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Teaching Civic Engagement
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This collection of fourteen essays, most of which originated from a faculty workshop on Pedagogies for Civic Engagement sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, is divided into three sections. The collection represents a variety of perspectives and the authors engage that diversity through a distinct set of questions. “What is the civic relevance of the academic study of religion, considered on its own terms and in its increased diversity? What unique contributions does religious studies offer the public sphere, especially when seen as separate from the work of religious communities who concentrate on religious belonging? How might the disciplines dedicated to such study offer a distinctive shape and response to the civic mission of the contemporary university?” (xiv-xv). Further uniting the individual contributors’ perspectives are their insights offered towards the development of a model of civic engagement that answers these questions.
Section I describes the CLEA model of civic engagement. The employed acronym is drawn from the terms complexity, location, empathy, and action. The terms refer to dimensions, better still, capacities essential for civic participation emerging from the “virtues of civility, reasoned deliberation, and commitment to the common good” (xiii). The intellectual capacity needed for democratic society is evident when persons achieve awareness of the complexity of the world, especially a view of the world beyond the way the powerful control the interpretation of social reality (8-10, 14, 25). As democracy blossoms into pluralism, the person who would be a responsible citizen must exhibit awareness of his or her social location and point of view relative to that of other persons (15, 27-28). Beyond awareness of difference, he or she must have empathy, namely a sense of connection to others as all are (or should be) in pursuit of the common good (15-16, 31). The responsible citizen must act on what he or she has come to know as true (16, 34).
In Section II, various strategies for teaching civic engagement are described. Among the various methods used for teaching civic engagement is reflective writing which is summary and evaluation of different points of view relative to one’s own view (49, 50-53). In critical assessment of texts and media, students learn to interrogate symbols, internet (websites), newspaper and news programs, visual and performing arts, and various forms of entertainment (49, 53-54, 88-89, 95) but also learn how they may be used responsibly (100-102). Field trips are immensely helpful aids in teaching (49, 54-55, 77-80, 119-121). Another method of teaching civic engagement is community-based learning which involves teachers and students going into the community as well as representatives from the community visiting their classroom (49, 55-56, 66-71, 110, 112, 136-137). Engagement may also be taught through students’ involvement in community service projects designed to address a need or problem in a community (49, 57, 110, 112). Ascetic withdrawal, for example, in the form of abstinence from or limiting use of cell phones, smart phones, email and texting, impulse buying, consumption of fast-food, use of products made through exploited labor, may enable students to empathize with other persons adversely affected by American consumerism and to discern and cease the unhealthy habits they have formed through compulsive behaviors (93-94, 151, 155). Successful teaching requires creativity in the selection of instructional methods as well as discernment of the combination of methods, two or more, that will lead to achievement of specified learning objectives (58-59).
Section III goes further into defining civic engagement and locating it within the curriculum. Civic engagement is defined as participation in political processes such as voting, development of relationships, and collaborations or partnerships that lead to policy that contributes to the common good (165, 167, 170, 175). Civic engagement is not only local and national but also global (184). It is connected to, inseparable from, the idea of social justice (185). Also, it is connected to advocacy, not taking a political position but rather “taking a side in a debate and arguing for it” (209-210). Disagreement about the relation of and distinction between religious studies and theology is resolved in the consensus that both function best as means for analysis and critique of societal and cultural traditions that result in privilege and inequality (236). Whether in religious studies or theology, the course offered in civic engagement is an opportunity for students and teachers to practice democracy (17, 188-190, 246-247).
In spite of the charge that the described teaching methods are difficult to grade and are not academically rigorous (37-39, 218-220), this volume of essays merits consideration. It is a rich resource on instructional methods. The combined essays offer a substantive definition of civic engagement. Most importantly, the collection correlates teaching method to the cultivation of capacities needed for life in democratic society.
Engaged Teaching in Theology and Religion
Date Reviewed: August 3, 2016
There is wide agreement that student-centered pedagogies yield deeper student engagement and stronger learning outcomes than more traditional “sage-on-the-stage” teaching does. Learning shines when students are invited and equipped to integrate course content with their own experiences, insights, and prior knowledge. In this volume Renee K. Harrison and Jennie S. Knight reflect on personal experiences in the classroom, explore pedagogical theory, and provide examples of applied practices to create a map of the key elements of engaged pedagogy. The map, divided into four sections, moves from the selfhood of the teacher to teaching methods and course content to community context and engagement.
Harrison and Knight begin with a premise: that the enterprise of teaching involves the very personhood of the teacher. Either we can acknowledge this and cultivate an awareness of our strengths, blind spots, and biases, or we can ignore it. That deep learning involves the very personhood of students is another key premise. Nurturing this two-pronged awareness – that teachers and students do not leave their wider selves at the door of the classroom – is the necessary ground of engaged teaching. Whole persons are welcomed into the classroom and empowered to reflectively integrate course content with who they are.
Sections two and three explore how form and content can either undermine or buttress one another and how, even when teachers aim for the latter, they may unwittingly miss the mark. For example, in classrooms in which more democratic teaching practices are employed, course content may still hew closely to a traditional textual canon, with marginalized voices tacked on at the end. Or content may offer a wide range of perspectives while teaching methods minimize student voices. Ideally, democratic pedagogies and a widened canon reiterate one another.
If the goal of learning is not just knowledge acquisition but transformation and if we are inviting students’ whole lives into the process, attending to communal context is likewise crucial. The authors thus cap the volume with strong advocacy for community-based learning (CBL). They discuss the logistical and pedagogical challenges of incorporating community work into courses and illustrate why it is well worth the effort. They offer tools for implementing such work, while acknowledging that sustained success in CBL requires significant institutional buy-in that some teachers may not enjoy.
In fact, a particular strength of this volume is its honesty about engaged teaching practices, which while considered innovative in pedagogical circles, are still perceived in many academic circles as less rigorous and less respectable than more classic methods. Harrison and Knight lament that this should be so especially in theological-religious education, where the integration of curricular and worldly knowledge is paramount. Should engaged teaching not be the norm? Recognizing that teachers will need to calculate risks depending on institutional context, they counsel courage for the sake of students’ whole-person integrity – and of the credibility of theological-religious education.
The wisdom conveyed in these pages is clearly hard won, over the course of many years across varied institutions. In distilling their experiences, Harrison and Knight offer their readers a real gift. However, while teachers can benefit from the ideas, strategies, and examples laid out in the book, they should not expect to change their own teaching methods and courses overnight. Rather, this volume invites teachers to an ongoing practice of engaged pedagogy that requires continual self-reflection, awareness of institutional and classroom contexts, a willingness to take creative risks, and a commitment to engaging one’s students as whole persons. It is a compelling invitation indeed. For those who prize transformative pedagogy, this volume weaves the best of theory and practice in teaching theology and religion – accessibly, comprehensively, and indeed engagingly. Highly recommended for undergraduate, seminary, and graduate teachers alike.
Learning Through Serving: A Student Guidebook for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Across Academic Disciplines and Cultural Communities, 2nd Edition
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
First published in 2005, Learning through Serving is a collection of critical thought on the nature of service-learning, as well as a practical field guide for educators looking to expand their skills in this arena. Cress, Collier, Reitenauer, and their colleagues at Portland State University seek to respond to the organic growth of service programs in contemporary higher education – both curricular and extracurricular. Fundamentally, the authors consider service-learning as a liberatory pedagogical tool that induces students to take control of their own learning, and deconstructs the banking model of schooling (famously attacked by Paolo Freire) that remains dominant in much contemporary education. Learning through Serving is intentionally transdisciplinary, and will certainly be helpful for religious studies or theology educators who employ community-based learning or service-learning models. The wealth of experience the authors share, their diverse voices, and lucid consideration of socially-engaged pedagogy yield great value for those seeking to deepen their practice of service-learning.
The authors’ goals are to assist educators and students in thinking through their community service experiences, in the interest of holistic conscientious formation: “In sum, the book is about how to make academic sense of civic service in preparing for students’ roles as future citizen leaders” (xix). Although some readers might balk at the emphasis on “leadership” – and even the use of the term “service” itself – the authors consider a variety of leadership styles suited for different contexts, and make considerable effort to attend to questions of privilege and social justice. This is interspersed throughout the text, but the authors also dedicate a full chapter (“Creating Cultural Connections”) to addressing these issues explicitly.
This guide was constructed with the intention that it would be read in the context of an academic class – thus the chapters are arranged to build on one another throughout the course of a semester. Learning through Serving is composed as a textbook, placing great emphasis on clarity and structure, without sacrificing substance for the sake of readability. The different chapters oscillate between hands-on course planning and more theoretical treatments of civic engagement and democratic philosophy. The new edition makes a particular effort to attend to the global interconnectedness that increasingly defines contemporary digital realities. Service-learning courses have traditionally cultivated porous boundaries between “town” and “gown,” but in an academic climate that increasingly embraces remote student enrollment, service-learning benefits from critically considering how it might adjust to accommodate – and even take advantage of – new developments in university structure, while empowering students to be responsible citizens.
Cress and her colleagues are experienced enough to know that, in practice, service-learning courses rarely go as planned, and that for a variety of reasons, instructors may have to adjust their approach mid-semester. Ultimately, the service component of a class aspires to be interwoven into the fabric of the more formal coursework, integrating the two elements into a mutually-enhancing, symbiotic whole. Learning through Serving offers a wealth of pedagogical advice for service-learning courses, but also situates service-learning within a larger commitment to civic engagement and building a more just society. It contains invaluable nuts-and-bolts course planning assistance, and gives wise counsel on how to develop enduring, reciprocal community partnerships that build capacity for the long haul.
Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
Some academic disciplines such as law and medicine have a long history of using case teaching as a pedagogical approach while other disciplines seldom employ case teaching. Espen Andersen, associate professor in the department of strategy and logistics at the Norwegian Business School, and Bill Schiano, professor of computer information systems at Bentley University, drawing from their experience of using case teaching in business schools, demonstrate the positive impacts case teaching can bring and provide a practical guide for instructors who would like to adopt this pedagogical approach. As readers move through the content, they will discover that the book covers topics broader than case teaching and offers rich insight into how classroom discussions can be effective toward student participatory learning development.
As indicated in the title, Teaching with Cases is a practical guide. It is not only a practical guide for teaching with cases, but also covers basic teaching skills and techniques. These include: how to develop content; writing a syllabus; planning a class session; using guest speakers; employing role play; designing group discussions, assignments, and grading rubrics; debriefing a course and using feedback; handling small details such as seating arrangement; using technology; managing breaks and classroom behaviours; and using the white/blackboard effectively. The book is a comprehensive manual for teachers, new or experienced.
While the comprehensiveness of the book is to be commended, more in-depth insights about case teaching are lacking as the book wanders around discussion-based teaching techniques rather than focusing on how to use cases effectively. The most helpful piece on actual case teaching is chapter 6, “Quantitative and Technical Material,” where the important value of case teaching is spelled out: “to foster an intuitive understanding of a situation and to learn to think and make decisions like a manager” (174).The best illustration on a teaching case (Dell computer’s build-to-order) is also found in this chapter. More guidance on how to craft out an effective teaching case to be used in both classroom and online discussions would be helpful.
While I appreciate the authors’ sensitivity to language and culture as an issue in case teaching and an entire chapter devoted to addressing content and classroom dynamics such as gesture, custom, vocabularies, and so forth, the authors seem to generalize language and culture by national identities or geographical boundaries and fail to recognize the particularities and diversity with a culture. For example, Chinese students from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China have different cultural values and educational systems. Hence, their understanding of what connotes sound educational practices will vary as well. Even within those three localities, diverse expressions of customs and norms can be observed. To assume all Asian students think and behave the same way is problematic.
The lack of a strong conclusion that ties it all together is a disappointment, especially since the book covers such a broad range of teaching skills and techniques. Overall, Teaching with Cases is a helpful guide for instructors, particularly those who are interested in engaging students in participatory learning. Readers may also find additional supplementary materials for this book online at http://academic.hbsp.harvard.edu/teachingwithcases.
Engaging with Living Religion: A Guide to Fieldwork in the Study of Religion
Date Reviewed: March 3, 2016
What is “religion”? Many would argue that religion is the single most important element of a person’s existence: “I am [Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, et cetera] and my understanding of reality is predicated by my religious affiliation.” Others would argue that it is nothing more than a sociological aspect of a person’s existence. “I am [Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, et cetera], and it is important to me in the same way that my Irish, Indian, or Russian heritage predicates my social interactions.” On one hand, we have persons who understand themselves within the context of their religion. On the other hand, we have persons who understand their religion within the context of themselves.
Yet, how does one define religion? One definition that I have found helpful for many years is from Winfried Corduan’s tome Neighboring Faiths: “A religion is a system of beliefs and practices that provides values to give life meaning and coherence by directing a person toward transcendence” (InterVarsity, 1998, 21). This definition provides a simple construct for understanding what religion is and what it does without taking sides. Whether one is on the devout or the affiliated end of the spectrum, people might generally agree that the purpose of religion is to teach people values that will give life meaning.
The next question, then, is how should students in higher educational classroom contexts study religion? Talk about a tricky wicket! Any student of religion is going to have shelves of books that all make the same claim – this one has the answer! Some offer tremendous analysis on the all-encompassing and captivating nature of religion. Others provide summative studies of various religions that may stir the reader’s appetite for meaning and transcendence. Still others provide a sociological approach to the study of religion, a field manual for understanding why persons cling to religious belief and practice that belief as they do.
Authored by religious studies professors Stephen E. Gregg (University of Wolverhampton) and Lynne Scholfield (St. Mary’s University, Twickenham), Engaging with Living Religion offers a practical introduction to the field study of religion. The intention of the book is not to develop religious ideation or affiliation in its readers, but to provide a professionally-appropriate way for researchers to analyze and comprehend why Christians pray with their eyes closed, why Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca, and why Jews light a menorah. While this last statement may sound simplistic, it is anything but – each of these actions are essential expressions of that religion and, as the authors argue, one cannot understand Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other religion without understanding the liturgy and locations that provide structure to the world’s religions.
Designed as a guide for the fieldwork student (or as a study companion in a lecture course on religious sociology), Gregg and Scholefield create not only a keen eye for studying religion but also a deep respect for religious adherence. Although the volume does take more of a sociological stance – religion is more akin to a social activity or organizational membership than a guiding force for one’s life – the authors keep the idea that religion is living ever before the reader/researcher. Each chapter is bursting with sidebars, such as passages from foundational readings or case studies, discussion questions, recommended bibliographies, and websites for further research. Although this is a book about the study of religion, one thought comes through subversively on every page – Religion, however it is defined, is living and active, and it provides meaning and direction to individuals seeking transcendence. Therefore, treat it with care and respect.
Overall, I found this volume to be both intriguing and engaging. In addition to a chapter that advocates why studying religion is important, there are chapters on where to study religion, how to study religion through class field trips or study-abroad programs, how to use case studies and social media to understand religion practically, and how to develop an ongoing appreciation for the sociological study of religion.
My recommendation would be that this volume be read alongside a more extensive volume on ethnography. Van Maanen’s Tales of the Field (University of Chicago, 2011) or Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw’s Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes (University of Chicago, 2011) would constitute good choices.