She’s all over the internet these days: soft brown eyes, deep in thought, with beautiful, shiny black . . . fur. Lulu is a service dog from Susquehanna who was enrolled in the CIA’s “puppy class” to be trained for explosive detection and other K-9 tasks. She has been showing up all over the web during the last few days for having failed to make the grade in her training.
It seems that Lulu was showing signs that she just wasn’t interested in the work. She was easily distracted; even when her trainers provided more incentives (in the form of food or play), she just wasn’t enjoying herself. She wanted to sniff for rabbits, rather than bombs. She wanted work that provided Continue reading →
The language of “vocational discernment” is finding a foothold in higher ed these days, but occasionally some critics have asked whether this is just a fancy way of talking about “deciding what to do in life.” Institutions may have adopted new language, but aren’t they simply doing what they’ve always done—namely, helping students to choose a major and to embark on a career? Or does “vocational reflection and discernment” really point to a genuinely different way of helping students think about their future lives? I believe that it does, and that one way to understand this difference is to think about playing catch.
I don’t usually find myself turning to sports for metaphors, but I think this one works. For most sports, there are certain things that one can do alone: learning about the game, undergoing physical conditioning, and watching the techniques of the greats. In some cases, one can even practice a sport alone: go for a run, hit tennis balls against a wall, or throw softballs and baseballs into one of those “pitch-back” nets. But all athletes know that these experiences are not the same as Continue reading →
James Clark, writing on the blog of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, offers some thoughtful commentary on the role of God in discussions of vocation. The post includes a number of references to At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, the first collection published by the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project.
At a recent debate among candidates for President, one participant (who, for the purposes of this blog, will remain nameless) made the following statement:
I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.
Said candidate has been criticized on many fronts. Philosophers actually make considerably more than welders, if a “philosopher” is someone who teaches philosophy. And of course, anyone with a bachelor’s degree (in philosophy or anything else) will earn considerably more over a lifetime than someone without one.
In addition, several commentators have wryly asked why the candidate’s own academic background had not taught him the difference between “less” and “fewer.”
(I suppose that I’ve partially identified him by using “him”; however, I’m also guessing that few readers will have imagined that Carly Fiorina made this swipe, since her own undergraduate philosophy major seems to have prepared her pretty well for her career.)
These quibbles aside, what particularly struck me about the above quotation is the use of the word vocational. The last two decades have seen huge changes in the language of vocation, such that — in the world of higher education, at least — the phrase “vocational education” is no longer so frequently used when referring to trade-school training for work such as welding, cooking, or diesel mechanics. But as this candidate’s comment suggests, that usage is still very common in the larger political and cultural realm.
This should serve as a reminder, to those of us deeply involved in the campus conversation about vocation, that our work may not always translate easily into the wider public context. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use the word vocation; it does mean, however, that we may want to be a bit more intentional and active as to how we define it, employ it, and explicate it.
The terminological problem also suggests that when we think about “alternative” language for vocational thinking (call and calling, lives of meaning and purpose, and so on), we might not want to think of this as merely optional. At this juncture in history — when the word vocational is still being used (and heard) as referring primarily to trade schools — we should generally seek to employ a wider range of vocabulary. This will help us to get the message out beyond our immediate contexts.
Over the next several years, a group of about forty academic leaders will be involved in a series of projects designed to create new scholarly resources on vocation and vocational exploration. This project is sponsored by NetVUE, which is administered by the Council of Independent Colleges. Our work is made possible by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
While we are also publishing journal articles and several books, we are aware that this project is part of an ongoing conversation about vocation as an important dynamic in undergraduate education. We want to support and nurture that conversation by Continue reading →
Since the inception of higher education, American colleges and universities have always claimed to be focused on the development of the whole student. The contribution by Quincy Brown in collection At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education focuses on student activity outside the classroom—particularly advising, athletics, residential life, Greek life, and campus ministry—as places where vocational discernment should and does occur. The nature and quality of these encounters are shaped by such diverse themes such as ritual (including rituals that are not specifically ecclesial), contest (athletic, artistic, or academic), and image (the outward signs of membership in a particular campus community or culture). These themes that are not always addressed and “unpacked” in a classroom setting. He also draws on John Wesley’s conversion (and the Wesleyan understanding of transforming the world through a disciplined life) as a source for understanding the importance of co-curricular experiences for shaping our students’ vocational discernment experiences. Other sources for reflection on this theme include James Fowler, Sharon Parks, Victor Turner, Kathleen Manning, and Larry Braskamp.