Year after year, the academic calendar brings the gift of a rhythmic return to the same moments. If it’s mid-December, then I’m invariably scraping through exam week while ignoring the Christmas cards that should have been in the mail two days ago. As much as this month is about wanting to wind up the current semester, however, it also involves looking ahead. Just this week, I finalized—belatedly and guiltily—the book order for one of my spring classes. Doing so brought a familiar surge of excitement and anticipation. I have taught this class several times, but each new section offers the opportunity to tinker, improve, and of course meet new students. As I clicked “submit” on that book order, I was struck by the similarity between the renewal promised by the academic calendar and that embedded in the liturgical calendar. At this time of year, both calendars ask us to look ahead with hope. And that regular return of hopeful expectation, founded in students’ academic experience, can be a powerful vocational resource.
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).Continue reading
Playing Devil’s Advocate: Vocational Wisdom from The Screwtape Letters
In a previous post, I wrote about assigning “Learning in Wartime” in a vocation seminar when COVID first hit. I wrote about how profound that text was for my students and about their moving responses to Lewis’ sermon. Here, I want to describe the next reading I assigned, The Screwtape Letters, which was equally engaging to students, similarly insightful about vocation, and provided them with an essential skill for persisting in the right direction: playing devil’s advocate.Continue reading
As much as I had struggled before I joined the church, once I submitted my little life, I wanted it to count. I hadn’t yet given up on the dream of becoming big. – Shirley Showalter, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.
In her memoir Blush Shirley Showalter shares stories from her childhood, including how she negotiated the emphasis in her Mennonite community on being “plain” and the admonition against feeling “big.” In a new episode of the NetVUE podcast series, Callings, Shirley talked with us about writing the memoir and what that process taught her about narrative and story. She relays some of the twists and turns in her own life, including the call to the presidency of Goshen College. With a new book coming out next year on grandparenting, co-written with Marilyn McEntyre, Shirley also talks about what it means to embrace becoming an elder. When asked what advice she would give to young adults today, she warned against listening to pre-fabricated advice from others: “Your vocation to yourself and to your own spirit is your highest vocation.”Continue reading
The “Freshman Comp” Course: Speaking the Truth in Love
I’m starting to think the first-year writing course might be the most important class in the world, or, rather, to the world, at this cultural moment.
It’s been a year of abysmal and broken public discourse. Add a pandemic, social injustice, increasingly shrill and reductive social media discourse, partisanship, the hijacking of minds and attention spans by technology, the endless stream of voices seducing us into lives of self-absorbed consumerism, language decay that leaves students increasingly unable to articulate their views and experiences, and I think “freshman” rhetoric deserves serious consideration for this outrageous award. It seems more urgent than ever to protect and nurture students’ abilities to think, discuss, debate, speak truth, hear truth, and disagree well. I think we are being called by our world, our culture, and our students to reimagine and redesign the nature and experience of first-year writing.
The ability to recognize, analyze, formulate, and articulate a persuasive argument supported by good evidence is the heart of an academic. For millennia rhetoric has been thought vital to democratic politics, civic engagement, and education.
But we need more. We need to help first-year students come to see and experience conversation and argumentation as a calling.Continue reading
Practicing Humility in the Sciences
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 Hannah Hooley and Rachael Baker.
In our last post, we gave you an overview of our work of building a thriving research team that aims to prepare students to work effectively in team science settings. In this post, we would like to provide an expanded discussion of one of our central practices, humility.
Contemporary definitions of humility, such as the definition from the VIA Virtues Project shown below, emphasize that humility includes possessing an accurate view of oneself. This accurate estimation of oneself together with appreciating the values and differences of all things aligns with an understanding of humility from our faith tradition in which humility is second only to love as taught in the Bible, emphasizing relationship with God and others (see Yonker et al., 2017). The Greek word (tapeinos) that Jesus and the apostles used when calling followers to humble themselves “conveys the idea of having a right view of ourselves before God and others” (see Thomas A. Tarrants of the C.S. Lewis Institute on “Pride and Humility”). It suggests the importance of being honest and realistic about who we are as individuals and in relation to others as members of a community.Continue reading
Building a Thriving Research Team
A group of faculty and students at Calvin University is developing a curriculum to support team-based research. Their aim is to incorporate communal and individual professional skills into research team processes to foster thriving community and improved vocational discernment for students. They seek to build a community of scientists whose scholarship aligns with their values: authentic community, member well-being, and scientific excellence. 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.
The events of the past year and our experiences with SARS-CoV-2 have demonstrated that the ability of scientists with diverse expertise to work together is vital to scientific success. A whole field of study, known as the Science of Team Science, has arisen around identifying strategies to bring scientists together to confront complex questions and solve problems effectively. Team Science is defined as “research conducted by more than one individual in an interdependent fashion, including research conducted by small teams and larger groups” (Cooke & Hilton, 2015).
Many potential benefits of the team approach to science have been identified, for example, 1) enhanced capacity to achieve goals, 2) increased productivity and influence, and 3) improved outcomes for individual team members (Cooke, 2015; DeHart, 2017). However, several factors hinder attainment of the benefits of team science. These problems include inter-task dependence, lack of common vocabulary (communication challenges), and goal misalignment (lack of commitment) (Bennett et al., 2010; Cooke, 2015). As the Science of Team Science has illuminated, and our global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has exemplified, students entering scientific careers will need to be able to work effectively as members of multi-disciplinary teams.Continue reading
A Call for Empathy and Honesty
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
Failing Better, Part II
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
In praise of mischief-makers
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