Biden’s inauguration occasioned another flurry of internet chatter and reflections on his often used quotation, “when hope and history rhyme,” from Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy, a version of Sophocles Philoctetes. Making “hope and history rhyme” has always s been an inspiring phrase for me, but, as I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the literary genre of tragedy and its usefulness to vocation, I was struck by how apt tragedy is for educating us in the type of civic engagement that lines of Heaney and the young poet Amanda Gorman call us to.Continue reading
America faces an unprecedented combination of challenges—a pandemic, historic economic disparity, a racial reckoning, and the threat of global climate change. Moments of crisis like this test our most basic moral foundations; the four major crises we face now challenge us to embrace the two fundamental elements of morality: empathy and honesty.
As we teach in the shadow of these crises, we must cultivate a capacious empathy, which would embrace everyone, especially those with whom we struggle to agree or even understand, and an ardent demand for honesty, first from ourselves and second of those whom we engage. If we are to overcome these crises—and the next should we endure the combination now facing us—we must rediscover these two core principles of all moral behavior and use them to forge a way forward.
Central to our ability to build relationships is our capacity to feel empathy for others. (This is a contested claim; I prefer a virtue ethic, so I lean toward this view, but here is one example of the debate: “Does Empathy Guide or Hinder Moral Action?”). We must recognize the basic humanity, at a bare minimum, of others, if we are to enter into the relationships that morality governs. Without empathy, other human beings are merely objects to be manipulated or avoided.Continue reading
The one time I tried to teach a course explicitly on vocation, I landed right in column B of Catherine Aird’s famous quote from His Burial Too: “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” The warning I took from my failure was to respect the limits of the physical universe and admit that I can’t teach a decent course in comparative theology while simultaneously doing justice to the literature and themes of vocational studies. On the other hand, it seemed possible to take a micro—or perhaps stealth?—approach to teaching vocation: making small changes that would integrate a vocational perspective into the work the students and I already had to do.
In an essay on “midrange reflection,” Patricia O’Connell Killen writes compellingly and consolingly that it is the “small, incremental changes in [teachers’] practice” that “cumulatively contribute to mastery and excellence while at the same time strengthening the teacher’s sense of vocation and clarity of purpose.” Gradually, if we persist, those small reflective steps “help faculty develop both self-possession and a fluid freedom congruent with their deepest vocational impulses.” Importantly, this kind of ongoing reflection and strategizing requires a sense of play, as “insights emerge, and events are interpreted differently as alternative possible meanings and missed dimensions are confronted.”
So here, especially for others who value vocational formation but can’t squeeze one more text into their courses, are strategies that seem to work—or, it might be better to say, are worth playing with.Continue reading
This fall, St. Olaf received a NetVUE grant that supported faculty and staff to participate in communities of practice, exploring ways we can be more intentional about how we integrate vocation into our equity and inclusion efforts, our new general education curriculum, co-curricular activities, and other moments in our students’ academic lives. I signed up for the Vocation and the First Year Seminar group, partly out of curiosity to learn: How can we have meaningful conversations about vocation with students in their first year of college?
Reflecting on readings from Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose, and Identity in the Multi-faith Academy (ed. David S. Cunningham 2019), my colleagues shared ways that they mentor students to think about what they don’t want to do as a way to find a path for themselves; ways that encountering difference can help students clarify their values; and ways of cultivating affective ways of knowing.
But one colleague interrupted the conversation about how to integrate vocation in FYS to ask why: “Should we be talking about vocation with first-year students?” Is cultivating curiosity to explore new subjects and ideas more important than adding pressure to eighteen year olds to choose a track for a major and career? Does vocation really need to be one more thing in the bucket, along with how to find a book in the library, how to get a tutor, and how to get involved in a club? The question is a fair one.Continue reading
A surprising piece in Inside HigherEd this week praises the work of mischief-makers. The authors make a case to other deans and directors to consider hiring people who are willing to shake things up and take risks. During this time of crisis and tumultuous change, we may be tempted to stick with what seems safe and known. But in fact the opposite is what is most needed now, they argue.
Their understanding of constructive mischief-making relies upon a certain set of virtues. The whole essay is an exercise in thinking about these interrelated qualities — “having a bent for mischief isn’t sufficient on its own,” they warn. Higher education needs more people who possess the traits of “creative playfulness” and an “impulse to nudge against tradition”; who naturally embody “a mix of empathy and impatience”; and who have a sense of humour and “an ability to connect to others from the heart.”Continue reading
In this final blog post on care in the academy, I want to highlight Wofford College’s self-care pedagogy workshops for instructors who teach incoming students in their first semester at the college.
This work, funded by our 2020 NetVUE Program Development Grant (entitled Self Care Pedagogy for First-Year Students), supports sustainable practices for both students and instructors. Instructors applied to participate in our workshop. The opportunity to create and implement professional development began with a vision and these guiding questions:
- How do we take the concept of care beyond the superficial aspect of “self-help” genres?
- How do we move self-care to deep care and sustain that care in our vocations and in our lives?
- Do we have the audacity to add care to our professional development and to our classrooms?
In early December, NetVUE hosted a webinar on “The Scientific Vocation in a Time of Crisis.” Judy Ericksen, associate professor of occupational therapy at Elizabethtown College, offered these reflections about how COVID-19 has created an “active learning lab” for students.
I teach in a program that attracts students who have decided early on what they want to do with their lives: they want to help people. They are often drawn to the health professions by personal experiences with disease or disability, and understand becoming an occupational therapist as a calling, something they were drawn to at an early age.
As they move through our program, which is five years in length, they are required to reconcile their vision of occupational therapy with the reality of today’s healthcare environment and this is often not an easy task for them. My advisees who question this early calling seem to fall into two categories—those who discover that health care, e.g. medical care no longer fuels their passion—and those who discover that while their calling came from the heart, being an occupational therapist also requires good use of the head. We describe our profession as being an art and a science and often it is the science that is more challenging for them.Continue reading
A poem by Jocelyn McWhirter (with apologies to Clement C. Moore)
With the aim of spreading some holiday cheer, Jocelyn McWhirter wrote this poem last month and has generously shared it with NetVUE. “It concerns an essential worker who takes his vocation seriously,” she says. Jocelyn is Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College.Continue reading
There are good reasons to be wary of leaders when they invoke the “ancient Chinese wisdom” that in crisis lies opportunity. It often portends dramatic or controversial decisions that have not been sufficiently considered, but are now seemingly justified by the needs of the moment. A dead give-away that such thinking is at work is the gleam in the eye of the one so relishing the moment. Such opportunism is not always but often enough at odds with long-standing mission.
But today’s Inside HigherEd includes an opinion piece that exemplifies a different kind of opportunism.Continue reading
We live at a moment in history when making decisions about who to believe is harder than ever. We have more access to information than at any time in history, but our care in consuming information has not caught up with our ability to create it. Public officials rationalize using “alternative facts” to make decision. Modern science falls prey to the whims of popular opinion or motivated reasoning, but conspiracy theories attract millions of Americans, including how they think about COVID-19. Studies show that students have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction on the internet and the rhetoric since the election has shown this study to be prescient. We are suffering what some call “truth decay.” Lines demarcating differing realms of knowledge are so blurred that everyone is free to “believe what you will.”
We need to encourage critical thinking (rhetorically and in the classroom), but we need more. In navigating the information deluge, we need to think about what beliefs merit our faith and what ideas merit our trust. Attention to the ethics of belief is crucial to not merely surviving these tumultuous times but thriving.Continue reading