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From the Colloquium, June 2016

“From the Colloquium” reports on the colloquium on vocation, Christianity, and higher learning that takes place in the two fellowship programs in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts:  the two-year, residential Postdoctoral Fellowship at Valparaiso University, and the three-year fellowship for current graduate students, the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program.

In this final edition for academic year 2015/2016, I’ll provide an overview of the works the Postdoctoral Fellows read in spring, 2016.

The primary question guiding the spring 2016 colloquium was: “What are the practices and ideas about education that I and my students bring to the classroom?” The readings focused on specific questions regarding the general aim of teaching in the liberal arts and the specific aims of day-to-day course organization, preparation, and execution in light of Christian theology and practice.

The colloquium opened with Julie Reuben’s classic essay, “The University and Its Discontents,” in The Hedgehog Review (Fall, 2000), which looks at the marginalization of the moral aims of education in the modern research university in the US generally and the relegation of these aims to the humanities specifically in the middle of the twentieth century. The colloquium read Reuben’s work alongside O.P. Kretzmann’s 1940 presidential inaugural address to Valparaiso University as a case study of the trends she identifies.

From these more general themes, the colloquium then took up the question of whether professors should aim at some kind of moral formation in the classroom itself. The colloquium read first Stanley Fish’s Save the World on Your Own Time and Gilbert Meilaender’s essay, “Education and Soulcraft,” which argue, from different starting points, that university curricula (and, professors specifically) are ill equipped to offer any kind of moral formation in the classroom and should aim instead to foster the learning of information which students can’t otherwise obtain. Mark Schwehn, in his forthcoming “Good Teaching: Character Formation and Vocational Discernment” (David Cunningham, ed., Vocation Across the Academy) offers a counterargument that all teaching and learning necessarily involve moral formation (avoiding plagiarism, for example), and so professors should think carefully about what kind of moral formation takes place in their classrooms.

The colloquium next turned to Paul J. Griffiths’ “Reading as a Spiritual Discipline,” in Jones and Paulsell, The Scope of Our Art: The Vocation of the Theological Teacher, and David I. Smith’s “Reading Practices and Christian Pedagogy,” in Smith and Smith, Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith & Learning, both of which examine whether Christian theological commitments or practices should inform the way we read or teach students to read. Both think it should and offer a critique of consumerist reading that aims at mastery of a passive text against a hermeneutic of Christian charity and humility that treats a text as a conversation partner and reading as an opportunity for formation. The colloquium also discussed Richard Wilbur’s poem, “The Reader.” The following week the colloquium discussed how to read and teach Andres Dubus’ short story, “A Father’s Story” in light of the previous readings.

The colloquium rounded out the spring with three classic texts on teaching and the aims of liberal education: Philip W. Jackson, “Real Teaching,” in Mark R. Schwehn, ed., Everyone a Teacher; Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do, and Eva Brann “Depth and Desire,” also in Everyone a Teacher.

Posted by Joe Creech

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