Does Success Have To Start With Being A College Drop-Out?
Rev. Aaron Slack
The American youth has a particularly nasty handicap to overcome: he has been told his entire life that “you can be whatever you want to be when you grown up.” In the words of Napoleon Hill, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe the mind can achieve.”
Lessons taught by the real world, as opposed to self-help books, are painful. Generally, our youth have been told the way to achieve their goals and achieve success is to go to college. Each year millions of Americans realize that no matter how much they believe their college dreams will come true, impacting reality says otherwise. These are our college dropouts. Although they might believe it at the time, dropping out of college is not the worst thing that can happen. In fact, it may be the only way for them to become successful. People like Steve Jobs discovered this.
The institution of college has become a monolith in modern society, with authority and perceived benefits challenged by few even (especially?) in Christian circles. Despite evidence to the contrary, college is still seen as, if not a necessity, a highly desirable road to success. Why must our children heed this siren’s call? The dominion mandate calls us to bring dominion and advance God’s kingdom in every area of society. My pastor likes to remind us that Scripturally-speaking, a wilderness is an area where God’s law is not recognized. Education is one such wilderness today. As Christians we are in the business of transforming the wilderness.
The ministry where I work, Grace Community School, is doing so at the preschool level. Gary DeMar has called us a “Kingdom Academy.”1 Very young children, mostly from non-Christian families, come into our buildings every day to hear the Gospel, learn to read and do arithmetic, learn music and piano, and many other things. Our buildings are run by Christian families, laboring together in a joint calling. These Christian families are the only stable families many of these children will see during their childhood – it’s not surprising that many of them consider us their real family. Our focus is preschool—the very, very young. But we need to reform education at all levels of society. As it turns out, my ministry is also doing something about “higher” education as well. I’ll have more about that in a minute.
The financial obligations of those who attend college, whether they graduate or not, are astounding. Roughly 60% of college students take out student loans,2 and almost 30% of those borrowers drop out.3 The similarities between our modern college programs financed by massive debt and the indentured servitude of days gone by have been noted.4 Debt is a tool, but used incorrectly it can also enslave. “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7 KJV) Traditional college is increasingly the path to slavery.
My thesis is that conventional college is not a biblical use of God-given resources for most Christians today. One of my favorite parables from the Bible is Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). It is extremely relevant to those seeking to put their faith in action in all of life. This parable is often seen as applying to the stewardship of spiritual gifts as provided by God, but it also pertains to stewardship of actual money (and time – time is money)! Taking dominion requires resources, including money and especially time. Christians will be held accountable for what they did with the time and money they were given.
Few things for the modern young adult are more costly in both time and money than traditional college. We as Christians have a duty to evaluate it by God’s standards to make sure it is a good use of our “talents.” “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14 KJV) At the judgment seat, will you be rewarded for going to college? Conventional wisdom says yes, but we must go beyond conventional wisdom.
Is college needed for success, or is it a hindrance to success? An argument could be made that the best way to become a success is to be a college dropout. More than 40% of college students become dropouts.5 Is this a bad thing? Higher levels of education are not conducive for acquiring great financial success6—and financial success is necessary if you are going to advance God’s kingdom.
I’m going to argue that an even better way to achieve success is to go one step further than the college dropout, especially if you or your child will be one of those who will be graduating from a homeschool program: don’t go to college, at least traditional college, and save yourself the time and money. Preemptively drop out of traditional college!
College students, even when they get a degree, lose years of potential income. Studies showing the long-term financial benefits of a college degree rely on the assumption that the student has not been burdened with crippling college debt. This is an enormous assumption, and one that is increasingly not true.
Even worse than losing years of income for a progressively less valuable degree, is that those who attend traditional college graduate with the mindset of a consumer, not a producer.7 Conventional college is consumption. It is not production.
One might say that it is unfair of me to be so critical of something if there is no alternative. I mean, if there were no homeschool or Christian school options for parents it would be more difficult to decry government schools. If it seems like I am being harsh on college, that’s because there is a far superior solution: apprenticeship.
A BEAUTIFUL CULMINATION TO A BEAUTIFUL EDUCATION
As a homeschooled student from the third grade on, homeschoolers have a special place in my heart. My parents took their responsibility to rear up my siblings and me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord seriously, in accordance with Deuteronomy 6. Christian homeschooling is a beautiful thing. I’m going to present a beautiful ending to that beautiful education.
That beautiful culmination is apprenticeship.
I “attended” an off-campus distance learning college program, and while doing my college course work, got on-the-job training. I met my future mate in the apprenticeship program, and today we are married and enjoy working together in a joint calling as husband and wife. I became an ordained minister, but did not attend a conventional seminary. I chose apprenticeship over traditional college.
It was one of the best decisions of my life. The apparent propensity of homeschoolers to choose conventional college programs has disturbed me for quite some time now. It seems quite incongruous for Christians to homeschool their children and then send them off to traditional on-campus college, yet far too many homeschoolers have made college the end goal of their educational program.8 The goal of homeschooling, Christian school, or any Christian education should be to equip people to do what God has called them to do.
Why homeschool, eschew government schooling, then go to college? Isn’t it more appropriate for Christian school students and especially home schoolers to continue their educational iconoclasm and stick it to traditional college? I’ll be blunt. Why would conscientious Christian families send their homeschooled and Christian school-educated Charlotte Simmons9 off to morally questionable institutions? This is a very vulnerable time period for young people10—the time when the average teenager loses his or her virginity.11 Children losing their faith and abandoning Christianity is a highly discussed topic today, yet we keep sending our children to conventional colleges.
Ah, but you are choosing a Christian college, one you have thoroughly researched and shows every sign of being an orthodox and virtuous institution. Good for you. But do the benefits of paying for and attending this college outweigh what can be found in an apprenticeship program? Will this college give your child the tools for success?
IN LOCO PARENTIS
Are you a good parent? If you’re reading this, and asking how you can make sure your child is reared in the Christian faith, chances are you are. In particular, if you are committed to making sure your child has the tools needed to live a successful life, as defined by the Bible, you most assuredly are. The goal of Christian education is to prepare children for their callings, to help them bring all areas of life under the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to help them become individuals who will advance God’s kingdom.
Few responsibilities are more important than the duties parents have been given by God, including teaching their children God’s law and protecting them from sin, particularly while they are young and vulnerable. These duties are exceptionally motivating for Christian homeschool parents. I know they were for my own parents. A parental responsibility seldom discussed is the parent’s obligation to make sure the family’s children possessed a trade, i.e., a means of earning a livelihood (and hence of taking dominion). I first learned of this while studying R. J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law in my church, where Rushdoony mentions something believed by the Israelites: “The common opinion held that a man who did not teach his son the law and a trade, the ability to work, reared him to be a fool and a thief.”12 This was an opinion firmly based on the exegesis of Scripture.
Does traditional college share your concern for your children? There is a legal term called “in loco parentis,” literally “in the place of a parent.”13 In days gone by, schools and colleges believed, and had the legal obligation to ensure, that they were substitute parents while students were under their care. This included obligations concerning both the academic and moral guidance of students. The doctrine of in loco parentis has fallen into disarray on our college scene.14
To say that modern colleges abdicate any responsibilities towards protecting their students is a great understatement. Even if we were to set aside those concerns, there are others. As I said, parents have a responsibility to make sure their children have a means of creating a livelihood. Does it teach a trade? Does the benefits it bestows make it worth throwing away years of work experience and income?
Like the Tin Man receiving his “brain” from the Wizard of Oz, we all too often see institutions of higher learning incapable of bestowing the tools and skills needed for success. Does traditional college provide its students with a trade? No? Then why are we allowing it to be a surrogate family for our children?
To go through college and actually learn (as opposed to just getting good grades) requires a very driven, self-disciplined individual. If you are that type of individual, why not focus that energy somewhere else and save your money?
APPRENTICESHIP VS. COLLEGE
While college in theory teaches the student to “think critically” and “communicate effectively,” apprenticeship is preparation for a calling.
In my book A Full Reward: Reformation Through Family-Run Christian Schools, I write, “Very few people ever learn a trade. What they learn during their career is at best a few specialized jobs— a few pieces of the puzzle. The man with a trade has all the pieces properly assembled. A man with a trade could quit or be fired from his job and still manage to make a living somewhere else, because he possesses the complete set of skills needed; he has a trade. The job can be taken away, but not the skills and discipline the trade comprises.”15
When you apprentice, you are training for a particular trade. Apprenticeship is hands-on. It is learning by doing and learning from people who have successfully accomplished what you are attempting to do, not from college professors who may or may not know how to apply what they are teaching to the real world. Remember the old adage “Those who can’t do, teach.” It is very possible to be well-acquainted with the theoretical aspects of doing something, and yet be unable to apply that theory to the real world. Application is everything.
It is also possible, of course, to learn theories that are completely false and have nothing to do with the real world. No college economics course can compete with actual experience running a business, just as a college course in teaching reading cannot replace the learning experience of actually teaching reading. Learning by doing, overseen by people who actually do it, is the best. This is apprenticeship.
Apprenticeship does not mean that credentials are ignored or shunned. Certification and accreditation are means to a goal, but not the end goals. If you don’t need a traditional college degree to fulfill your calling, seriously consider not going. “Letters after one’s name do not have much economic value in a free market.”16
Grace Community School, where I work, is using apprenticeship to further God’s kingdom. We recommend a three year apprenticeship. Three years is enough time to discover what you’re good at, what you’re not, and to acquire the credentials you need to work in the childcare field. Grace Community School apprentices enroll in the distance learning program of Patriot Bible University , and work acquiring a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Early Childhood Education from Patriot. This is an off-campus college program completed via correspondence.
Our apprentices also study theology, with material largely taken from the works of R. J. Rushdoony. Ours is a very concrete program, and it makes sense for our apprentices to study the works of a very concrete theologian. We are in the business of taking dominion and applying God’s law to the area of Christian education. The theology of R. J. Rushdoony is the ideal tool to aid us in our task.
While we assist our students in obtaining distance college degrees, this is much more than any college, even a Christian college, could be. In addition to our apprenticeship program, we make available the Grace Community School Operations Manual for anyone to purchase.17
In Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation, Rushdoony discusses the topics of Biblical separation and “unequal yoking,” including how the doctrine of unequal yoking “applies to marriage, business, education, worship, and all things. Unequal yoking in any area is thus contrary to God’s general purpose for His people.”18 The time has come for Christian students to separate themselves from a failing higher educational system and choose a more God-honoring method of preparing our children for service to His kingdom. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10 KJV)
Dare to be different! Even if you can afford college, the tens of thousands of dollars a traditional college degree costs can be put to better use by an industrious young person. Save your money, master a trade and run a successful business, get married, have children, buy a home, and get a master’s degree (if you need one). This is what those in the GCS Apprenticeship program have done. To answer the question posed by the title of this article, “Does success have to start with being a college dropout?” No, it can start with something much better!
1. DeMar, Gary. Whoever Controls the Schools Rules the World /. Powder Springs: American Vision, 2007, 55.
4. Reynolds, Glenn Harlan. The Higher Education Bubble. New York: Encounter Books,USA, 2012, 17.
6. Stanley, Thomas J.. The Millionaire Next Door. New York: Pocket Books, 1998, 74.
7. Ibid., 76.
9. Wolfe, Tom. I Am Charlotte Simmons. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2004.
10. Schwartz, Andrea. Lessons Learned From Years of Homeschooling: A Christian Mother Shares Her Insights From a Quarter Century of Teaching Her Children. Vallecito: Chalcedon Foundation, 2006, 64.
12. Rushdoony, RousasJohn. Institutes of Biblical Law. United States: P and R Publishing Co (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973, 183.
14. Arum, Richard. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011, 14.
15. Slack, Aaron. A Full Reward: Reformation Through Family-Run Christian Schools. Naples: Nicene Press, Inc., 2013, 118.
16. McIntyre, Ellsworth. How to Become a Millionaire in Christian Education. Naples: Nicene Press, Inc., 1997, 4.
18. Rushdoony, Rousas John. Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation. Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2001, 200.
Rev. Aaron M. Slack is the manager of a family-run Christian school in Fort Myers, Florida, along with his wife, Amy, and five children. He is the son of a pastor, and has lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. He moved to Florida in 1994 and has worked for Grace Community School since 2001. He has a Masters degree in Christian Education from Patriot Bible University. He enjoys computers, science fiction, reading, and coffee. Find out more about the Grace Community School Apprenticeship Program at www.gcsapprenticeship.com