Often I’ve found that I carry aspects of the teacher’s call to my children, and—as I’ll explore in my upcoming series of posts—my parenting informs my pedagogy in return.
A series of posts about virtue, autism, vocation, and the history of teaching.
Vocations inform each other, and two of mine seem to be in constant dialogue, deep calling to deep: teaching and parenting. Often I’ve found that I carry aspects of the teacher’s call to my children, and—as I’ll explore in my upcoming series of posts—my parenting informs my pedagogy in return. I’m sure this is a common experience, but mine has a twist that keeps surprising me. This is because both of my children have autism.
It has been easy to see the ways that my teaching has affected my parenting, and Kathleen and Peter would probably attest with a roll of the eyes that, yes, Dad drags us to places he likes and talks a lot. There exists a video of me explaining a thatched roof to them in which they wander off while I keep talking. It’s on brand.
More surprising has been how much my call as a parent has shaped my teaching and how much my children shape me as a person. I realize how much I learn from them. Specifically, they have helped me understand something that I teach in my history courses: the four cardinal virtues.
Through the intentional and explicit inclusion of Christian Practices in a research experience, we hope to help students better understand that living vocationally transcends the work we do and encompasses discerning and prioritizing who we want to be as individuals and community members in work (and other) environments.
Part of a series of posts written by a team of faculty and students at Calvin University who are developing a curriculum to support team-based research. Their hope is that this blog series will spark a dialog about measures of success that are not typically prioritized in scholarly work and ways this project could be expanded to other colleges and universities, both within and beyond the Christian tradition.This post was written by Rachael Baker, Julie Yonker, and Amy Wilstermann.
In the first three blogs in this series, we introduced our Team Sciences and Christian Practices project—an initiative aimed at preparing undergraduate scientists-in-training to work effectively in interdisciplinary environments through the development of faith-based virtue practices. Many students in the sciences have a narrow view of vocation that overemphasizes the value and importance of their paid work and their productivity in those spaces. Through the intentional and explicit inclusion of Christian Practices in a research experience, we hope to help students better understand that living vocationally transcends the work we do and encompasses discerning and prioritizing who we want to be as individuals and community members in work (and other) environments. Our curriculum aims to encourage students to think more deeply about what it means to engage fully in community and to equip them to do so in current and future research settings, classrooms, their local community, and beyond. In this last post we describe how we prepare faculty to discuss, model, and encourage employment of faith-based virtue practices in their undergraduate research settings and how we are assessing the impact of our curriculum.
Attentiveness is essential to beginning our vocational journeys. And few things are under greater assault in our culture.
If I want to rile students up and get debate going, I mention Vermont State Senator John Rodger’s recent proposed bill to ban smartphones for anyone under 21, and his remark that smartphones are “just as dangerous as guns.” Student response to the debate over technology is a mixture of spirited defense and despairing acknowledgement of its harms. More and more, this debate has taken a vocational inflection for me. I think that the first-year writing course is an excellent place to begin to make students aware of, concerned by, and proactive about that which imperils their ability to thoughtfully and responsibly engage in their many callings, and especially their calling to conversations.
In Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life, Paul J. Wadell and Charlie Pinches suggest that the first virtue required to begin our vocational journeys is attentiveness. Paying attention, so the argument runs, matters because “at the basis of every calling, whether a friendship, a career, or being patient with a stranger, is a summons to responsibility; however, we cannot be responsible without an accurate perception of reality, and we cannot accurately perceive reality without growing in attentiveness” (159). For Wadell and Pinches, attention is a “situating virtue” (along with humility and gratitude) because “instead of the thoughtlessness or indifference by which we turn in on ourselves and become carelessly disengaged with life, the virtue of attention forms us into persons who are fully present to life” (157). I agree that attentiveness is essential to beginning our vocational journeys. And few things are under greater assault in our culture than attentiveness.
Drawing upon the insights of Michelle Boulous Walker’s Slow Philosophy, Andrew Irvine continues his rumination on the wisdom found in “still deciding.”
Really, is there value in reserving judgment in critical times—like ours? The very fact we speak of crises signals the urgency of making up our minds. Over the course of three previous posts, I have described, analyzed, and praised as a virtue the capability of “Still Deciding.” But I make myself impatient. What more am I waiting for—while the meaning of our common life is at stake now?
Wisdom counsels patience: with these times, with ourselves, with the general and inevitable difficulty of life. Wisdom calls us to love and learn of the complexity of our world, still deciding that in time we may learn a richer and truer path to simplicity than that of impatiently sacrificing ourselves for simplistic ideals.
In my previous posts on “Still Deciding,” I tried to describe this virtue as a kind of intellectual courage to keep oneself from sheer indecision on one hand and shameless dogmatism on another. Still deciding, then, is actually a positive excellence, that helps to integrate and enrich the value of a person’s style of life.
Like moral courage, to which I suppose it is strongly related, still deciding is a form of practice—far more so than either indecision or dogmatism, which are both ways of ceding oneself to circumstance. Thus, still deciding takes practice. If we want its form to in-form the shape of our daily decisions, we must exercise ourselves, cultivate in ourselves a capacity to hold alternatives in contrast, entertain various ways in which we might resolve the alternatives, estimate the relative worths of each resolution, and then decide, attentive to both what we are choosing and what not.
No doubt you have seen the advice, attributed to Mister Rogers’ mother, that we should look to the helpers in those times when the news is scary. As the frightening realities about the spread of the Covid-19 virus have unfolded over the last few weeks, there are also plenty of stories of heroes and heroines on the national and local level. Paying attention to their stories and especially to the virtues that they embody in this harrowing situation can be an opportunity for students to consider how the virtues intersect with calling. Here, I’ll mention two examples, but there are many others now just as there will be in the weeks and months ahead.
A virtue is an active holding of oneself, already ready to recognize the unpredictable, yet opportune, moment for action. As such, the capacity to be still deciding is crucial to virtuous decision-making.
In a previous post, I defended the “still deciding student” who, despite pressure to participate in a culture of assessment, for which specific, quantifiable outcomes—as simple in some cases, even, as the declaration of a major—purport to measure what it means to be educated, would still hold some measure of themselves back from subjection to the metrics of attainment.
The key to my defense is the notion that still deciding is a virtue. I am thinking about what Aristotle called a hexis (ἕξις). What is a hexis? Not, despite what the dominant tradition of interpretation in Western philosophy has said, a habit. Indeed, the identification of virtues as habits is a most unfortunate error, as the philosopher Joe Sachs has argued. For a virtue is not—cannot be—a mindless habit. Rather, a virtue is an active holding of oneself, already ready to recognize the unpredictable, yet opportune, moment for action. As such, the capacity to be still deciding is crucial to virtuous decision-making.
What about students who don’t believe in God at all? Could the concept of “vocation” still be useful then? An excerpt from a talk delivered at a recent NetVUE regional gathering hosted by Huntingdon College.
I have struggled with many things while teaching vocation—students falling asleep, not doing the reading, complaining about being required to take a course on the meaning and purpose of their lives (why do I have to pay for a class that won’t help me get into pharmacy school?). But one particular question about which I have wondered is whether talk of vocation can only be meaningful for students of faith.
What if one didn’t believe in God at all? Could the concept of “vocation” still be useful then?
And I believe the answer is that thinking about vocation can be a productive way for colleges to help students consider the question of what they are going to do with their lives, and how they are going to do it.