t need my children to adopt my ideology. But I also have fears based on reality. How to balance?

    • “. . .we believe that the criteria most college bound students and their parents and counselors use, such as name and prestige, do not acknowledge the importance of understanding an individual student’s needs and how they “fit” with the mission and identity of an individual college community….”

      I think this is a major issue. So often a school ends up on the list because it is nearby, is where friends are applying, is where mom/dad attended or has a recognizable name because of a sports program. I do alumni interviews for my alma mater and I’m always surprised by the number of candidates, who know very little about the demands and expectations of the program they are applying to. (This is for a service academy, so it is an extreme case. But one that I would think demanded more research by the candidate, not less.)

  17. Ouida Gabriel says:

    I think that schools in general produce children who don’t know how to think. I came out of public school with no idea how to debate a issue or stand up for myself or what I believed in. The majority of students in public school are taught how to parrot what the teachers think; just as homeschoolers parrot what they are taught.

    Homeschoolers have a big task to raise our children above the fragility that you mentioned. My goal is not to raise a child that regurgitates what I believe but believes what s/he does because they have researched, prayed, and come to a conclusion on why they believe what they do. I would hope that is the goal for all parents though, no matter where your child attends school.

    Ouida Gabriel

  18. Karen says:

    In a dozen years of teaching at the University of California, I encountered a few students who were “fragile” in the way SWB describes — but none of them had been homeschooled. I suspect the UC system, which is a state school and also notorious for being unhelpful to homeschoolers, draws a different population than a private school like William and Mary. If you’re sending your child to a university with over 20,000 students (and one whose system includes Berkeley), the potential exposure to ideas different from the family’s probably doesn’t sit at the top of your worry list.

  19. Sandra says:

    College faculty are fragile.

    This is according to our oldest two children, currently in Christian liberal arts colleges. It takes about 10 minutes to see it but a bit longer to know how to manage it. Especially when the kid truly is a perceptive, abstract/sequential type who can think very fast and make all the connections, see the pre suppositions, and recognize a spirit of challenge just for challenge’s sake.

    “After all, undergraduates are just the lowest in the food chain and don’t you forget it, kid.”

    There’s a lot that college kids have to absorb and process and it takes a few semesters to adjust. Our kids have learned how to shut up for the most part, and it is not due to their immature reasoning skills, it is more due to the ivory tower attitude of their profs.


  20. Rich says:


    This has been a thought provoking post on several levels, and in the few days I’ve taken to formulate a comment several others have expressed much of what was on my mind. I’ll only briefly add a couple of other points.

    First, we must be careful not to generalize. Just as we must be careful not to speak in broad generalities when it comes to “liberal” or “feminist” educators, we must also be careful not to speak of “fragile” homeschooled students in generalities-we are a very diverse community. These generalities often lead to the tiresome accusations, often expressed as “concerns,” for the socialization of our children. Even worse, these generalizations can lead parents (as one of your prior responses indicates) to throw their kids back into an underperforming government school out of fear of overprotecting their children.

    Secondly, this all serves to point to the God-given responsibility we have as parents to give our children a solid spiritual foundation prior to them departing our households. The mass migration away from the church among college students isn’t the result of liberal administrators and educators as much as it is an indication of the poor job we’re doing as parents in preparing our kids spiritually with a Biblical world-view that can survive the storms of an aggressively secular culture. To this end your post has caused me to reflect on how I am doing as a father in this area, and for that I am very grateful!

  21. polly says:

    Good points. On the student end of it, I can say that my own time in college–not too long ago–studying philosophy at *William and Mary* (I loved it!!!) was one of the best experiences I could have had. I wasn’t homeschooled, nor was I particularly sheltered, but I was raised in the church, and it was interesting to be exposed to so many diverse and–yes–*liberal* ideas. It molded me, changed me, and ultimately strengthened me. (Set me up nicely for success in law school, too.)

    I think it is far more important to have a like-minded group of peers/friends and to find a good mentor than it is to attend a school that is generally ‘safe.’ I’ll also note that one of my law school classmates, who attended a ‘safe’ Christian college, was one of the least analytical of my peers, not as able to formulate a persuasive argument on a point. I assumed he just wasn’t challenged sufficiently in college–maybaybe note, m.

    It does seem to me that in the long run it is more beneficial to a college-aged student to have exposure to various viewpoints and then be allowed to formulate her own opinion, rather than trying to continue to keep her in a controlled environment. Of course, it helps if the student has been taught to think and analyze prior to attending college. This, to me, is the benefit of a well-trained mind-esque education.

  22. Cedarmom says:

    Very thought provoking topic. I am sending my son (homeschooled ) to a public University this fall. I hope he is prepared to listen to other views and defend his view with grace. I think he is. I think one of the biggest reasons that he is prepared is due to his experience in debate. In the WTM Dr. Bauer suggested having teens participate in debate. I think debate taught my son not only how to defend his views, but to listen to other views. He learned that on some things, maybe he didn’t have all the facts, and sometimes even changed his mind. And he learnedhow to defend his view with logic and tact. Reading this post reminded me of the fact that it was Susan Bauer who first reccomended debate to me, ( as well as studying logic) and it is partly because of her that I feel confident in sending my son to the University. So thank you, Susan Bauer.

  23. Susan says:

    An article on teaching children how to come up with good arguments made the rounds a couple of years ago. It’s called “How To Teach A Child To Argue”, by Jay Heinrichs. I found it quite helpful in regards to developing a child’s rhetoric skills. (For example, “If you can give me one GOOD reason why you should be allowed to take that toy to bed with you, then you’re allowed.”)


    • Kim says:

      Thank you for this post. The article is great. The downside is I started reading other articles at their site. Now considering the time, I am not sure about the fragility of my homeschooled children but I am certain of mine.

  24. Catherine says:

    Thank you thank you thank you Susan! I have a rising senior (he’s taking a year as an AFS exchange student, so he’ll actually be a senior when he returns), and your message, particularly as a college professor, really helped me. I must admit, it dismayed me too, because no doubt my son as a former homeschooler will need to prove himself as a flexible thinker and interested learner when he’s in college. I’m sure he’s up to the task- or at least, I hope so.

    It distresses me that so many homeschool parents and students fit the stereotype of being overprotective and fearful. I had hoped that my biases were wrong on that count. My local homeschool crowd is pretty unschooly and believe me, they are *at least* as dogmatic as the fundamentalists. Apparently those traits are found in all communities! Imagine!

    Perhaps I’m not remembering my college years very well, but my recollection is that professors, even the most liberal, were far more dismayed by indifference in students than passionate defense of a viewpoint different from their own. So many kids are just marking time there, and that is so sad. I just can’t believe that most college professors can’t accept student points of view different from their own. My own experience absolutely contradicts that.

  25. JW says:

    Ms. Bauer,
    I’m sure you have been inundated for years now with Emails like the composite you constructed. And I am equally confident that it can be incredibly frustrating to have basically the same questions asked again and again–especially when it is yoru oinion that the questions themselves are missing the point.
    The statements you made about the real purpose of a university education are all spot on. However, as the mother of two high schoolers whom I’ve home schooled–with the help of your materials–for the past 10 years, it was disturbing to hear the tone of your email.

    Many parents lack the confidence in their own ability to prepare their children for life at university. You must consider that being a second generation homeschooler and college professor does give you a rather spectacular advantage over the average parent grinding out their long term plans for their child(ren). With that in mind, perhaps a bit more patience and grace would have gotten your points across more effectively.
    Home schooling parents can afford nothing shy of frank speaking. However, your annoyance was showing a bit much, and you may have alienated yourself more than you intended from a community that has done as much good for you as you have done for it.



  26. Sarah says:

    In response to JW’s comment, one thing I have always really appreciated about you Susan is your ability to see issues from many angles and in doing so one gets the impression that you are a very considerate and thoughtful individual. You are also, dare I say, not someone who sits entirely on one side of the fence or the other.

    As a someone who considers herself to be a conservative on economics and a liberal on social issues, it is always amazing to me how fearful each “side” of the political spectrum is of one another. It seems to me there are good points to make in every debate, and if one’s fear of being wrong or letting their children hear the other side keeps them from engaging in the debate, surely the point of a full education has been lost.

    My husband and I joined a Unitarian Universalist Congregation about three years ago, and although we are more conservative than many, it has enlightened me to many positive changes in our household. These same “liberals” were also much more accepting of our children and their peculiar ways than any Christian church I have ever attended.

    Thanks for the post and all of the thoughtful comments.


  27. Kay says:

    Hi Susan,
    Quick Question – Since you have no book yet for the post Civil War to present day era as a primary text for my homeschooling Senior High student, any recommendations? Thanks

  28. Thanks so much for this post. I was the “fragile” college student some 18 years ago, ‘though I was not homeschooled. I want my own children, who are homeschooled so far, to be more prepared than I was. The question is, then, how do I prepare them?

  29. Leah says:

    I agree with all the points you made (and I’m a liberal). (Liberal=votes democratic and has liberal social values.) What you didn’t mention is the fact that if conservatives don’t go into academia (including secular institutions), academia will continue to be overwhelmingly dominated by liberals.

    I attended one of those evil elite liberal arts schools:) My roommate freshman year was a conservative Christian. She had attended a private secular school, but she was extremely devout. We definitely had our disagreements about abortion and evolution. However, she was also bright and inquisitive and probably benefited more from the experience than many of her liberal classmates not because they somehow converted her (trust me, they didn’t), but because her thinking was challenged over and over again. Her logic was challenged over and over again and as a result she became a more rigorous thinker.

    One other note: I don’t think that you are going to make a convert out of someone who was truly “liberal” or “conservative” to begin with. I do sympathize with the wanting to be able to find a community where you can feel at home and at ease–that is extremely important for people of all ages.

  30. Denise says:

    I agree. I want my children to stand firmly in what they believe to be true, but certainly want them to have a civilized dialog with those holding conflicting views. At college age they should be well prepared for this. I don’t want my children to be among those un-resiliant ones. I am definitely going to be more careful of that in our home.

  31. beth says:

    I agree the academic experience should be about learning to dialogue & be challenged. I’ve seen too many students unwilling or unable to do so, largely public schooled students where I am. However, I’d love to say that academia wasn’t bias toward a particular world view without stifling real dialogue & challenging thought BUT I’ve seen too many who require students to become carbon copies of themselves versus truly develop real thought on the topic at hand. IMO this highlights are larger issue of social misunderstanding on how to handle real dicussion & being a society rooted in pundit style debate. We’ve lost the way to take opposing views & discuss them. Then again I’m not sure we ever had those ways. As both an instructor & parent I hope to instill in my children (and my college students) the confidence & ability to better understand their own views & discuss other views without seeing every discussion as an attack but a chance to learn & explore. I think that’s the gift I can give them.

  32. Carolee LeBlanc says:


    Just wondering if you would allow our quarterly homeschooling newsletter to reprint this blog entry. If so, what would you like us to print with it (blog address, etc.).

    Also…just wanted to mention that I have been watching your youtube videos to prepare for our fall homeschool meetings and hope to use a couple of them. I just want to say what a relief it is going to be to our parents to “watch” you with your children. In particular, I plan to use the “dictation” videos (highlighting your material). I think mothers of 13 year old boys in our group (and everywhere in general) will heave a HUGE sigh of relief when they see this video and think….”OK…so my kid is normal”. The videos are great…they show an unstaged kitchen, and the dog under the table, and a boy that didn’t immediately after one or two readings spit out a perfect dictation, and, and, and…:) Thanks for taking the time to do them!!!



  33. Jennifer says:

    I’m solidly with JW on this one. Well-written response, JW. Maybe Ms Bauer, herself, doesn’t appreciate being challenged; and is confusing firm convictions with fragility? She’s been placed on a pedestal by the homeschooling community, and undoubtedly by her “teachable” W&M students. You know … the ones who gaze up admiringly, hanging on every word, drool pooling on the slightly ajar lower lip.

    Turn about is fair play, Ms Bauer …

    “Every time I say something that strikes them as possibly “conservative (or expresses a gracious but unapologetic Christian worldview)” all of their defenses go up and they tune me out. I can’t play devil’s advocate or dialogue with them–they immediately put me on the list of untrustworthy students and stop listening.

    And at that point they become punitive or alienating.

    I’m often asked how liberal-minded, secular humanist profs stack up against others in my classes. My overwhelming impression is that they’re more fragile. They’ve got little resilience; I can’t push at their presuppositions even a little bit. Maybe they’re afraid those presuppositions will shatter.”

    That was MY experience with public education. Fragility and all.

    • susan says:

      Hostility in response to differing opinions is exactly the sort of response I’m suggesting that we avoid.

  34. Becky says:

    I love your response, Susan. Well said.

  35. Becky says:

    My response was directed to Dr. Susan Bauer.

  36. Kenneth Lougee says:

    I’m glad I found this blog. My children have just left the University stage of life. We did not do official home schooling. But we did do somethings that were important. We had lots of books. My undergraduate degree was in history from BYU. My law degree was from the University of Oregon and I hold an MA in history from the University of Utah.

  37. Kenneth Lougee says:

    Let me complete the post. We did a lot of reading, both history and fiction. We talked about writing and we practiced what we preached. We talked about current affairs and politics.

    We spent money on special math classes. We spent money on acting and drama. We spent money on music classes.

    The parents have the responsibility of teaching, no matter where the child goes during the day. I have a son with a BS in Actuary Science, a registered nurse and a daughter with a degree in Latin American history. She knows more about women in the Mexican Revolution than anyone ought.

    On vacation I read the book “Freakanomics.” The authors claim that the most important thing parents can do to bring about academic success is have books in the home.

    Thanks for this excellent post.

    Kenneth Lougee

  38. Therese says:

    Interesting timing. I just skimmed over the monograph “Engaging Diverse Viewpoints: What Is the Campus Climate for Perspective-Taking?” from the Association of American Colleges and Universities. It’s based on a survey that asks college students and staff if they believe it is safe to hold unpopular opinions on campus, among other questions. One finding that jumped out at me: Only 7 percent of college faculty and staff strongly agreed that students are respectful of different viewpoints, while more than 60 percent of freshman students strongly agreed that they were respectful of different viewpoints. Make of it what you will! The monographi is available at http://www.aacu.org/core_commitments/documents/Engaging_Diverse_Viewpoints.pdf.

  39. Pat says:

    There is help of at least a small sort. First Things has published a college ratings issue. They have a diverse editorial board with many faiths represented so they include a variety of ratings of colleges: a standard top 25 that takes into account a religion score as well as academics and social, a top protestant schools, two Roman Catholic lists, and several fun mini lists. http://www.firstthings.com/issue/2010/11/november

    Their philosophy was somewhat different in why this is an important factor. Let me quote from the editor’s introduction to the issue. He’s had a discussion with a friend who had all his children fall away while in college:

    “The problem my friend faced is that his children weren’t really leaders. They weren’t self-starting, self-driving dynamos who thrive on adversity. They were just smart kids who wanted to get along. To fit in. To be normal, as normal exists at the famous old schools to which they went.

    “What’s the point of this special issue of First Things. The rough-and-tumble types will do well anywhere. In our Junior Fellows program at First Things, for recent college graduates, we’ve brought them in from the likes of Wabash and Harvard and Columbia, places where they triumphed the more they were (or believed they were) oppressed. But where do the ordinary kids go—the good, smart, ordinary kids, still feeling their way into life? How do they survive? How do they flourish?

    “And so, two years ago, First Things began collecting publicly available data on 2063 institutions of higher learning in the United States. Over the last year, we followed that up with polling of students and recent graduates on the religious, academic, and social atmosphere of their schools. And we followed that with queries among our academic friends and colleagues. (See page 45 for technical information about the scores.)”

    The bad news is they charge for new articles on their website. I think that eventually the articles will move to being free but it will be several months. The good news is their rate is pretty low so if you are in the middle of a college search now you can buy a one day pass and download the articles.

    For now there is a nice free article by Stanley Hauerwas on being a Christian student: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/10/go-with-god

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