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Publicly Engaged Scholars: Next-Generation Engagement and the Future of Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Preparing citizens through education is not a novel idea. Its origins lie in Greco-Roman approaches to the task, and in American history the goal of educating the citizenry can be traced back to Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), and John Dewey (1859-1952). Dewey, who was perhaps the most articulate about the implications of pragmatism for education, saw academic preparation for life in a democracy and the moral education of children as part of the same endeavor.
The contributors to this volume acknowledge Dewey’s role in this enterprise, but do not explicitly explain why these essays represent the “next generation” of educators inspired by his vision. The best explanation, perhaps, is that they emphasize academic advocacy, as opposed to broader social wellbeing; engagement with society over preparation for engagement with society; and social location over citizenship as a point of departure for academic work.
With that set of assumptions in mind, it is easier to discern the larger purpose of the sixteen essays in this volume which include an introduction and afterward, along with chapters devoted to three subject areas: (1) “The Collaborative Engagement Paradigm”; (2) the work of “New Public Scholars”; and (3) thoughts on “The Future of Engagement.”
The vast majority of the contributors to this volume are specialists in education and programs in community engagement, and there are individual writers from the disciplines of art and political science. For that reason, some seminarians and seminary faculty will find more immediate points of contact with their work than others. Both groups will also find themselves asking – if education driven by engagement is appealing or necessary – whether the more natural point of contact for seminaries is the community, the church, or both.
A critical evaluation of the essays will also raise other questions to which there are no simple answers:
- What is the place of “social relevancy and public legitimacy” in shaping the curriculum of higher education (1)?
- Can engagement as a model for learning set aside more abstract, disciplinary concerns (17)?
- What role has commodification played in shaping higher education and is learning through engagement immune to commodification (24)?
- To what degree do faculty members remain accountable to the disciplines that they represent when using engagement as a model for teaching and, if so, how is that accountability achieved?
The answers to those questions will all look potentially different in theological schools and seminaries where faculty regularly grapple with the relationship between the work that they do and the needs of the church. Indeed, that realization may point to the most important question that the subject matter, but not the book itself, raises for theological educators: What does it mean for seminaries to engage the church “as reciprocal partners and coeducators” (5)? Answering that question is one that everyone who cares about theological education would do well to answer.
Sometimes classrooms feel like our family living room, with our families around, exposing all kinds of political positions and emotional responses, all of us trying to respond to some events that are going on in the world. We look at each other for help, or to hate, we hope for ...
Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (New Directions for Community Colleges, Number 173)
Date Reviewed: November 16, 2016
New Directions in Community Colleges, may be an unfamiliar journal to many scholars in theology and religion, but growing interest in community colleges as transformational contexts warrants attention. This edition presents scholarship on ethical and pedagogical issues of civic engagement in higher education. Recording workshops at the Kettering Foundation convened by Derek Barker collaborating with editors, Ronan and Kisker, these authors share the conviction that higher education should promote democratic values. Without fully acknowledging controversial aspects of that claim, they explore common ground working for social mobility, civic agency, and democratic practices such as voting, public discourse, and advocacy.
Contributors reflect on two reports, both published in 2012: “Advancing Civic Learning,” representing the work of the U.S. Department of Education, and “A Crucible Moment,” written by the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, work of the American Association of Colleges and Universities. Both reports address educational goals of preparing engaged citizens who transfer civic skills like capacities for communicating, leading, organizing, and advocating from the classroom to workplace, public, and personal settings. Furthermore, the integration and assessment of civic learning and democratic engagement across educational programs from formal curriculum to extracurricular opportunities offered insight for building institutional support or resources for others innovative programs.
For instance, Carrie Kisker surveyed sixty community colleges asking whether civic engagement was a goal stated in missions or strategic plans with dedicated infrastructure and incentives in tenure or advancement process. She found diversity of approaches but high level of integration in curriculum and encouragement in extracurricular programs. However, her findings document a lack of a standardized instrument to assess civic engagement and the need for more study of institutionalized support. Other highlights include David Matthews’s proposed deliberative pedagogy which he linked to timely questions about authority and legitimacy in the public mandate for institutions of higher education. For example, John J. Theis cited the problems of people losing confidence in each other and in institutions, drawing on Carcasson’s work noting that the “expert model” usually dominates higher education in ways that disempowers collective action (43). The authors connect their work as educators with enduring questions of ethics, cultural identities, and inequality.
Significant numbers of students learning about religious studies and theology are enrolled in classes at community colleges with more racial and economic diversity than most seminary or elite college and university classes. Despite the lack of prestige or attraction these settings may have for many faculty, community colleges are rich in ability to shape citizens and hence the future of our communities. Furthermore, although many seminaries and religious studies departments compete fiercely and perpetuate bitter rivalries to attract students, community colleges seem better able to collaborate with each other and learn together in ways institutions for teaching religion and theology would do well to study. Since religious institutions also need leaders with civic competencies, theological educators concerned with the future will find the journal provocative. Especially those educators committed to promoting the common good, social justice, and public engagement will benefit from reading this book.
Play and the Human Condition
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Thomas Henricks’ Play and the Human Condition provides a valuable guide to the academic study of human play. Henricks has been teaching at Elon University since 1977 as a sociologist. He has been studying human play since his PhD dissertation, which explored the relationship between sports and social stratification, and he has over thirty years of academic publications in play studies. In this volume, Henricks attempts to advance his thesis that “play is fundamentally a sense-making activity and that the broader goal of this process is to construct the subjectively inhabited sphere of operations and understandings called the self” (209).
Henricks organizes this book into an introduction and nine chapters. He begins the introduction with three questions that guide his work: “How do we discover who we are? How do we determine the character of the world in which we live? And how do we decide what we can do in a world so configured?” (1). The introduction provides a rationale for studying play as well as an overview of the book.
The first three chapters explore general models of play. In Chapter I, Henricks explores the difficulties around establishing a definition for play as he reviews several modern definitions. He presents six ways of understanding play: as action, as disposition, as experience, as context, as interaction, and as activity while he connects each model to their major theorists. The next chapter presents how play is different from other patterns of human behaviors including ritual, work, and communitas. The final chapter in this section develops a theory of play that centers upon self-realization. Henricks notes that “play best teaches people how to conceive self-directed lines of action and to mobilize varieties of resources to realize these ambitions” (89).
In the middle of the book, Henricks devotes five chapters to various aspects of play including psychology, the human body, physical environment, social life, and culture. After focusing on the mind in his chapter on the psychology of play, Henricks turns to the human body and play in Chapter Five. While examining animal play, he concludes “play integrates symbolic and physically based meaning systems. . . play is a form of consultation between matters manifest and latent, known and unknown. In consequences, players extend and secure their understanding of themselves” (137). Next, he engages the physical environment and social aspects of play, because as he explains, “play is complicated by the presence of more than one player” (161). Chapter Eight builds upon the foundation of the earlier chapters to explore culture and play. This is an important chapter that engages the work of Geertz, Deerida, and Gadamer to list a few.
Henricks’ final chapter weaves the various themes of the earlier chapters together to support his thesis. He examines the relationship between play and freedom. He concludes that “if play has a legacy, it is its continuing challenge to people of every age to express themselves openly and considerately in the widest human contexts” (227).
Play and the Human Condition is a well-developed and scholarly text. Henricks engages a wide range of disciplines and carefully builds his arguments. The book offers a detailed road map to professional play literature that will be very useful to any scholar researching in this field. Except for a few terms, like communitas, this volume is accessible for the non-specialist. Theologians and graduate students should have no problem understanding and engaging this text in fruitful dialogue.
This volume would be a good addition to major theological libraries. It is especially important for scholars and programs that explore ritual studies and hermeneutics. Chapter Four, on play as therapy, gives a foundation for this important approach to clergy who want to explore this avenue of pastoral care and counseling.
Teaching the Historical Jesus: Issues and Exegesis
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This collection highlights the depth and breadth of interest in the historical Jesus across various forms of higher education. Editor Zev Garber has done an outstanding job of assembling high quality scholar-teachers to explicate their framework for understanding Jesus in his social-historical setting. What makes the volume noteworthy for a faculty teaching theology and religion, however, is the reflection on how to teach this important subject in ways that are pertinently positioned for a variety of student audiences. Taken as a whole, the volume answers Rudolf Bultmann’s question, “Can there be exegesis without presuppositions?” with a resounding “no.” Each contributor clearly presents their own position, the background of their institutional context, and assumptions that surround the teaching of their group of students.
The collection is made up of twenty shorter essays and full comment on each cannot be made here. The first part of the volume examines teaching and student engagement from a variety of institutional contexts – primarily undergraduate, but including a rabbinical school and a Christian seminary. Further marks of delineation are private versus public; Protestant, Jewish, Catholic; and even a public community college. Some contributors function both in academia as well as in the training of religious leaders, formally or informally. Pedagogy is presented and explained, along with reflection on student questions, reactions, and participation in the learning process. The underlying purpose in doing this teaching work is to increase fruitful interfaith dialogue. The second section examines specific issues in teaching the historical Jesus – often these are difficulties encountered, with solutions suggested (for example, the use of art or cinema; the nature of Judaism and Jesus; the extended turn toward later Christian terms and theology; the use of gospel materials in reconstruction; clarity on the “parting of the ways”). The final section consists of four technically positioned essays about Jesus’s Jewish background and his roles within local, pan-Mediterranean, and larger political contexts of his society (who was Jesus among other males, the Pharisees, and political seditionists?).
If readers of Reflective Teaching believe that good teaching is enhanced by “good conversations about teaching,” then this volume is a gold mine. Garber has directed the contributors to be transparent about themselves, their contexts, and their students. This allows us to contrast them to our own pedagogies, experiences, expectations, and accomplishments or difficulties. In addition, we can be reminded that our own contexts may be busy and focused to the extent that we are unaware of or inattentive to the differing contexts and perspectives of colleagues that both warrant our notice and our conversation – thus increasing our respect, tolerance, civility, and openness to dialogue. And because much of the discussion in this book revolves around students, we have an opportunity to see the variety of perspectives that we might one day engage in the classroom ourselves. I highly recommend this book for those who teach early Christianity or introductory courses in which the historical Jesus is a significant subject of inquiry.