(Re)-reading Wendell Berry on vocation and community (part 2)

From Look and See, documentary on Wendell Berry (2016)

I am afraid that some amount of doubt may have crept into this project since my last post on Wendell Berry and his definition of community.  My argument in that post was simple: it would be good if professionals, and those who train them, might spend at least a few moments thinking through the implications of Berry’s ideal community along with his critique on modernity — both are described in his 1969 essay, “The loss of the future.”

The doubt crept in after I took my own advice and re-read Berry’s 2014 essay, “Our deserted country,” which can be found in the 2015 collection entitled Our Only World.

The essay contains the following definition of vocation:

The idea of vocation attaches to work a cluster of other ideas, including devotion, skill, pride, pleasure, the good stewardship of means and materials.  Here we have returned to intangibles of economic value. When they are subtracted, what remains is “a job,” always implying that work is something good only to escape: “Thank God it’s Friday.”

Continue reading

(Re)-reading Wendell Berry on community and vocation (part 1)

Wendell Berry (Photo by Guy Mendes)
Wendell Berry (Photo by Guy Mendes)

One definition of  “community” that I have become fond of lately comes from a quote by Wendell Berry.  You don’t have to look very hard for a good quote by Wendell Berry about almost anything.  I could get lost on Berry’s BrainyQuote page and never find my way out.  The connection between vocation and community is strong throughout Berry’s work, but David Guthrie’s recent post, which highlights the many shortcomings of our academic communities, has convinced me that  Berry has something important to say about this connection.  My plan is to look at two of Berry’s essays, the first (in this post) published in 1969 and the second (next time) published in 2015, that contain definitions of community and vocation that may very well be… definitive.  Continue reading

Doing my job and doing it right (Part 2)

Francois Clemmons at StoryCorp, March 2016

In my last post (what seems like ages ago now!), I tried to argue that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical, In the Heights, is a special type of story that engages important  themes related to vocational discernment.  Specifically, I was interested in the interplay of the particular work one does, the place where the work is done, and how that work supports the flourishing of individuals and relationships in a community.  In that post, I also promised to return to another story told by Mr. Miranda — not Hamilton — to support my claim that Miranda is a remarkable modern explicator of vocation.  If not the greatest!  But first, allow me a brief detour to explain how Miranda’s short musical, 21 Chump Street, captured my enthusiasm as something useful for engaging students with vocational discernment.

It was an otherwise typical Friday morning in March (2016!) while I was driving my daughter to school.   The weekly installment of StoryCorp on NPR moved me to tears when Francois Clemmons told the story of how Fred Rogers had approached him in the late 1960’s to ask him to play the role of a police officer, Officer Clemmons, on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Continue reading

Doing my job and doing it right: Part 1

What if I told you that the greatest modern explicator of  “all things vocation” isn’t Frederick Buechner, Parker Palmer, or Wendell Berry… but is, in fact, Lin-Manuel Miranda?  “Of course!” you would say, because everyone (especially our editor, David Cunningham) knows there is a Hamilton lyric for everything.  If the shoe fits . . . wear it.

I’m sure that a great blog post is just waiting to be written, connecting the story of Alexander Hamilton—especially in Miranda’s retelling—to vocation. That may come later; meanwhile, two examples of Miranda’s earlier work are worth exploring.  My larger topic is professional formation — and how college faculty might use certain stories to begin conversations with students about what it means to be a professional. If I’m doing my job, and I’m doing right, what exactly am I doing? Continue reading

Is that vocation on your résumé?

Students at my university take a course in their final semester called “The Civil Engineering Profession.” Most of our time is spent reviewing requirements for professional licensure, along with different opportunities for employment in the public and private sector.  These are some of my favorite discussions to have with students; they represent one of the few spaces within the undergraduate engineering curriculum where students might imagine themselves in different roles while working for an incredibly varied array of potential employers.

The real ‘aha!’ moment for me occurred in an unexpected place. resume_review I was filling in for a colleague on sabbatical at the time, and the one class period that I was not looking forward to dealt with résumés.  It’s usually not a good sign when my very first act in preparing a new lecture for class involves a Google search! Fortunately, while browsing Purdue’s On-line Writing Lab (OWL), I discovered an excellent resource.  (The sheer volume of information was overwhelming; I realized that I might end up spending fifteen minutes discussing how to mix serif and sans-serif fonts…)

My previous experience reviewing resumes with students suggests that the hardest part for everyone is the statement of one’s objective — that is, what the résumé-writer is hoping will result from others’ encounters with the document. Consider this example  Continue reading

More than merely “useful”

A recent editorial in Scientific American provides a direct rebuke to politicians who would cut funding for degree programs in the humanities:scientific_american_-_october__9_27_2016_6_08_07_am

Promoting science and technology education to the exclusion of the humanities may seem like a good idea, but it is deeply misguided... [S]tudying the interaction of genes or engaging in a graduate-level project to develop software for self-driving cars should not edge out majoring in the classics or art history.

This might not be what one would expect from a science journal. Of course, a magazine founded in 1845—back when the first and last letters of STEM were still at the heart of a liberal arts education—could be expected to raise questions about the current political winds that seek to minimize student engagement with the humanities.  At the same time, though, there is a parallel argument contained in this (and many other) “Save the Humanities” appeals that those of us interested in vocation need to think about more critically.  Consider exactly why the SA editors believe the humanities are so important:

The need to teach both music theory and string theory is a necessity for the U.S. economy to continue as the preeminent leader in technological innovation.

I have absolutely no doubt that this is true.  The article continues by pointing to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg as prime examples of how a sprinkling of the humanities in just the right spot will go a long way towards achieving unparalleled success.  But is success in the marketplace really our most compelling reason Continue reading

Just the facts? Or might honesty matter as well?

20160130_172459We might differ in our views about the sources of our callings, and about the exact nature of a call. But can anyone deny that honesty ought to be an important part of living out one’s vocation?

It seems obvious enough, but someone apparently needs to tell that to the engineers at Volkswagen—especially given the recent “diesel dupe” scandal.

I’m convinced that this controversy has serious implications for vocation. Educators are uniquely poised to either support or subvert honest dealings between the environment, our social systems, and the economy. The recent scandal suggests that we can’t settle for a “just the facts” approach to education. 20160130_172429We need to think more about professional formation with respect to the obligations that we have to one another — not to mention our obligations to the Earth that sustains us.

My interests in this story are both personal and professional. As the proud owner of a 2003 Jetta TDI (built years before the models in question), I have endured great suffering to keep this vehicle on the road. I had been looking forward to upgrading to a newer, shinier, cleaner-burning diesel Jetta, preferably one with working A/C (did I mention I live in Florida?), and one  Continue reading