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Home / News and Information / News - September 2005 / BPC President Addresses Christian Education Benefits at Convocation

BPC President Addresses Christian Education Benefits at Convocation

Brewton-Parker College’s president used some profound words from some of his wife’s former preschool and kindergarten students to establish an outline that supported the unique opportunity of obtaining a Christian education during his annual convocation address Sept. 6 in Saliba Chapel.

Dr. David R. Smith addressed students, staff and faculty members, administrative officers and guests in a two-point speech he called “From the Mouths of Babes.”

The convocation program also included a resounding soprano saxophone performance of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” played and arranged by Dr. Armenio Suzano Jr., associate professor of music, with Brandon Pafford, a junior from Blakely, accompanying him on the piano.

Dr. Armenio Suzano Jr. (right), associate professor of music at Brewton-Parker College, plays his arrangement of "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" on his soprano saxophone, accompanied on the piano by Brandon Pafford, a junior from Blakely, during convocation services Sept. 6 in Saliba Chapel. (Photo by Terry Gaston)

“You are beginning a journey of intellectual inquiry and social experience that will dramatically influence the way you view the world, the manner in which you live your life, and the avenue through which you will pursue your vocational calling,” Smith said. “I am very glad that you are here today.

“My wife, Jackie, and I have lived here on campus for a few months more than seven years, and we have thoroughly enjoyed these times. My hope for you is that you find here a special place that quenches your desire for knowledge and a college degree, and soothes your spirit through the beauty and tranquility of our surroundings, and the development of friendships that will follow you throughout your life.”

Smith introduced his wife as having expended much of her professional life “as an educator of small children who, from time to time, has written down some of the cutest and most profound statements that her young students have uttered.”

Dr. David R. Smith (at podium), president of Brewton-Parker College, addresses students, staff and faculty members, administrative officers and guests during convocation services to officially begin the 2005-06 academic year on Sept. 6 in Saliba Chapel on the campus in Mount Vernon.

“This morning, I want to make two points, and use the declarations of her preschool and kindergarten children to try to communicate them to you. For instance, one young girl somberly shared with my wife that, ‘You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.’ How do you suppose that she learned that lesson? Her statement brings me to my first point: A college degree doesn’t hide an uneducated person.

“While it is true that you are well on the way to receiving your college education by enrolling at Brewton-Parker College, that doesn’t guarantee that you will leave educated. You see, the world-class faculty gathered behind me today and the first-rate staff attending to your needs this fall offers you the opportunity to receive a higher education. But you must attain it, and you must make the most of your opportunities for learning while in college.

“The degree will help you in finding employment, but the skills needed to be successful must be developed through your educational experience. BPC will do its part. The faculty and staff here will offer you the needed information and exercises to help you gain the abilities necessary for future success. In fact, many of our academic divisions are developing meaningful internships and observation programs to expose you to future workplaces. But you must master the skills yourselves.”

Smith quoted figures from 2003, which showed that the average full-time employee in the United States with a baccalaureate degree earned $49,900, or 62 percent more than the $30,800 earned by a high school graduate.

“A college diploma is the best means of upward mobility in our society, but that is not the only reason to obtain a college degree. Educated people make more responsible citizens,” he said.

“At Brewton-Parker College you will not only receive a bachelor’s degree, but you will receive a liberal arts education. It is one thing to know facts about a specific body of knowledge in a discipline in which you plan to expend your career. It is another to have a broad background in all of the areas of knowledge that human history has valued from time immemorial.

“A higher education, in the best tradition of the liberal arts, is offered to you here. It can transform your life and make you a citizen-leader in our culture. It can provide you an income that will result in a lifestyle better than that enjoyed by your parents. But these results will only be yours if you apply yourself to the task at hand.

“ My father, a west Texas rancher, would say, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ As an educator, I might add, ‘You can take a student to college, but you can’t make her think.’ That, my friends, is up to you.”

Smith introduced his second point with another remark from one of his wife’s former preschoolers, who said: “You know, Mrs. Smith, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t baptize cats.”

“Although I’ve never tried to baptize cats,” Smith said, “I am confident that you can’t attain a Christian higher education at a secular university.

“Many of the strongest Baptist Student Unions and Newman Centers and other Christian student organizations exist on the campuses of our largest public colleges and universities. However, a truly Christian higher education offers a value-added intellectual journey that only a school like Brewton-Parker College can provide.”

Smith then presented a brief history of Christian and secular higher education, with the first such institutions in Paris, France, and Bologna, Italy. “These early centers of learning were instruments of the church,” he said, adding that the University of Paris grew out of the Cathedral School of Notre Dame, receiving its royal charter in 1200.

“Their teaching was distinctively Christian. … Their organizations grew, examinations were given and diplomas were awarded. These earliest universities only remotely resembled modern institutions of higher learning, but two hallmarks were evident: the search for truth and the freedom to pursue that search.”

With the Reformation came new colleges, formed by the followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin, based on non-Catholic roots. “These schools elevated the Scriptures as the primary authority and pursued all other knowledge as a means to more fully understand God’s revelation through the Bible,” Smith said.

“The Calvinist party in England became known as the Puritans, and it was their search for a place of refuge that brought higher education to America during colonial times. Colleges such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Boston University and Boston College, Amherst, Brown and Williams all began to train an educated clergy without relying upon the educational centers in Europe.”

Smith continued by quoting Christian sociologist Anthony Campolo, “These institutions, and hundreds of others established over the following 300 years in America, ‘contended that all knowledge reflected the glory of God, and that learning enhanced appreciation of God and resulted in more intelligent worship. All truth pointed to God, and the exploration of truth was believed to be a means of bringing humanity into a closer relationship with the Almighty.’”

Smith mentioned that Yale and Princeton “served as the catalyst for leadership in most of the colleges established in the Midwest until the Civil War. Among the 110 presidents of 75 colleges in operation before 1840, 36 were graduates of Yale and 22 of Princeton. A large segment of the faculty also came from these two institutions. Sadly, none of the colleges I’ve just mentioned retain any shred of their initial Christian mission today.”

He continued: “By the late 20th century, however, the public land grant system and federal and state investment in higher education had completely transformed the landscape of higher learning. Clark Kerr, for years president of the University of California system, termed the phrase ‘multiversity’ to describe what public higher education had become.

“Another prominent educator and higher education researcher, John Brubacher, contends that no specific philosophy of education governs or even strongly influences the modern university. He proposes, in fact, that the university be regarded as a church without a god. … Brubacher’s proposal is little more than a contemporary form of secular Gnosticism.

“The obvious conclusion from this abbreviated history is that the modern college or university, predominantly secular and huge, holds a confused understanding of its mission and its obligations to the public,” Smith said.

He said at least two inherent dangers are found in scholarship “that has no base in morality, ethics or spirituality.” The first is that such intellectual inquiry normally results in the worst type of cynicism or skepticism.
“ A worse assumption can be made, however. Jerislav Pelikan observes, “‘If knowledge is defined as this chief good and end in itself the moral consequences can be frightening.’”

Smith then used a metaphor by English scholar C.S. Lewis as an example “that knowledge without spiritual meaning is a one-dimensional reality devoid of the fullness that God intends for learning to bring.”

“In the United States today, there are approximately 4,200 degree-granting institutions of higher learning. About 1,600 are private institutions, not owned or operated by a local, state or the federal government. Of these, around 900 define themselves as ‘religiously affiliated’, and 65 are members of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools.

“Contrast secular higher education with Christ-centered higher learning. To a Christian or a secular scholar, truth is the outcome of scholarly research. But to the Christian, such truth never excludes the truth that faith can bring to an enlightened mind.”

Smith then quoted the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Colossians: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. … My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 1:28; 2:2-3 NIV)

Smith continued: “A Christ-centered higher education assumes that ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ include music, theology, social and behavioral sciences, teacher education, business, math and science, arts and letters, and every volume stacked in the library. Christ-centered scholarship is not something else, but something more, than secular inquiry.

“I believe, in fact, that Christianity offers to the academy an opportunity for real inclusiveness. The Christ-centered college is a place where all ideas can be discussed openly and truth is never to be feared. It is an environment in which students and faculty alike can plumb the depths of scientific inquiry while allowing for the relevance of things which our senses cannot perceive.”

Smith said he sees an ironic swinging of the pendulum “from the orthodoxy of science toward the innovations of the community of faith, creating a direct reversal of the actions of the past 150 years. Regardless, on campuses like ours such debates are conducted in a civil and respectful manner on a routine basis.”

“More and more, I think, the Christian college will be a place for rational debate and objective inquiry. This community alone has a historic understanding of ethics, a healthy view of moral issues, and a clear and cognizant theory which unites human knowledge.”

Smith returned to another thought from one of his wife’s preschoolers in offering the faculty, staff and students some concluding advice in what they should do with the thoughts he presented.

“A student, thinking that she was repeating a proverb, stated that ‘today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.’

“I like this revised axiom,” declared Smith. “Be a nut that holds its ground. How?

“Take the best of the Christ-centered educational opportunity that is before you. Learn as if it were not just a privilege of being in college, but a mandate from God. Interact with all of your classmates and college family. Some of us are different from you. Get to know those unlike yourself, though it may take you out of your comfort zone.

“Rise above cynicism and skepticism and failure. … Rise above doubt. You will never know it all, but as Paul proclaimed to the Colossians, you can know enough if you know Jesus Christ. My hope for many of you who may not have a personal relationship with Christ is that you will receive your spiritual B.A. degree while you are here; that is, your Born Again degree.

“Celebrate the struggle. Homework isn’t fun. But when you learn its contents, and you need that knowledge after graduation, you will be grateful for the exercise. Relationships here won’t always be easy. But from every person you encounter you will learn something that can offer personal growth and fulfillment. Learning how to manage time, money and independence offers many chances to stumble. But you can survive a skinned knee or a bump on the forearm. Get up and keep moving into productive adulthood.

“May God bless you, and may He bless Brewton-Parker College.”

-BPC-

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The mission of Brewton-Parker College, a Georgia Baptist college, is to develop the whole student through the application of Biblically-centered truth to a liberal arts curriculum in a community of shared Christian values.
 
Brewton-Parker College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate and baccalaureate degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Brewton-Parker College.
 
Updated on: April 15, 2010 8:26 PM