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Every year lists come out comparing American institutes of higher learning. Schools are judged on every possible level: test scores, cafeteria quality, standard of living, graduation rate, availability of professors, athletic programs, and a bunch of less flattering cultural things.

One of the most popular ways to judge schools is by the amount of drinking and the intensity of the partying. The Princeton Review alone has four such “extracurricular” categories: “Lots of Beer” vs. “Got Milk?”; “Lots of Hard Liquor” vs. “Scotch and Soda, Hold the Scotch”; “Reefer Madness” vs. “Don’t Inhale”; and “Party Schools” vs. “Stone-Cold Sober Schools.”

Having gone to a school that typically made the “Got Milk?” and “Don’t Inhale” lists, I am familiar with the strange feeling that these are actually slights. We might wish to believe that universities known for their hard-partying and drunkenness would be seen as less appealing than their more clear-headed, less-drunk counterparts, but that’s just not the case.

Amazingly, much of our culture is taught to think — by a kind of peer pressure disguised as intellectualism — that sobriety and its accompanying parties are not admirable things; that they are, in fact, “lame.”

This whole backwards comparison came back to me when I saw an article ranking “the most boring schools in each state.”

Of course I don’t give much credence to these kinds of things. There will always be people saying foolish things and putting it on the internet. There will always be weird perspectives and upside down opinions. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this article is really an outlier.

The piece lists 50 of the most “boring” schools, one from each state. I know that nearly half of these colleges are openly Christian.

And while some of us might be proud that these schools have reputations for what might be called “clean living,” pieces like this actually intend to embarrass the schools and their students, shaming them into a lower standard.

The article reads:

eCollegeFinder used College Prowler’s ranking system to determine which schools are the ‘tamest’ in each state. More like LAMEST. This is useful, because now you know which of your friends to never visit at school. Actually, scratch that. If any of your friends attend Loser U., just remove them from your life. Immediately. You don’t need that kind of negativity.

This sort of thing doesn’t really offend me, but at the same time it’s hard to just brush off. For two reasons: 1) these sorts of rankings really influence how teenagers decide what schools to go to, and 2) it paints Christian schools as “boring.”

Real stigma

I’m not sure if older generations had these sorts of data-based, non-academic ranking systems, but I know they actually mattered to me and my peers. Sure, things like quality of education, financial aid, and prettiness of the campus mattered more, but the more obscure survey-based rankings really do affect decisions.

You want to know what kind of school you’re getting into, not just academically, but culturally. You want to go to a “fun” school. A school with lots of “freedom.” A school where you can “experiment” and “grow.”

So when reputable sources like The Princeton Review — and less reputable sources like College Prowler — rank schools according to alcohol consumption and partying, and then friends and websites tell you you’ll have the most fun at schools where these things are common, it plays into your decision making.

My school was definitely teased for its “tameness” — it’s comparable “innocence” — which shouldn’t have bothered me, but sometimes it did.

Such teasing and harassment begins in high school, before students even begin applying to college, and it affects them to varying degrees. Now, this wouldn’t matter if typical peer-pressure and the arc of popularity didn’t lean toward wild parties, but they very often do.

It’s too bad that some kid who’s thinking of going to Wheaton or Biola will feel embarrassed about it. It’s too bad that a Spring Arbor or Seattle Pacific applicant will know the nagging feeling that if she goes to one of those schools, she may be in danger of having less “fun.”

The embarrassment would be misplaced. The nagging would be wrong. But that doesn’t make the feelings any less real.

Christianity is not boring

The more searing thing about these rankings are what they imply — or downright proclaim — about Christian college: that they’re boring.

If not getting blind drunk every weekend makes one boring, perhaps they’re right. If not burning couches in the street is synonymous with “lameness,” perhaps these schools really are lame. (Sidenote: I don’t say this as a matter of pride, but, to be fair, some students get blind drunk and light things on fire at Christian schools too).

I went to a Christian school — though it didn’t make the “most boring” list — and I rarely felt bored. It certainly isn’t a word I’d use to describe my experience. In fact, I’d call my undergraduate experience very fun and free.

The problem is that when we define “fun” and “freedom” as the opportunity — even the prevalence — of drunken ragers, we hugely limit the scope of what could ever be fun or freeing. Christianity — and certainly Christian education — could never be fun or freeing by this definition.

But, in reality, Christian schooling can be a lot of fun. In my experience, it exposed me to a lot of opportunities. It gave me a lot of room to experiment. And, frankly, if I wanted to get hammered every night and go to parties, I absolutely could have done that. The difference at Christians schools (generally speaking) is that those kinds of activities aren’t painted as the funnest options available.

If the funnest things going at your school is a alcohol-infused party that many won’t be able to remember, perhaps that school is the one lacking fun and freedom. And if a Christian school — or any school, for that matter — allows you to have fun without the hangover, they’re probably doing something right. Wouldn’t you rather go there, even if it’s labeled “boring?”

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