Encouragement for a good education

When I walked into my house, Leigh Bortins was already standing in the dining room talking to my wife; interrupting herself in the middle of her own conversation she asked, “Is it ok if I dump a load of laundry in your washer?” She was traveling in Southern California to help jump start Classical Conversations on the west coast. Our little Long Beach campus was about to be the first one in the Golden State.

As she explained the missing elements of the current educational system and how Classical Conversations fulfilled all those holes, I slowly realized that CC offered a superior education to the government institutions. The next statement she said is something I still think about and believe today, “I want our CC students to be able to speak with royalty.”

We could analyze this and wind up minimizing its goal because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings when they fall short. We could say that we speak with royalty every time we approach God in prayer; but, that’s available to everyone, every moment of every day. Minimizing it down by that approach makes it similar to the participation trophy every child receives on the playing field…it becomes meaningless.

Instead, “speak with royalty” is how I believe the Apostle Paul approached Leigh’s statement.

​Paul was a man who spoke with both forms of royalty…Christ and the royalty of the era in which he was living. Before his missionary journeys, when he was but a youth, Paul was sent to Jerusalem to be taught under the tutelage of one of the finest Rabbi’s in the land, Gamaliel. The school, Hillel, was acclaimed for providing its students with a balanced education by exposing them to classical literature, philosophy and ethics. We also know that Paul spoke many languages, among them Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Because of his background and education, Paul was able to approach Jewish leaders and Roman government officials alike. He also grew up in one of the most influential cities of the era – Tarsus; the movement of goods, services and political potency that flowed through the city provided Paul with a “street wise” educational experience of the poor and the powerful. Paul also fully acknowledged himself as a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee–to that extent; he memorized and followed God’s law, fully and completely. His business savvy, acquired through his tent making venture, was a respected and profitable business which allowed him access to people on two fronts – those of wealth who could afford temporary shelter and the manual labor Paul hired to assist. Tent making enabled him to evangelize to both segments of society.

On his journeys, when Paul entered a town, he went directly to the synagogue and asserted his right to preach. When there was no synagogue, he preached at the most recognized public forum in town. In Athens, Paul spoke boldly on Mars Hill, a mere 4 minute walk from the Parthenon where all passed by to worship Athena. In Rome, he was called before Nero (the Caesar at the time) to plead his case. His first encounter with Caesar, according to a limited historical account, must have fared better than his second.
The point is, Paul may not have had these experiences nor been as influential of a figure through history had it not been for his knowledge and background. One could even make the point that Christ chose him because of these reasons.

I can relate to Paul, at one point in my career I was a Sr. Finance Manager at a Fortune 50 company; my next promotion would have been to Director, but my pedigree was not Ivy League. I had chosen a state college for both my undergrad and graduate studies – I was fortunate to have an MBA as I would never have been promoted into the Finance Department without it. But, to climb the corporate ladder to the next rung involved an unwritten rule that one must have a top college degree before any advancement opportunities were permitted. The best I could do is relay my ideas and revelations to my Director in hopes they would trickle up to the ears of those in charge; true access to the top brass only came with the proper diploma.

I discovered this was a similar rule at other Fortune 50 companies. I mention these, because they have the money and power to shape and influence laws and our political landscape.

We live in tumultuous times; the powers shaping our country (whether corporate or governmental) are done more from influence than position. Those who whisper in the ears of the powerful are changing policy, laws and finances in the United States; however, gaining access to such positions come at an educational cost.

These “influencers” are graduates of the finest colleges in the country – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc.. In order to speak with royalty now days, one must first seek admittance and be accepted to a top college or university. Of the 100 US Senators, 60 of them graduated from a top 20 college or university. Nearly all of them either have their undergrad or masters degree from a Top 100 college.

If our Classical Conversation’s education is truly superior and is on a path to speak with and influence royalty we must, at the very least, attempt to enter the world of those with influence and power.

I turn again to the Apostle Paul; in his letter to the Corinthians he encourages us to follow in his footsteps, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some of them.” (1 Cor. 9:22) To the Jews, Paul became a Jew, to the scholars, Paul became a scholar, to those outside the law he became as one outside the law. The key to Paul’s success is that he not only had the humility to place himself in all situations but that he could.

Paul was able to speak to the poor because he was poor, he was able to speak with the humble because he was humbleand he was able to speak with the scholarly because he was highly educated. Most of us can do 2 of the 3 – it’s the 3rd where we get stuck. Our educational background fails to grant us access.

Certainly, society needs all levels of education and experience to succeed; but those guiding our country both politically and financially, for the most part,turn to those with similar educational backgrounds when they seek advice. Placing our CC graduates in positions where they are the advisors has the potential to change our country for Christ.

If you’ve read this far and believe that only a Top 20 college should be the goal – “No!” emphatically “No!” Instead, the goal should be the best education one can acquire. If that is a top 20, then try for it, if a top 100, then try for it, if a local college, then try for it.
With Classical Conversations, all the parents I’ve met want the best for their child…but, few are willing to pay the price to achieve it. They stop, because it’s too hard; and I agree, it’s really hard; not just for them but for the family. It’s easier to send them to a community college and let them figure it out on their own…but, by then it’s too late.

Statistically, the number of students who transfer to a top college from a community college is less than 14% – of those who actually graduate from the college they transferred to is 42%…making the full graduating rate of community college attendees, less than 6%; put in another way…your student, if they select the community college route, has a 96% chance of failing or dropping out of college before graduating. However, getting into college directly from high school has a 66% average graduation rate. By settling for something less than what is possible, forces a student into a position of having to constantly swim upstream.
But, what is quite possibly the single most important element when looking for a college or university? I look at the college’s “6 year graduation rate”; this one number tells you the percentage of students, who after up to 6 years of attendance, have graduated. Some students do it in 4 years, others in 4 ½ or 5 – but, 6 is the maximum for this statistic.

If the local state college has a 6 year graduation rate of 60%, it tells you that 40% of the students who began, dropped out before completing their degree. In my opinion, that’s a college that has failed its student population. Instead, it’s best to select a college with a 6 year graduation rate of 80% or higher – that college is serving its students with support, superior faculty and excellent curriculum; it’s meeting the needs of its students!

“But,” you ask, “what about their faith? Shouldn’t you elect a Christian University?” Poppycock! Some of the worst educational institutions are “Christian” universities preying on parents who want a “safe” environment but offer a less than adequate education. Most Christian colleges are private institutions with high price tags that offer limited scholarship opportunities and send out acceptance letters as soon as the student’s application is received. Many of these colleges 6 year graduation rate hovers in the 40% and 50% range. These colleges need bodies in seats the freshman year because nearly half leave before completing their degree; therefore, it shows they rarely care about whether the student was adequately prepared for a higher educational experience and its demands…they simply need the money.

Once enrolled, these “safe” environments place as much pressure to perform and maintain a high GPA as a secular college – and under this pressure if one seeks drugs, sex and/or violence as an avenue of release, the student will find it – no matter the college.
Now, there are some excellent Christian colleges, granted they are few…but there are some. Wheaton College is a prime example with an 89% six year graduation rate and Pepperdine and Abilene Christian College both with an 80% six year graduation rate. As well, there are some awful secular colleges – once again, look at the 6-year graduation rate as your first determining factor as to whether your student will even have a chance to graduate or will they just drop out after you’ve paid two years of a worthless educational experience.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done is work with my oldest son on getting him accepted into UC Berkeley. Many a days we spent working on essay’s, practice SAT tests, application forms, letters of recommendation, a resume and even interviews – all through tears and frustration flowed from both of us. Was it worth it? He will say absolutely it was, without hesitation; but, it’s not a road for the faint of heart or those who leave it to the student to figure it out themselves – this takes constant guidance, research and persistence.

The Apostle Paul goes on to state that, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

We disqualify ourselves if we fail to train properly – this includes physical as well as mental. Running the race to “win” for an imperishable crown does not imply that we seal ourselves in our “Christian” communities, sit in our homes and read our Bible twenty-four hours a day; instead, we are to venture out to the lost, speak boldly where we travel and humble ourselves in order to be all things to all people…in other words, to be like Paul.


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