Making Wise Decisions About College (TBB)

The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what the Big Box is all about.


You may be wondering why there’s a cake (wreck) at the top of today’s post. First, because misspelled cakes are funny, and since this particular misspelled cake is related to the topic of this week’s lecture, I wanted to put it there. (Trust me, you’ll be needing the laughs soon enough.) Second, and more importantly, because we all know that sweet, brightly colored frosting can be used to make all sorts of things palatable – even if what’s underneath is laced with poison. Such, unfortunately, is the case with Making Wise Decisions About College (hereafter referred to as MWDAC).

Phillips’ frosting of choice this week is non-traditional education. Many forms of non-traditional education, after all, can be of great benefit when properly used. Phillips also correctly observes that college may not be right for everyone, and that avenues of education not tied to brick-and-mortar schools, such as online classes and distance learning, are likely to grow rapidly in coming years (probably at a much lower price than the traditional on-campus method). As a homeschool graduate who has been immersed in non-traditional education her entire life, this resonates with me – and Phillips knows that. Thus, non-traditional education is the perfect bait, with which Phillips lures unsuspecting homeschooling parents to what’s actually being sold in MWDAC: stay-at-home daughterhood, an extremely narrow view of the sufficiency of Scripture, and his heretical doctrine of male “covering” and priesthood.

Chemically pure Bible

My most patient readers (kudos to you, folks!) will remember that Phillips laid out his view of the sufficiency of Scripture in the very first lecture in this series, How to Think Like a Christian, where we learned that, essentially, he does not believe the Bible is silent on any topic whatsoever:

God has given us everything we need in the Scripture by way of precept (direct command) or pattern (normative examples) or principle (broad conclusions drawn from patterns or precepts)…such that we can wisely live and choose our life…

…every possible subject, including your educational methodology, all you need to go to is the Bible to find the principles, the precepts and the patterns whereby you can build your entire world and life view, and to challenge you that to the extent you are not building your worldview on the Scripture, you are a humanist.[1]

Phillips uses identical language in MWDAC. As I already stated in How to Think Like a Christian[2], the primary way he sustains his view of the silence of Scripture is through his nebulous idea of “principles,” which basically allows him to put forth any idea he can remotely connect to the Bible, then claim it is an “unchanging Biblical principle” which it is sinful to violate. One practical consequence of his view is his advocacy of nouthetic counseling and its founder Jay Adams, whom he has quoted favorably in other lectures, and his corollary distaste for psychology, despite the numerous stories of terrible damage wrought by incompetent “Bible-only” counselors with no knowledge of psychology.

Also visible in MWDAC is Phillips’ devotion to Cornelius Van Til (previously discussed in How to Think Like a Christian), which leads him to refer to non-Christian college professors as “fools” and insinuate that parents should not send their children to secular schools:

And so we need to ask the question, what kind of an education are we talking about. Are we talking about an education for the glory of God, are we talking about one where everything is looked at in the light of Scripture, or are we going to people who the Bible says, there is no knowledge in them. That’s the person who doesn’t believe in God.

This is also intimately related to his view of homeschooling as mandatory for Christian fam-ilies, which I previously explored here. And lest we think that Phillips is pleased with the situation at Christian colleges, he makes quite clear that he isn’t by continually reminding his audience that the environment at most Christian colleges is often no better than at secular schools. Also underlying his position here is the idea that age-segregation (which is part and parcel of the college environment) is inherently evolutionary, which I critiqued here and here.

Apprenticeship in blue (and pink)

420px-Frank_Duveneck_-_The_Cobbler’s_ApprenticeSo since secular schools are staffed by unbelieving “fools” from whom Christians can learn nothing, and Christian schools are just as much dens of iniquity as their secular counterparts, what is a Christian parent to do? Well, aside from distance learning and online programs, which allow students to stay at home under their parents’ authority, Phillips also favorably presents (for boys, at least) the notion of apprenticeship, which he seems to define as an arrangement where a young man lives with a male mentor and learns from him. Now there’s no denying that apprenticeship is a centuries-old practice, and Phillips’ definition of it isn’t that far from the historical one. Nonetheless I have concerns about his system, as it’s missing some key features that would have been assumed in the pre-industrial era Phillips supposedly wishes to emulate.

The central thing we must understand is that, historically, apprenticeship was first and foremost a legal arrangement. Edmund Morgan gives quite a bit of detail on this point in The Puritan Family and even provides a sample contract from 1692 Boston, which is in turn heavily derived from medieval models:

This Indenture witnesseth, that Henry Nap, Son of Joseph Nap, of Boston, in the County of Suffolk, Ship Carpenter, hath put himself, and by these presents doth voluntarily put himself Apprentice to William Stone of Charlstown, Butcher; to learn his Art, after the manner of an Apprentice to serve him from the day of the date hereof, for and during the term of seven years, thence next following: During all which term, the said Apprentice his said Master faithfully shall serve, his secrets keep, his lawful commandments every where obey, He shall do no damage to his said Master, nor seen to be done of others, without letting or giving notice thereof to his said Master: He shall not waste his said Masters Goods, nor lend them unlawfully to any; he shall not commit Fornication, nor contract Matrimony within the said term; at Cards, Dice, or any unlawful Game he shall not play, whereby his Master may have damage with his own Goods or others: He shall not absent himself day or night from his Masters service without his leave, nor haunt Ale house, nor Tavern, but in all things behave himself as a faithful Apprentice ought to do; during all the said term, And the said Master shall use the utmost of his endeavour, to teach or cause to be taught or instructed, his said Aprentice in the Trade or Mystery that he now followeth; and to find and provide for him sufficient meat, drink, apparel, lodging and washing befitting an Apprentice, during all the said term. And for the true performance of all and every the said Covenants and Agreements either of the said parties binds himself unto the other by these presents. In witness whereof, they have interchangeably set their hands the 10th day of April, &c.[3]

It’s easy to see from the above that apprentices and masters had certain responsibilities toward each other. Most pertinent to MWDAC are the master’s. He was obligated to feed, clothe, house and otherwise provide for his apprentice; also, obviously, to actually teach him the trade specified in the contract:

The fact that an apprentice had to be taught a particular trade prescribed the kind of work in which he would ordinarily be employed. If he was to learn, say, the art of a maltster, he could not be occupied regularly in tending sheep or ploughing a field. Occasionally contracts specifically provided against such an eventuality. For example, when Luke Perkins apprenticed himself to Samuel Carter, a shoemaker, he stipulated “that the sayd samuell cartar the maister or his Assignes shall not exceed above six weeks in a year to employ the sayd Luke Perkins from his Calling of a shoemaker unto any other employments.” Although Samuel Buckman’s contract with John Atkinson, a feltmaker, contained no such clause, Buckman recovered damages when it was sworn in court that Atkinson “several times let out Samuel Buckman to husbandry work and employed him a great deal in that work himself.”[4]

In other words, the master could not use the apprentice for free labor around the house while shirking his educational responsibilities, and if he did, the apprentice could petition the court for redress. The master, after all, had actually violated the terms of a binding legal contract.

Today, of course, we no longer have such protective constructs around apprenticeship, since it has largely ceased to exist as an institution. So does Phillips, a trained lawyer, advise parents to draw up a legal contract for their sons if they choose to enter into an apprenticeship? I can’t say for sure. He doesn’t in MWDAC, though conceivably he could have elsewhere. What I can say is that, if he does not advise this, then he is opening the door for all sorts of abuse and neglect by modern-day “masters,” and leaving their apprentices high and dry with few or no legal protections.

Another pertinent fact about historical apprenticeship is that it was not only open to young men:

Apprentices…were usually boys under twenty-one and girls under eighteen who had been placed out by their parents according to the custom discussed already.[5]

The “custom discussed already” Morgan references above proves to be an extremely interesting one in light of Phillips’ beliefs about daughters living under their fathers’ roofs until marriage (emphasis mine):

When a child became an apprentice, he went to live with his master and could not “absent himself day nor night from his Masters service without his leave.” If his parents lived in the same town as his master, he was doubtless able to visit them frequently, especially on Sundays, but I have seen only one contract which specifically provided that he be allowed to do so. Moreover the court records show that a master could recover damages from overfond parents who detained their child from his work. The removal of a child from his parents when he was only fourteen years old or less seems a little strange, in view of the importance which the Puritans attached to family relations. The mere force of custom must have been partly responsible: apprenticeship was the only known way of learning a trade, and since the Middle Ages it had been customary for an apprentice to live with his master, even if his own home stood next door. Yet something more than custom must have been behind the practice, for Puritan children were frequently brought up in other families than their own even when there was no apparent educational advantage involved. Not only were boys put out to learn a trade, but girls were put out to learn housekeeping.

Children left the parental roof not only to live with the masters to whom they were apprenticed, but frequently to live with their schoolmaster. Sewall’s granddaughter attended boarding school in Boston at the age of nine. Moreover, children made long visits in the homes of friends, and not always at their own desire. Sewall recorded in October 1663 that he took his own daughter, then aged thirteen, to live with a family in Rowley and that when he rode home, he had “much adoe to pacify my dear daughter, she weeping and pleading to go with me.” Sewall gave no hint as to why she should not have gone with him. Neither he nor any other New England writer indicated the purpose of these economically unnecessary removals of children from the home, but almost every surviving correspondence of seventeenth-century New England gives evidence that the custom existed.[6]

This should be enough to disprove Phillips’ historical theories all by itself. What makes it even more damning, however, is the fact that the New England Puritans are the group under discussion. In previous lectures, Phillips has claimed that the “fully functional family” was first brought to America by the Puritans, and an essential feature of his “fully functional family” is that the home is the center of a child’s education. However, we can clearly see from the above that the Puritans not only violated nearly every one of Phillips’ “principles” about home-centered education, but felt no need to explain or justify themselves, theologically or otherwise. So once again, Phillips has either completely misread history, or deliberately distorted it for his own purposes. For charity’s sake, I’ll go with the former.

Book-larnin’ is for boys

So if girls are not supposed to be “apprenticed” out to learn housekeeping, what are they supposed to do? Oh, yes, that’s right: stay at home and serve their fathers (though Phillips doesn’t explicitly mention that here):

If you invest your daughter’s time in pursuing a career philosophy, that is where her heart will be. That’s where it’s gonna be. If you invest her time in pursuing virtuous womanhood and all that means, the glory of it, that is where her heart will be. And so when you go to a college, you need to ask, how do they want to invest my daughter’s time? What is their view of the role of men and women? Do they see no distinction? Are they opposed to Biblical concepts of God-honoring patriarchy, of loving multigenerational father-led and directed, mother helpmeet-oriented homes? Because most colleges are. Most colleges oppose that today.

“All that means” in the third sentence is a reference to the patriarchal philosophy of stay-at-home daughterhood, which I explored in-depth here, here and here. Suffice it to say that Phillips believes men, fathers in particular, are the protectors of (and spiritual mediators for) women, and that daughters should live at home under their father’s authority until they marry through a courtship process overseen by, yep, you guessed it, their father. It’s not surprising, then, that the thought of young women going off to college disturbs Phillips greatly, as it places them out from under their father’s roof and thus in an “unprotected” state – an important point given that colleges are usually filled with young, single males.

Also pertinent here are Phillips’ views on women working outside the home. As we learned in The Blessed Marriage, he does not believe this is Biblical because it forces women to “submit” to “authorities” other than their husbands. Thus, when a Christian father sends his daughter off to college to get a degree she would normally use in a career outside the home, he is essentially, in Phillips’ view, throwing in her the path of the world’s “Jezebel spirit” (Phillips’ own words from his annoying little poem The Patriarch), which will tempt her to leave her home and abandon her family. What this view would naturally tend to produce in reality – though Phillips’ supporters would strenuously deny this – is less education for daughters than sons in patriarchal homes.

Another factor that must be taken into account are Phillips’ views on debt:

I said to you, borrower is servant to the lender, and that God says if you can be free, be free indeed, so don’t go into debt. And I would go so far as to say that if your choice involves a debt choice, God doesn’t want you to do it. That’s how serious I think the Bible is about that. Them’s mighty serious words, but that is my understanding of Scripture.

The most obvious application of the above is that since daughters don’t “need” a college education to be wives and mothers (though at least one Christian institution does offer a homemaking degree), it would seem awfully pointless to “waste” such a large quantity of money on someone who isn’t going to get any “use” out of it. Perhaps less obvious, however, is that since Phillips’ statement is not limited to daughters, the options of young men are severely curtailed as well – since almost all traditional options for higher education presently come with staggeringly large price tags, which most students must pay for with loans and scholarships. Small wonder Phillips is pushing apprenticeships and distance learning programs!

Related to this is the revelation that girls are not the only ones Phillips wishes to keep under their parents’ thumbs:

And here’s a point that maybe you haven’t thought about. The decision of when to release a child, and to whom that child will be released, is not the decision of a seventeen-year-old. Well, you think, well I don’t want to ruin my child’s life, I care what they think. Oh, mom and dad, it is so good that you care what they think, it is right before the Lord that you should listen to their heart. That is pleasing to God, it’s right before God that you should listen to them and seek out their desires and seek out their interests. But as long as they’re under the roof of your home, you are accountable before God for the choices that are made. And I can’t tell you how many Christian parents think, well, I’m just gonna let my child decide what they want to do. That is not Biblical, because you can let them do that, but God will personally hold you responsible if you’re a dad. So if your child says, well, I wanna do this, and you say, oh, whatever you want, and it really isn’t a God-honoring choice, you will be held accountable for that choice because God has made you the shepherd of their souls.

In other words, because the father is the final arbiter in the home and accountable to God for the decisions made under his roof, boys’ decisions about college are as much subject to parental veto as girls’ – and it’s not at all hard to see how some parents could take the above as license to be tyrants and dictators in their own homes, under the guise of “shepherding” their children.

Finally, immediately after Phillips’ statement about college for girls comes what’s probably the weirdest moment in MWDAC, in which Phillips describes the unsavory results of sending your daughter to a school which does not uphold his “vision” of gender relations:

And you put your daughter, or your son for that matter, in an environment where they’re getting a sort of quasi-Christian feminism for four years, and your young man’s gonna come out with an emasculated view of the family, and he’s gonna be looking to the wrong kind of girls to get married. Empowered women, not virtuous women. And your daughter, by the way, is going to look to these emasculated men, who have lost their manhood, frankly, because those are the ones they party with, those are their buddies, those are their pals. I’d like to suggest to you that God doesn’t really intend for guys to be buddies and pals with girls, but for the girls to be their sisters in the Lord. And there’s a huge difference, because when a girl is a sister in the Lord, you treat her with honor, you treat her with respect, you understand the principle of women and children first, she’s not your bud, your pal, she is a woman of God, and you treat her like a sister. In fact, you’re careful what you say around her. You use discretion. We’ve lost this concept today.

My first thought after listening to the above was, what does Phillips’ idea of friendship look like? Because if I were to judge only by MWDAC, I would say it doesn’t look very pleasant. Boys are to treat girls not like their “buddies” (i.e., friends) but like their sisters; Phillips goes on to define this as honoring, respecting, and protecting the young lady. The only implication I can draw from this is that honor, respect and protection are exclusive to the brother-sister relationship and NOT part of a normal friendship; after all, if they were, then a platonic male-female friendship would include all the elements Phillips approves of and he would have no grounds to criticize it. And I don’t know about you, but a friendship in which both parties do not honor, respect and protect each other, doesn’t sound like much of a friendship to me at all!

Furthermore, Phillips’ description of men who do not subscribe to his ideas about gender roles as “emasculated,” frankly, just made me laugh…and the fact that it’s coming from the man who helped bring us the oh-so-very-masculine Hazardous Journeys Society, only made it doubly hilarious. So in honor of Phillips’ profound insight, this next one is for you – yes, you – my male readers, all you namby-pamby milquetoast sissy boys who believe in silly girly things like gender equality and the sole mediatorship of Jesus Christ. Clearly, you all need to take some lessons from these guys. Be warned, however, that the following video contains footage of EXTREMELY manly activities. In fact, they’re so manly that they may be too much for the more sensitive among you. So, watch at your own peril, fellas.

What are you implying?

Another way Phillips draws in naïve listeners in MWDAC is with a big dose of the illusion of wiggle room. In other words, to someone who doesn’t know that many of Phillips’ non-negotiables – such as homeschooling, Quiverfull, etc. – are what most other Christians would consider to be debatable issues, it sounds like Phillips allows Christians a great deal of freedom in their children’s educational choices. We can see this best when we look at his assumptions. From the very beginning of the lecture, he simply assumes that his audience is made up entirely of Christian homeschoolers; that they accept his version of the patriarchal family structure and male priesthood; that they agree with him that feminism is in error, etc. It would be easy to miss this, however, if you were not listening to the lecture with the ears of someone who does not share Phillips’ assumptions.

Even in many areas where Phillips nominally allows interpretive freedom, the lines are rather blurry. Take, for instance, his view of debt which I quoted above:

I said to you, borrower is servant to the lender, and that God says if you can be free, be free indeed, so don’t go into debt. And I would go so far as to say that if your choice involves a debt choice, God doesn’t want you to do it. That’s how serious I think the Bible is about that. Them’s mighty serious words, but that is my understanding of Scripture.

Phillips believes it is unbiblical for Christians to take on debt, no questions asked. Okay. I don’t agree with him, but I can see how he got there; and he does, after all, seem to indicate that this is just his non-binding personal opinion at the end of the above paragraph. However, he has made other statements which make it sound like it a bit more than just an opinion – for instance, this one from A Home School Vision of Victory, where he seems to view a lack of indebtedness as a sign of proper Christian separation from the world:

In this best-of-times, worst-of-times world, in this time when on the one hand the world is aborting their children, and you are bringing forth godly children. On the one hand, the world is getting more and more in debt and more and more Christians are saying no to debt, that we want to be free men to serve Jesus Christ, free from the bondage of debt so we can do what’s right. It’s a time of great contrasts, and I believe that God is working through faithful families, fathers and mothers who are committed to seeing a righteous generation rise up, that is there is a hope that we are going to find, if there is to be a generation which will be part of helping America regain the glory that we once had, that must come from the homeschool movement.[7]

So is a Christian who goes into debt sinning and insufficiently godly, or just another Christian with whom Phillips could have a cordial disagreement? It’s hard to tell just from what I’ve presented here, and I’d have to look up more of Phillips’ statements to say for sure. However, given his well-established bad habit of elevating secondary issues to central importance, I wouldn’t put it past him to do that here as well.

All this talk of debt leads directly to another area of ambiguity in MWDAC: medical school.

The medical practice is one of great sacrifice for a man. If you’re going to be a physician, and you’re going to take the normal route that a physician takes, please understand what this means as a family man. If you work in a hospital, understand the implications of being on call a lot. I come from a family of physicians so I can tell you that the typical medical practice is not very family-friendly, not at all. But on the other hand, I know of some fathers who are physicians who have specifically structured their medical practice in such a way so they can shepherd the souls of their children and involve their children in their life work.

509px-Physician_setting_a_dislocated_armNow certainly, on one level, this is just a common-sense observation that doctors often spend a lot of time away from their families. On another, however, there are some interesting tensions with the rest of Phillips’ statements. If a young man wants to become a doctor, given Phillips’ views on debt, how is he supposed to get the requisite training? Medical school doesn’t come cheap, and Phillips himself admitted there was no way that he knew of to become a doctor without going there. So if Phillips believes God never calls Christians to make “debt choices,” what would he do if his son, after much prayer, announced he felt called by God to be a doctor? Tell him his call was not from God? In fact, given Phillips’ parameters, is it even possible for God to call a Christian to be a doctor in today’s society?

Furthermore, though Phillips alludes to some sort of alternative way for a doctor to structure his practice, what happens if a Christian physician does not have this option (and I suspect most will not)? Quit his job? This does not only apply to doctors, but to any profession in which fathers must spend large amounts time away from home. In fact, Phillips has previously said that if a man spends too much time away from his family, he is shirking his responsibilities:

May I suggest to you that a young man who has set his goals on a job that will require him to be fourteen hours away from home each day cannot be a faithful father? It is impossible to properly fulfill your responsibilities as a husband and a dad and not be there with you family. You can’t do it.[8]

Given the above, is it possible for any Christian father in any time-intensive profession – doctor, military serviceman, long-haul truck driver, you name it – to ever meet Phillips’ standards? And if everyone adopted Phillips’ view of patriarchy tomorrow, what would happen? Would professions that require men to spend large chunks of time away from their families still exist? If not, since some of those professions are extremely important – we all need a doctor at some point, and truckers transport huge quantities of our food supply – perhaps it’s time to ask whether Phillips’ patriarchy is toxic to the very fabric of the civilization he purports to be defending.

Life in a hamster ball

619px-Jean-Baptiste_Siméon_Chardin_022Before we close our look at MWDAC, we should take a look at Phillips’ overarching point – which was, mainly, whether Christian homeschoolers, who have embraced age-integrated Christian education up to age 18, should suddenly abandon it and bow to the world’s system of age-segregated secular college. Of course, if we don’t believe that age-segregated secular education is inherently evil, this question answers itself with a huge, resounding “Huh?”, because Phillips’ concerns are based on premises we do not accept. In fact, except for a few statements in which Phillips said traditional college could sometimes be the right choice, I’d say he spent most of the lecture selling nothing more or less than the isolation of children (or at least girls) from cradle to marriage, in a cloister tightly controlled by their parents.

Even there, however, we run once again into the illusion of wiggle room. A few throwaway lines about traditional college being acceptable under certain circumstances, do not diminish the force of Phillips’ many interwoven caveats. Remember, folks, God doesn’t like debt. Lots of college professors are atheists, and we all know how debauched dorm life is. They’ll teach your daughters (who really shouldn’t be out from under your roof anyway) about gender equality and emasculate your sons. And oh yes, don’t forget, age-segregation is Darwinistic and besides, haven’t you already spent the last 18 years following the “Hebrew” model rather than the “Greek” one? What changes after age 18?

I found myself wondering, while listening to an hour and a half of warnings like the above, what kind of backflips would be required to make a traditional college path acceptable to Phillips. They may be technically possible, but even so they’d likely be extremely convoluted and probably unavailable to most families. So in spite of Phillips’ nominal acceptance of traditional college, I have to conclude that the bulk of MWDAC is decidedly against it, and it would be easy for an incautious listener to walk away thinking that traditional college was flat-out unacceptable for Christians.

Note well, that I am NOT saying non-traditional education paths are wrong, unhealthy or automatically isolationist. Many of them can be quite innovative and work extremely well for some children. However, if your only reason for directing your child away from a more traditional path is to prevent them from encountering other points of view and keep them in a tiny bubble of your own making, without which they’ll (supposedly) lose their faith and their virginity – then I must inform you, if you’ll forgive a shameless reworking of Shakespeare, that this is such stuff as cults are made on.

[2]And this is exactly why Phillips can claim that the Bible speaks, often in detail, to every possible problem. If he frames the issue broadly enough, he can make it apply to just about anything; and if you disagree with him about how the broader question should be specifically applied, you are denying “unchanging Biblical principles” and are thus “thinking like a humanist.”

[3]Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 120-121.

[4]Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 122.

[5]Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 120.

[6]Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 75-77.

3 comments on “Making Wise Decisions About College (TBB)

  1. Jonathan says:

    Am I the only one to find irony in the fact that Phillips advocates not sending one’s daughters to school so that the father can “protect her, and that “apprenticeship” as a home maker is a better option, given the relationship that has been revealed? Basically, the woman that he had a relationship with worked for his wife as a nanny. So Phillips personally showed how apprenticeship can be just as dangerous (if not more so) than traditional employment. Add to that the fact that he advocates girls stay at home and help their fathers and further their father’s vision, while at the same time he… yeah you see where this is going.

    • Hester says:

      Am I the only one to find irony in the fact that Phillips advocates not sending one’s daughters to school…given the relationship that has been revealed?

      No. 🙂

  2. […] leaders in the Christian Homeschool Movement — most notably Voddie Baucham, Reb Bradley, Doug Phillips, and Bill Gothard — have parroted for years. (The Institute for Biblical Counseling and […]

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