Familismo, success, and service to others

In my last post, I considered how approaching students of color from a deficit perspective (focusing on what preparation, skills, motivations, or resources they might lack) can be harmful to them and detrimental to the mentoring relationship, especially in the situation when the mentor is white. This focus does not recognize the assets that students have and which they bring with them to campus. Tara Yosso has identified six distinct forms of capital forming what she has termed “community cultural wealth,” a robust framework for thinking about the student experience. This model moves away from a more narrow, individualized understanding of assets and capital to a broader understanding, one based on the history and lived experience of communities of color. In this post, I want to focus on two forms, aspirational capital and familial capital, and how they come together to help students in navigating the world of college (and beyond). As David Pérez has shown in his work, this is especially the case with Latino male college students, who put a high premium on family (or familismo).

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Vocation and the folly of “time management”

What are we assuming about time when we consider our vocations or work to help students in discerning their callings?

The metaphors we use when we talk about time reveal some of those assumptions. In a recent episode of On Being, Krista Tippett talked with Oliver Burkeman about time, specifically all the ways that we try to organize time when we engage in the project of “time management.” It puts us into a very strange relationship with time. Burkeman’s observations are a helpful reminder of something with which existentialists have wrestled for over a century.

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Seeking the Courage to Know What Matters

A reflection exercise based on a series of aphorisms

As we begin a new academic year in which we are connecting with students remotely or meeting some of them on campus, we share an overwhelming sense of unpreparedness, stress, and uncertainty. This unprecedented moment is the perfect opportunity to invite students to reflect on how they can meet the demands of our time and find meaning and purpose through courage. 

There is no better time to encourage students to talk about the challenges they face at home and on campus, in their personal lives, and in their relationships with others. We can support students by reminding them that despite the many challenges and limitations they are facing, courage is the virtue through which they can transcend their fears and doubts in order to reach new possibilities. Courage is what makes us able to make possible the impossible.

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Clarity of mission

In a week when thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest, two essays about the state of higher education used provocative, poster-worthy questions for their titles. The problem with rhetorical questions is that they can have the effect of smugly shutting down a conversation. These two essays, however, have the opposite effect: they open up the set of concerns and direct us to think carefully about how we want to proceed. Both, in their own way, call us back to a sense of institutional mission.

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Confucian Metaphors for Discerning Meaning

For those of us who care about guiding students along the path to finding meaning in their lives and work, it seems obvious why a person would want to find such a path. Unfortunately, a big part of that guidance is just convincing students that striving for “meaning” is worthwhile in the first place. That’s because to discern a more meaningful way of life, you must be willing to admit that some ways of life are not as meaningful, and thus not worth pursuing. Even more complicated yet, the ones most worth pursuing will almost certainly require accepting unpleasantness and constraint. Job number one in vocational discernment is identifying why you should even care to “aim higher.” Some metaphors from the early Confucian thinker Mencius (or Mengzi. who would have understood himself as a Ruist rather than as a Confucian) are helpful in working through this problem with students.

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The importance of what we care about

Prospective students and their families have a lot of factors to consider when looking at colleges. Campus facilities, program offerings, financial aid packages, location, and that amorphous element referred to as “fit” — these are often what drive decision-making when it comes to the college search.

It’s an important decision, indeed it’s a crucial moment in one’s much larger vocational journey. And it’s a decision that is made under the specter of a kind of skepticism about whether the price-tag is even worth it. “What is the value of a college education these days, anyway?”

In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Jim Troha, the President of Juniata College in Pennsylvania, advised students and families to consider value in an altogether different way, by asking, instead, what are the values of a particular college? Continue reading

The Meaning and Method of a Woodworker’s Madness

Roy Underhill: A Quarter Century of Subversive Woodworking
Roy Underhill – a subversive woodworker? 

The first time I ever saw anyone use a hand plane to work a piece of  rough-sawn lumber into something useful was in Tanzania, on the island of Ukerewe, in 1998. I was part of a decidedly unskilled — at least with regards to building construction — team of newly sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteers helping with a local Habitat for Humanity project while on our way from Dar es Salaam to our sites around Lake Victoria.

kiln
Brick kiln on the island of Ukerewe, Tanzania.

The house we were helping to build was made from red clay bricks that were recently fired. The kiln was built right next to the house using soil that was dug from a large open pit.  The master carpenter overseeing the construction was incredibly patient, not to mention gracious, as he taught us to lay bricks.  The first exterior wall that we tried on our own needed to be taken apart and rebuilt by the crew of skilled masons working on the project. Our eight weeks of Peace Corps training had prepared us for a lot of things, but laying bricks was clearly not one of them. Continue reading

Avoiding the BS: Education as a Relationship

What if we stopped thinking of education as an object — a system, a process, a collection of entities — and started to think of it as a relationship? What if it is meant to be nurtured and cultivated, rather than quantified and evaluated?

Chronicle Review Illustration by Scott Seymour (Chronicle of Higher Education, January 9, 2018)

This was the question posed by a former student of mine, in a discussion on Facebook about Christian Smith’s recent Chronicle essay titled “Higher Education is Drowning in BS.” For those who missed it, Smith’s jeremiad is a 22-item list of everything that is wrong at the present moment, from “hypercommercialized college athletics” to “disciplines unable to talk with each other.” But one can agree with practically every item on Smith’s list and miss the larger point: that these problems stem from a failure to treat education as a relationship.

In our Facebook exchange, my former student comment that the problems that Smith identifies may be “the harvest of the ‘common grievance over parking.’” He was referring to Continue reading

The Deepest Wells of Vocation

Christian Georg Schütz, Höfische Gesellschaft am Brunnen. Public domain.
Christian Georg Schütz, Höfische Gesellschaft am Brunnen (trimmed). Public domain.

Does your campus have a deep well?

No, I’m not talking about water or oil.

I mean the metaphorical deep wells of place and stories and values. When we think about vocation, these are among the most valuable resources we can bring to bear in our conversation with students.

Who dreamed your campus into being? Who were the founders? What values guided them to risk leaving one life behind and come build a new one on the very ground where you now walk?

I came to the campus where I have walked this fall as a total stranger. After spending Continue reading