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How to Influence the World

This has been the quest of many individuals and many groups throughout the history of mankind. The efforts usually fall into one of three categories, or a combination of the three. One tried and true method is force. Force can compel others to comply with the will of the one who wields it. But the gains of force are usually ephemeral. Another way to influence the world is through wealth. Wealth has the virtue of not requiring force, but, like force, it is ephemeral. The third effort is the use of ideas. Although the use of force and wealth has not been abandoned in the effort to influence the world, now more than ever, in this information age, world influence is being won on the plane of ideas, and ideas that win are usually enduring.

In 1937, in an interview with H. G. Wells, Joseph Stalin said "Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed."1 Although we might have qualms with the way education is envisioned by Stalin, it is clear that education is a tool by which to shape the value systems of generations to come. Through the influences and influencers around us, we learn to see the world. Education is central to that process.

Studies show that college is one of the most important times in the human cycle for shaping ones worldview. Famous studies by Trent and Madsker,2 Astin,3 and Pascarella and Terrenzini4 have all shown that college students go through significant and large shifts in how they view the world. If one were to have the goal of influencing the world, one would have to start with influencing the academy. And educational leaders shape the academies that shape the students that shape the world.

As the household of faith, we do not seek to impose ourselves by force, to win temporary allegiance through wealth, or even to coerce thought through the imposition of ideas. We know that it takes more than ideas to change the world. It takes a fundamental transformation in outlook that only faith can provide. But we also know that "faith comes by hearing," and because we know that faith comes by hearing, we seek to gain a hearing for the gospel wherever we go. In some circumstances, we do this by the open and unabashed presentation of the gospel. In other circumstances, where such direct presentations are prohibited, we seek to win a hearing through our admirable lives, our excellent service, and our valuable ideas. Although we cannot present the gospel directly through education in China, it is nevertheless a chance to win a hearing for the gospel through shaping leaders who recognize our admirable lives, our excellent service, and the value of our ideas.

This is a call to think strategically about the future. We need to shape the educational leaders of tomorrow, who will, in turn, shape the next generation of the leaders of society. We need programs that will help us prepare for these strategic positions. It is in this spirit that Azusa Pacific University has created the Global Higher Education PhD program, about which I will explain more in my next post. It is a program that is intentionally crafted to help prepare the next generation of educational leaders. For more information, visit the Azusa Pacific website:


1 Joseph Stalin and H. G. Wells (September 1937; reprinted October 1950). "Marxism VS. Liberalism: An Interview." New York, New Century Publishers.

2 Trent, James W., And Medsker, Leland L. (1968). Beyond High School. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

3 Astin, Alexander W. (1977). Four Critical Years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

4 Pascarella, Ernest T., And Terenzini, Patrick T. 1991. How College Affects Students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

John William Medendorp

John William Medendorp is a PhD candidate in Michigan State University's Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education program. John is a researcher on global higher education and has extensive experience working internationally. He has conducted dissertation research in China over the last three years and will soon publish on the topic …View Full Bio

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