Culture War: Aggieland versus Baylor

Yesterday at Philadelphia Biblical University (92 kids sponsored, by the way!) Ben and I had dinner with the director of student life.  She asked me if there was a place I love to play more than any other.  ”Texas A&M,” I answered without hesitation.  She seemed a little surprised so I explained why.

Texas A&M is a school with a fearless culture of participation.  I know from having an Aggie for a father that students are indoctrinated into this culture. They’re told that Aggies don’t sit at football games, that it’s not a fight song but a war hymn, that it’s t.u. and not U.T. and they learn a secret language made up of hand signals and strange words like “whoop”, “hump” and “hullaballoo caneck caneck” – and I don’t even know if that’s spelled right because, how could I, I’m not an Aggie?

Students at Texas A&M don’t see bonfires and homecoming and football games as elective.  These are things real Aggies do and if you’re not willing to assimilate into that kind of culture, to give yourself over to that kind of involvement, well, then you can go down the road to Baylor and get a fine education and do whatever the heck you want outside of the classroom.  You can sit at football games, huddled around with the folks from your sorority, and have no idea what the score is.  Seriously, Baylor will score and a large portion of the crowd won’t react at all, because they didn’t see it. But don’t try that crap at Texas A&M – you’ll be deported from Aggieland real quick like.

And this makes for a very different kind of student body.  Aggies aren’t generally afraid of being judged by their peers for making some noise, for showing a little enthusiasm, and – this is radical – actually singing along.  In short, they participate.  Fully.  It’s what’s accepted (expected) by their culture – you’re a dork if you keep your butt in the seat and your mouth shut.  WHOOOOP!

But at Baylor (my alma mater), the culture is a bit different.  At Baylor, you generally don’t stand without being told to, sing along without being bullied into it.  It’s a culture of non-participation. Great education – fantastic! – but the most apathetic and stoic student body I’ve ever played for…four times.  Ever.  In seven years.  And I’m not the only one who’s noticed: Shane and Shane, Ginny Owens, and Bebo Norman have all gone to Waco with me and commented on the chilliness of the crowd.

At A&M the crowd is deafening.  At Baylor the crowd is texting.  That’s the impact of culture on behavior.

Why is it that smaller schools are more likely – in my experience – to have a culture more like Aggieland’s.  At Philadelphia Biblical University, Emmaus Bible College, Taylor University – these places are so small that a student can literally know half of the student body by name.  Maybe there’s comfort in that, the ability to loosen up a bit. Maybe it’s not comfort at all but a more positive (for an artist) form of peer pressure forcing students to conform to an expectation of exuberance.  I don’t know, but exuberant participation does seem more common at smaller schools.

But somehow A&M pulls off the same sort of participation culture with – geez, how many students now?

So, I’m thinking about the kind of culture we’re creating in my neighborhood, in my church community, and family.  Can we even create a culture? Or does it just happen?

An entire culture of enthusiasm and participation is downright miraculous. Have you found that kind of place/people?  Brag a little.  Who? Where? What’s it like?

Oh, and sic ‘em bears.  (I just raised a bear claw high in a crowded airport.  Yes, I did.)

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I’m getting on a plane to Indiana now Then I’ll drive to Illinois.  I’ll join the conversation here when I arrive there.  See you this evening.