VOST2011: The Visions of Students Today

What do students in Higher Education see today? What do they “see” in the sense of, “What are their visions?” And, what do they literally see from the place in which they are expected to learn?

This is the question posed by Michael Wesch, professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. Wesch is well known for his work so far in gathering and analyzing the experiences and voices of higher-ed students in an internet age.

Watch some of the YouTube videos tagged VOST2011. For an educator in Higher Ed, the videos are rather hypnotic, occasionally disturbing, and often illuminating. Take the following as an example:

More upbeat, but not less analytical or thought-provoking, is this piece from a student at University of the Philippines:

In the professorial circles in which I run, I am probably among those more likely to identify with the students of VOST2011: besides being a “distance pedagogies guy” (in progress), I am after all a Gen-Xer, and until a subject matter grabbed me in my Masters work, felt continually disenchanted with and alienated from the structures of education, while still identifying strongly with other students as a peer group. At the same time, however, I am formed by an exceptionally traditional and modernist Ph.D. program, and believe as strongly in “disseminating data” as in facilitating constructivist activities for peer-to-peer learning.

Professors: What do you think of Wesch’s call for submissions, and what do you think of some of the videos? How do they speak, or not speak, to you as educators?

Students: What are your visions today? What do you see from the place where you are expected to learn?

[VOST2011: The Visions of Students Today was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/03/25. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

James Cone Live Today at 11 and 3 CT

Dr. James Cone is delivering our Convocation address at G-ETS this morning at 11:00 CT, and there will also be a panel discussion at 3:00 CT.

His address is titled, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Cross and the Lynching Tree in the Black Experience.”

The link for the live webcasts is www.garrett.edu/convocation. Viewers will need to have downloaded and installed Apple’s free QuickTime Player, and may begin viewing fifteen minutes before events begin.

[James Cone Live Today at 11 and 3 CT was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/09/15. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything

This is an idea about which I could not be more enthused (hat tip to Pharyngula).[1] Ten biologists collaborate together to answer any questions that a layperson might pose them. The front page provides some relevant caveats; for example, if the question is quite basic, they might gently point a reader to the standard textbooks, rather than be roped into doing someone’s homework for them.

I especially like that the site builds a searchable growing repository of questions already answered. This should be a helpful resource, not only for inquirers, but for the team members to consult when dealing with new questions.

The idea of a similar, “Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything,” site has seized my imagination. In my experience, answering questions about the Bible and biblical studies for genuinely curious laypeople is a delight. Part of that delight comes from my sense that only a few people have a resource in their lives to field such questions; when I make new acquaintances, they often have a short list of questions about the Bible that they’ve waited to unload, or that they’ve bounced off of others without receiving satisfying responses.

Some desiderata that come to mind are:

  • As with AaBA, there would need to be a fairly large team: at least eight, I think. The good news is, I suspect recruiting new team members wouldn’t be all that hard, such that the team could grow (or shrink) according to traffic. The idea is that nobody should have to spend more time on it than they want to, with a very low minimum expected commitment.
  • Team members should have terminal degrees in biblical studies, or else be candidates in a terminal degree program.
  • The team members would have to have a shared understanding that “biblical studies” is a non-confessional literary and historical enterprise, relying for its claims on the shared public evidence of the biblical texts and such extra-biblical evidence as variant manuscripts, ancient Near Eastern texts, material remains, and so on (rather than on private revelation and confessional dogma). Theologically, it’s about the theology in the texts rather than one’s theology of the Bible. This understanding would need to be communicated on the front page of the site.
  • There would have to be a standard rubric for recognizing and dealing with poor-faith inquiries coming out of the culture wars. This would, at the same time, have to allow for good-faith inquiries coming from those whose frame of reference has been distorted by the culture wars. (In English: What about spamming inquiries from folks like Answers in Genesis? What about well-meaning inquiries from folks whose minds have already been addled by AiG?)

I’m not in any hurry on this—believe me!—and it is the very beginning of the school year, with all its busy-ness. Still, if anyone who meets the second criterion above would be interested, let me know, and we can begin to look into it. If enough scholars were interested that the work load were low, it could be a real service.

BACK TO POST By the way, P.Z. has been having a hell of a time. He won’t be grateful for your prayers, but if you’re in a position to give to Red Cross, donate blood, or otherwise render service to heart patients, he’d be pleased.

[Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/08/26. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Studying Religion or Theology: What’s The Use?

Akma and Mark (links are to their home pages) shared a Facebook link to the Geek Muse: 100 Reasons to Study Theology and Religion: A Call for Comments. With religion and theology departments coming under the knife, Geek Muse calls for your arguments: how do these programs benefit our society? What good are they? Give it some thought, and go comment.

[Studying Religion or Theology: What’s The Use? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/08/23. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Culturally Diverse Classrooms (Liveblog)

Today, we welcome Dr. Nancy Ramsay (Brite Divinity School) and Dr. Frank Yamada (McCormick Theological Seminary) to host “a faculty workshop on understanding power dimensions in culturally diverse classrooms.”

Should the format afford me opportunity, I’ll try to live blog here from time to time during the day.

[I should have added that the event is organized by Dr. Gennifer Brooks, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.]

Overall: A really good day. Lots to simmer on while walking to and from the train this week.

3:00: When we ask students to put themselves at risk by self-contextualizing and making contextual claims, we want to be prepared to sometimes lead them in “taking a step back”: pulling back to a relatively safe analytical stance.

2:20: “Over time, it becomes less about ‘How can we be multicultural?’ and more about ‘How do we negotiate the multiform culture we comprise?’”

1:30: What does an incoming student “look” like? What does a graduating student “look” like?

1:10: Hard to sum up the things that came out of break-out groups and lunch discussion, except that I really do work with some incredibly smart and reflective educators.

10:55: Given the desirability of at least limited permeability (to define institution), how can that permeability be defined in ways that yet fully promote diversity?

10:20: I have habitually tended to privilege bottom-up construction of systems and of changes to systems, but I find myself persuaded concerning the importance of cultivating “key (powerful) constituencies” in an institution as prerequisite for an organized, team effort toward change.

9:52: Mental tangent: when we talk about a focus on better accomplishing educational mission by improving our own institutional integrity, I keep being reminded of the role of the five tenets of Taikwon-Do in the practice of that art: you become better at the external goal (doing something) by improving your self (becoming something).

9:50: Identifying practices that imagine power as “a scarce commodity,” and those that imagine power as “integrative or expansive.”

9:45: An institution might have a track record and articulate goals regarding diversity and progressive inclusiveness, but could yet be looking for “ways of keeping that in remembrance.”

9:35: Questions around how rooting out systemic oppression and exclusiveness benefits those of the dominant (white, or male, or hetero) group. Responses involve individual benefit and sharing in collective benefit.

9:17: “The work in the classroom will not flourish if there is not concurrent institutional change.” I like starting here: it defuses any individual defensiveness about current practice and results.

9:10: The first half of the day looks to be titled, “Institutional Power and Privilege.”

[Culturally Diverse Classrooms (Liveblog) was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/MONTH/DATE. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

What is, An Impending Sense of Job Insecurity?

Answer: According to Crossley, this dread feeling could potentially unite biblical scholars of all competing stripes.

In the online journal Bible and Interpretation, James Crossley writes that biblical scholars can hang together in defense of their discipline’s relevance, or we can hang separately in the public square of budget cuts in higher education.

The humanities will no doubt be the first target within universities in times of recession and cuts, and attention has already turned to those subjects deemed “irrelevant.” Unfortunately, the critical study of the Bible can be misunderstood as academics at prayer[.]

Please do read the whole thing: it is not very long.

Joseph Kelly offers a brief round-up (first paragraph) of bloggers already commenting on the piece.

[What is, An Impending Sense of Job Insecurity? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/15. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Uh, What Kinds of Biblical Historical Conclusions Do You Usually Have Here?”

After accepting Professor Bruce Waltke’s resignation, for having spoken aloud about the plain facts of the state of our knowledge concerning the natural world, Reformed Theological Seminary Campus President Michael Milton gushed enthusiastically about the vast spectrum of scientific/historical conclusions that the seminary would find acceptable from its faculty:

“Oh, we got both kinds: Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism!”[1]

Milton said that the seminary allows “views to vary” about creation, describing the faculty members there as having “an eight-lane highway” on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing “a framework” for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

But while Milton insisted that this provides for “a diversity” of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn’t arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

Here’s a hint to President Milton, but especially to any prospective students considering places like Reformed Theological Seminary:

  • no matter how “diverse” the spectrum of “acceptable” conclusions,
  • if an institution draws a line anywhere and says, “The conclusions of your research may extend here, but no further; beyond this line your inquiries may not lead you,” then
  • you are not in an institution of learning. In fact,
  • you couldn’t be more in the dark if you were stuffed into a sack.

I was going to add that those who enforce such parameters or assent to them should be willing to stop using the internet, and all computers (which rely on those merely theoretical critters called “electrons”); forego the MRI, the CAT scan, antibiotics, and all of modern medicine, returning to the leech-craft of their forebears; grow their own food, eschewing the disease-resistant strains available at market; keep the radio off, doing without satellite-produced early warning of natural disasters. After all, these are all the results of unbounded critical inquiry, and have arisen only where such inquiry has won out over efforts to suppress it.

But then I realized that these folks won’t return to their pre-modern dystopia without dragging everyone else along by force, so sorry, they’re just going to have to learn, one at a time, to live in the actual world, with its pesky, bias-challenging data. If one fears that one doesn’t know how, I offer the gentle and redoubtable Professor Waltke as an example.

For other feedback in the biblioblogosphere, see John Hobbins’ response and his round-up of other responses, and more recently, Jim Getz.

BACK TO POST “Creationism,” including so-called Intelligent Design, is always the view that God created all the species in the form that they have today: in other words, that evolution leading to speciation has not happened.

[“Uh, What Kinds of Biblical Historical Conclusions Do You Usually Have Here?” was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/10. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]