I heard a podcast this morning from The New Yorker about a book on higher education. They were discussing William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, a book that argues elite colleges, specifically the Ivy League schools, have changed the purpose of college from one that focuses on educating students for life to teaching them to have careers. This is not a new argument, of course, and this book will definitely not end the discussion.
The Loaves-and-Fishes Miracle Would Not Have Seemed Miraculous Without Math
AS A MATH PROFESSOR, intersections appeal to me. On graph paper, two curves meet, and an equilibrium point appears. Thus, resonating within me is Frederick Buechner’s description of calling: “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I envisioned an intersection point—gladness meeting hunger. However, is that enough? When living out a calling in higher education, what else must intersect?
“Deep gladness” is not always enoughenough. My friend enjoys knitting, but her sweater has three sleeves. Gifts, abilities, personalities, and strengths vary. Part of faculty calling is teaching. Whom to teach? Teacher and student identities intertwine, but we are called to authentic relationships and mentoring. If I “possessed all knowledge . . . but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2 NLT).
How to teach? Good teaching includes challenging students. Learning is succinctly modeled by young Jesus “sitting in the
midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).
What to teach? Teaching requires understanding the material. “Knowledge is easy to him who understands” (Prov. 14:6 NKJV).
Why teach? Teaching requires rationale for learning, connections to life, and awareness that all things, including college classes, “work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
As stewards of gifts, scholarship includes discoveries, authorship, and creative works. Like the parable of the talents, creativity should not be buried, hidden from increase.
Jesus’ parable of the sower describes hard, rocky, thorny, and good soil. My students cite Lee University as “good soil,” contrasting secular schools as “thorny” with sin’s powerful influence and lacking the rich soil of Christian-Pentecostal faith. This emphasizes the influence of college environment.
His boundless love should saturate my graph and be the very ink with which the curves are drawn. At secular universities, reflecting the gospel is limited; but at Christ-centered universities, a freedom abides, liberating students to consider how their callings fit into God’s story.
After ridicule, Jeremiah attempted silence, but God’s message penetrated his heart “as a burning fire shut up in [his] bones” (20:9). I am thankful for freedom to sprinkle mathematics with the good news.
Thought-provoking questions about math and faith can reveal connections between my academic discipline and the Bible. The loaves-and-fishes miracle would not have seemed miraculous without math.
Leftovers should be small, like remainders in long division. Baskets of surplus are a math miracle!
Being called to faculty has a sense of assignment. A mission field can be a developing world country, an inner-city slum, or my beautiful brick-covered campus.
Teacher says to a student, “Go light a candle.” He does.
Teacher adds, “Bring more candles, and light them from the first.”
Next, “Has that candle suffered any loss from the fact that other candles have been lit from it?”
This student-professor dynamic is one of sharing gifts, scholarship, and Christian inspiration, and is more complex (in a good way) than an intersection of two curves. It is a rich and meaningful calling.
In conjunction with the CTE session at which librarians presented on Friday, August 15th Carolyn asked me to create a blog entry regarding embedded librarianship. Each time I discuss this topic, I am usually asked the same questions so I thought I would post this blog in a FAQ format. Here are some questions I am most frequently asked.
I do an exercise with my students in my 400-level Contemporary Literature course, usually on the first Friday of the fall semester. I ask them to tell me the story of how one gets a “ring by spring.” They tell me that the two people meet during their first year at Lee, often in Gateway or at registration or in chapel, perhaps in another class. The proposal usually takes place on campus, often in the gazebo, and the wedding is scheduled for the chapel on campus, if possible. Looking into the future, they talk about the children from that marriage coming to Lee one day maybe twenty years from now. You probably could have written this story yourself.
Having just completed my 4th trip abroad with students (my third at Lee) I have some thoughts about this experience. While there are challenges on any trip, I found this trip to be the most successful I have taken. I thought it was a great blend of academic and cultural interchange. After reading the student journals following the trip I was very excited to see all of the experiences that the students had in the moments of free time, the unique perspectives they each brought to the group experiences, and the challenges they experienced both culturally and academically.
While organizing and maintaining a trip like this is a good deal of work and takes a healthy amount of preparation, I have led one every two years while I have been at Lee and I am in the early planning for my next one. For this trip, Dan Buck and I took 15 theatre majors to Vienna, Budapest and Prague. They earned theatre electives in Contemporary Performance Theory and Theatre and Communism. I taught the Theatre and Communism class which involved studying the ways in which theatre was used to reinforce and rebel against Communism. Students in my class had readings and class time prior to departure, readings, class time, site-specific visits and talks during the trip, and then a final paper after returning home. Additionally, I required a daily journal during the trip for both my class and their GNST 251 credit.
The global perspectives experience is quite unique and I find it exciting and challenging as a teacher to have this opportunity with my students. Our class discussions both before and during the trip were a highlight of our experiences. Seeing the students actively engage the material they had studied was thrilling. In many ways the educational experiences came alive while on the trip—for example, my students read a play, Protest, by former Czech Republic President and resistance fighter Vaclav Havel but actually visiting the museum dedicated to his memory and engaging in a personal talk with two women who work to preserve his life’s work brought the reality of this person and his work home for our students. Many of the students specifically mentioned this moment as one of the most important of the trip. One student remarked about Havel, “I enjoyed his play and his exhibit not just as a someone who is interested in his works but as someone who is genuinely inspired by his thoughts and beliefs. Our trip to Vienna, Austria, and Prague taught me more about the real and palpable terrors of life under the weight of Communism in these countries than I ever learned in my public education.” This is just one small example of the many experiences of creative and educational engagements my students experienced on this trip that are unlike any I could have created in my classroom in Cleveland.
Watching students experience a new culture and city, while gently leading them, is a truly special experience. Every moment becomes an opportunity for discussion and growth. Walking into a church that is a thousand years old and unlike anything they have seen back home inevitably begins a discussion about God, theology and the church. Inadvertently walking into a protest between student activists and an opposition group provided an opportunity for the students to talk with the hotel staff about current politics in the European Union. Sitting down to eat a traditional Bohemian dinner on our final night of our trip in Prague provided us with the perfect chance for each student to talk about their day, what they encountered, how it challenged their views, and how the trip as a whole had impacted them. Watching their confidence and worldview grow over the two weeks we were away was very exciting. Interactions with our various guides had a strong impact on our students. One wrote in her journal, “I remember going to the Museum of Communism that is in Prague. It showed us how people lived back then when the communist regime had taken over. The guide that we had when going around the Museum had grown up during the communist period in Czechoslovakia. She told us a couple of stories of when she was growing up. …. It was really interesting because it gave us a deeper understand of what had truly happened to the people that had grown up there.”
After returning home, I have been reading through their journals and papers. In the journal they were asked to write about their experiences each day and catalog interviews of at least one person in each city. It is a very special experience to read student’s honest responses to this trip. Of course you always have some who do the least amount of work and a few express a great deal of fatigue, homesickness, frustration and other negative experiences. But far more prevalent are the ones that really take the time to reflect carefully on their experiences and that express their exuberance, excitement and desire for further travel. Many mention their increased confidence in their ability to travel alone and discuss overcoming the fear of being in a place where they are “different.” One student remarked, “This trip has been the most incredible experience of my life!…I saw and talked to all of these cool people with such different stories from my own.” Another said on her final journal page, “I am ready to apply all of this newfound inspiration into my life back home. I am not going back the same person.”
After leading only a few trips I have seen firsthand the importance of this program and the immediate and strong impact it has on our students. One student remarked, “Exposing oneself to this trip allows us to gain a greater understanding of the world, for we get a chance to see it through different eyes … It opens our eyes to think outside of the box and grow as a person and as an individual, too.” Like many of our students I return to the US thinking eagerly of the next trip. If you haven’t participated in one of these trips I hope you will. It really is a special experience and one that offers us an entirely different way to engage our students.