Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NEW Leader's Guide

While the book The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness can be used for individual study, we have found that students grasp the content of the book much more thoroughly when read under the guidance of a mentor, small group leader or teacher. The leader’s guide is designed to assist leaders in their preparation for leading discussions around the themes in the book. Our hope is to see a generation of young scholars take both their faith and studies seriously. May this new study guide help toward that end!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Advice for the Young: Develop a Craft?

Matthew Crawford’s new book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work makes a strong case for the value of “working with one’s hands,” or manual labor. With a PhD in political philosophy, Crawford has worked at universities and think-tanks, in what he calls “knowledge work.” But it was never satisfying. The “work” was too abstract, without much to show for it. When he opened a motorcycle repair shop things began to change. Not only did he find this work more meaningful and enjoyable, but he also noticed that it required him to think more. Repairing motorcycles was more intellectual in a richer, deeper sense of the word. (Click here to learn more about the book and to view a video of Crawford’s appearance on The Colbert Report.)

Crawford wonders, "Given the intrinsic richness of manual work - cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal - the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education." Where have all the shop classes gone? As a culture do we tend to look down upon work and workers who do manual labor? In attempting to answer these questions, Crawford has some important things to say about education in general and higher education in particular. I think his concerns warrant consideration for those thinking about academic faithfulness. He writes:

“So what advice should one give to a young person? If you have a natural bent for scholarship; if you are attracted to the most difficult books out of an urgent need, and can spare four years to devote yourself to them, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. But if this is not the case; if the thought of four more years sitting in a classroom makes your skin crawl, the good news is that you don’t have to go through the motions and jump through the hoops for the sake of making a decent living. Even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers. You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems or low-level 'creative.' To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable.”

Readers of this blog are diverse. Some are current and former students, some are on faculty and staff at colleges and universities, and some are considering whether or not higher education is the best next step for them. I’m curious, what do you think of Crawford’s advice for young people?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Love Correction?

My guess is that since the invention of grading academic work, students have disputed with professors over their marks. But during my college years, more and more professors were noticing a shift in the way these conversations were going. Here’s the change: if a student was not satisfied with her grade, she would bring it to the attention of the professor with the expectation that the grade would be changed. After all, students are consumers and consumers know best! Some professors were even getting phone calls from parents of students complaining about grades.

Since working with college students for several years, I’ve noticed that the shift that had taken place when I was an undergraduate is now commonplace. Disputing and having grades changed (for the better, of course) is simply part of playing the “college game” well. Everyone is doing it. I was thinking about this recently as I was reading through the book of Proverbs. This one caught my eye:

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

Eugene Peterson translates it this way in The Message:
“If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it— how shortsighted to refuse correction!"

Now, I’m sure that there are grades worth disputing. Students shouldn’t be reluctant to talk to professors about why grades were given. But this passage reminds us of something about academic faithfulness that is often missed: real learning comes through discipline and correction. We can’t shortcut the process by arguing our way to better grades. If you find yourself wanting to dispute a poor grade on a paper or test with a professor, begin the conversation by first asking: what could I have done to make this better?

Keep this in mind: if you hate correction the Bible calls you stupid. Don’t be stupid, instead, consider a bad grade as an opportunity to grow in wisdom.