liberal arts education
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Teaching the Bible in the Liberal Arts Classroom, Volume Two
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Reading The Lost Jewels of Nabooti, a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book by R.A. Montgomery as an eight year old in 1979, I never could have imagined relating that adventure to the book of Revelation in scripture. Now, after reading Robby Waddell’s essay “Choose Your Own Adventure: Teaching, Participatory Hermeneutics, and the Book of Revelation” in Teaching the Bible in the Liberal Arts Classroom: Volume 2, the possibility of a scholarly conversation between the two makes me eager to teach Revelation again.
Teaching the Bible includes four parts: tactics, strategies, principles, and reflections on Biblical Studies in the liberal arts classroom. Waddell’s essay is just one of several essays sharing tactics for teaching the Bible. Each of these tactical essays highlight creative and compelling possibilities for teaching: Twitter as a tool for conversation and connecting, Wikipedia as an example of Pentateuchal formation, and digital storytelling to illumine Biblical character studies are just a few examples. Certainly it would be easy to view these tactics as mere activities for class discussion. However conceptualized, within this framework these tactics reveal deeper truths: the changing role of teachers in a twenty-first century globalized classroom, the ongoing fight for humanities’ role as a vital component of a post-modern education, and facilitating effective learning when it is all too easy for a student to surf the Internet while taking notes on their computer.
Editors Jane S. Webster and Glenn S. Holland, along with their cohorts in the “Teaching Biblical Studies in the Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context” within the Society for Biblical Literature, care about this deeper conversation. Tactics for teaching become activities when separated from guiding strategies and overarching principles. Tactics become a particular art form when guided by essays like those included in Parts II and III of this book.
Consider the strategy suggested by Sonya Shetty Cronin in her essay, “Fantasy: The ‘Renewed’ Genre Making Necessary a Biblical Education for Understanding Our Contemporary World.” Cronin’s argument suggests scholars of Biblical studies should be just as versed in modern fantasy novels as they are in Philo. Doing so allows scholars to continue to present the modern relevance of Biblical themes as well as their undergirding of so much of popular culture. If strategies are the goals that guide tactics, principles are the greater themes that illumine those strategies. In this volume, themes of ecology, supersessionism, and violence are explored as principles that call for a deeper conversation within the Biblical narrative and contemporary culture.
The final three essays, exploring Biblical studies in the liberal arts curriculum, are valuable conversation partners. For example, Steven Dunn highlights a syllabus and course objectives drawn into conversation with the ability-based curriculum at Alverno College. Katy E. Valentine probes the problems and possibilities for teaching students from non-religious backgrounds.
Certainly The Lost Jewels of Nabooti drew me into the scholarly conversation unfolding within these pages. To be clear, this excellent book is not unlike a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where the reader chooses the adventure most needed within their classroom setting.
In Defense of a Liberal Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The argument of Fareed Zakaria’s book is precisely what the title indicates: a liberal education is worth defending. Zakaria begins by describing the oft heard opinion that studying the liberal arts, especially in an age of technology and global business, is a waste of time, and how in India, a skills-based education is valued much more than one centered on the study of history or philosophy. He himself intended to focus upon maths and sciences, but wound up a history major because of an elective course.
The book provides a brief but helpful history of liberal arts education, focused upon the United States, then turns to what Zakaria thinks is the “central virtue” (72) of such an education: it teaches one how to write, which in turn teaches one how to think. The other two main advantages of such an education are that one learns how to speak, and how to learn. Zakaria elaborates on how such abilities are requisite for obtaining a job, and important for the modern economy. He also maintains that education should be much more accessible and affordable, and that university education, at least in the United States, should be more rigorous. Thus, while extolling the importance of a liberal education, he recognizes that it is currently deeply flawed in its implementation. We need more, and better, liberal education (105).
Subsequent chapters further discuss the need for greater accessibility to higher education (Zakaria believes MOOCs can make a contribution here), and the significance of knowledge for power, especially political power. Zakaria thinks the liberal arts are crucial if we want more just societies and a fairer distribution of wealth. His final chapter is a defense of today’s youth. There have been several recent books lamenting the lack of curiosity and selfishness of young people. However, Zakaria cites surveys that indicate that concerns about being a community leader and helping others have risen among students in university, and education, poverty. and the environment are their top concerns. However, at the close of the book he grants that all of us need to spend more time thinking about the meaning of life, which is precisely what a liberal arts education encourages us to do.
Zakaria’s book is informative and engaging, and I appreciate his call to make education more accessible for those facing economic hardship. Some might find that the examples and citations from capitalist icons who endorse the liberal arts undermine other aspects of Zakaria’s argument given that one hopes (and Zakaria appears to share this hope) a liberal arts education would encourage a more reflective critique of economic systems in which people are able to amass so much wealth, often at the expense of others. Such examples might also reinforce the notion that success is measured primarily by wealth, which many dimensions of a liberal arts course of study would challenge. But those interested in a history of higher education in the United States will find this a good introduction. The more positive, or at least, sympathetic, attitude towards contemporary young people evident in the last chapter is welcome in light of how anxious and debt-ridden so many of our students are.