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The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College community at the opening convocation of the 2017-2018 academic year on August 23, 2017.

 

On the face of a massive building in the center of the University of Minnesota, the purpose of that school, my alma mater, is inscribed with the following words:

Founded in the Faith that Men are Enobled by Understanding
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State

In these words we note the primary goal of colleges and universities across our land that may be summarized with these words: Teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The core content of this teaching remains constant from one age to the next, but much of the rest of it changes due to advancements in learning in pursuit of truth.

The University of Minnesota was founded in 1851 in Minneapolis by people descended from immigrants harking mostly from the Scandinavian lands of Norway and Sweden. It started as a preparatory school, but stalled until wheat-milling entrepreneur, John Pillsbury, worked to secure the school’s future. And, Pillsbury’s efforts bore fruit as students finally graduated with baccalaureate degrees in 1873, twenty-two years after the school’s founding.

Fourteen years later, in 1887, another group of immigrants, this time from what is now known as Ukraine, had similar aims in establishing a college, Bethel College, one that would provide teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The place? A piece of prairie North of Newton, Kansas on slight rise of land they named Hebron and bordered by a stream they called Kidron, names, like that of the College, reminiscent of biblical locations. The founders likewise were interested in wheat, Mennonites, with names like Goerz, Warkentin, and Krehbiel.

So, here, on this site, the first Mennonite College in North America was started. The founders saw the importance of providing higher education for its youth, but not only Mennonite youth.

The original intent of the Newton College Association was a “nonsectarian, but religious college.” And, the successor to this association, a corporation named The Bethel College of the Mennonite Church of North America aimed to follow this direction. For, the First Annual Report of the Board of Directors, 1887-1888 invited students who were not only Mennonites, but those coming from other religions or cultures as well. By extending this welcome, the College sought to “pay the debt of gratitude to other denominations by opening wide the doors of the institution, so that all may have an opportunity to partake of whatsoever advantages may be offered by it.”

Not only were youth from all faiths invited, but those from across the country as well. Bethel historian, Peter Wedel, writes that Bethel College “was not to be just a local institution.” “Its courses were to be sufficiently comprehensive to attract students from great distances.” An example of this commitment comes from the observation that, according to Wedel, the first board consisted of “five members from Kansas and four from other states as the new institution should serve the largest constituency possible.” Indeed, the residences of those who served on the board over the first decades included people not only from Kansas, but also from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Idaho, and Washington.

Like the University of Minnesota, Bethel, at first was a preparatory school. It eventually, however, graduated six students with baccalaureate degrees in 1912. A very significant event followed four years later, 1916, when the school became accredited by the Kansas state board of education, an event celebrated with the unveiling of a flag bearing the school colors adopted nine years earlier in 1907, maroon and gray. A liberal arts college was born!

What can we learn from this story? (more…)

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Education may be defined as an action or process of formal teaching by precept, example, or experience that results in the knowledge of information and skills, and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development.

This definition includes five essential components of education that each may be identified with a word beginning with the letter “a”: (1) The actors of education are the teachers and students. (2) The aim of education is the outcome in the students desired by the teachers, i.e., that which must be learned and that into which one must develop. (3) The actions of education are teaching by the teachers and learning by the students. (4) The avenue of education is the curriculum or course of study taught by the teachers to achieve the desired outcome in the students. (5) The assessment of education is the evaluation of the desired outcome, curriculum, teaching, and learning in order to maximize each of these components

Effective education depends upon the extent to which each of the actors, teachers and students, understand and fulfill their roles with respect to the other essential components of education. Teachers have the primary responsibility for successful student outcomes. Furthermore, this responsibility of teachers is the one over which all educators, not only teachers, but also administrators, have the most control.

Teachers initiate education by establishing desired student outcomes: the desired knowledge of information and skills, and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development. Next, they create the curriculum in the form of programs, and the courses of which these programs consist, to accomplish these objectives. They then teach the curriculum with methods designed to elicit learning. Finally, they assess the learner for the achievement of outcomes, and they also assess their teaching for its effectiveness in obtaining the outcomes

The curriculum utilized to accomplish student outcomes in a university education will center on the liberal arts. The liberal arts are comprised of those disciplines that seek to describe and interpret the cosmos and human existence. Therefore, they deal largely with metaphysical issues, matters that have the greatest significance for life. For example, the liberal arts equip one to make judgments about ideas and values, answering such questions as the following ones: What is the meaning of life? What is true? What is just? What is moral? What is beautiful? Consequently, they also concern themselves with relationships.

The disciplines that historically have comprised the liberal arts overlap. Therefore, the disciplines ideally should not be taught discretely, but holistically, with teachers working across disciplines in dialogue and collaboration with one another. These disciplines typically have included the humanities, which are more subjective in their orientation (e.g., theology, philosophy, literature, rhetoric, music, art, and history). They also include the more objective sciences, both the natural (including mathematics) sciences and social sciences.

The desired outcome of a liberal arts education is (more…)

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Education and scholarship focus on furnishing the mind. By contrast, training focuses on developing skills for performing a job. Education may exist apart from training, but training cannot exist apart from education. Education, then, must be a priority at any college, but especially a liberal arts college.

The desired outcome of a liberal arts education is fully integrated individuals who are able to think critically and soundly about ideas, values, and aesthetics, with the ability to apply the results of these investigations to all types of relationships. It equips students to consider fundamental questions: What is the meaning of life? What is true? What is just? What is moral? What is beautiful?

The appropriate delivery of liberal arts education will correspond to the desired outcome. It will be conducted in the context of mentoring relationships: student to teacher and colleague to colleague. Education will not be conducted within closely protected silos. Rather, it will be integrative and holistic, with colleagues working freely and respectfully across disciplines, traditions, and cultures in dialogue and collaboration with one another.

Instructors in the liberal arts will model integration in their living and in instruction, guiding students to develop a worldview through which they can clearly see, understand, and interpret life. In other words, liberal arts instruction seeks to cultivate people who are truly human. And, part of what it means to be truly human is creative expression. Therefore, the liberal arts both critique and give expression to human existence. Furthermore, both this critique and creative expression enable students to influence positively the culture in which they find themselves.

To summarize, the desired result of liberal arts education is the formation of what once was called an educated person: graduates who know how to live, not just how to make a living. This is the greatest benefit liberal arts colleges offer incoming students in the twenty-first century: the opportunity to be educated, to develop the spirit and skill of inquiry, to acquire the foundation for the journey of becoming truly human. But, training, not education is what Americans increasingly expect from colleges. This expectation presents liberal arts colleges with their greatest challenge in the years ahead.

The goal of a college “education” for many people is (more…)

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This “Vision for Christ-centered Higher Education” is an extended treatment, from a different point of view, of the same subject treated in “A Philosophy of Christian Liberal Arts Education.” “Vision” was first published in 2007, when I was employed as the Academic Vice President at Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio.

Cedarville University is a Christ-centered learning community equipping students for lifelong leadership and service through an education marked by excellence and grounded in biblical truth. This mission affects our philosophy of education, including the way faculty members conduct research, practice collegiality, and carry out instruction.

As a university comprised of multiple schools, containing a variety of academic disciplines and areas of research, Cedarville will carry out its mission through a conversation involving a mutual sharing among the various disciplines, both on Cedarville’s campus and within the academy at large. For example, those engaged in biblical and theological studies will gain hermeneutical insight to exercise more critical discernment for biblical interpretation and theological reflection from conversation with those involved in the study of human communication within and across cultures and social strata, the study of artistic expression, and the study of literary forms and theories. Furthermore, those preparing students for professional careers such as those in nursing, business, and education will seek to educate their students as complete persons through collaboration with colleagues in the humanities and social sciences.

As a Christ-centered university with a commitment to the authority of Christian Scripture, we recognize the following principles: (more…)

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A prominent Christian College affirms in its mission statement that it is “a Christian community of the liberal arts” that “remains dedicated to” “education, not theological indoctrination” and to “scholarship which is integrally Christian.” This statement complements its tagline, “Freedom within a framework of faith.” These affirmations aptly describe Christian liberal arts education. By exploring this description, the attractiveness of this education becomes clear.

Education and scholarship focus on furnishing the mind. By contrast, training focuses on developing skills for performing a job. Education may exist apart from training, but training cannot exist apart from education. Education, then, must be a priority at any college, but especially a liberal arts college. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Education may be defined as an action or process of formal teaching by precept, example, or experience that results in the knowledge of information and skills, and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development.

This definition includes five essential components of education that each may be identified with a word beginning with the letter “a”: (1) The actors of education are the teachers and students. (2) The aim of education is the outcome in the students desired by the teachers, i.e., that which must be learned and that into which one must develop. (3) The actions of education are teaching by the teachers and learning by the students. (4) The avenue of education is the curriculum or course of study taught by the teachers to achieve the desired outcome in the students. (5) The assessment of education is the evaluation of the desired outcome, curriculum, teaching, and learning in order to maximize each of these components. (more…)

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