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I’ve been interested in the connection between culture and education for most of my adult life. My wife and I spent 8 years in pastoral work in Central Europe, and since 2005 my work with online education has brought me into intercultural spaces that include the intersection of multiple kinds of ...
Reset the Heart - Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope
Date Reviewed: April 16, 2019
Mai-Anh Le Tran, an associate professor of religious education and practical theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, tackles a profound question in her book Reset the Heart: Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope when she asks, “what does it mean to educate for faith in a world marked by violence?” Tran, who is a past president of the Religious Education Association, is an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church.
This intriguing volume about the problem of faith in a violent world begins in August 2014 with the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Situated within this violence and racism, Tran allows three questions to guide her search for meaning and answers: “What does it mean to educate for faith in a world marked by violence? How are Christian faith communities complicit in the teaching and learning of violence? What new (or renewed) practices of faith and educational leadership can help us unlearn violence and relearn hope?” (10). The search for these answers provides her agenda for “resetting the heart” (10).
Tran’s first two chapters struggle with her first question as she draws upon frameworks from social psychology, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, and racial formation theory. In Chapter Three, she examines the church’s complicity in the teaching and learning of violence. She offers a reframing of Charles Foster’s five major critiques of the church’s “catechetical culture” as a foundation of her answer. Finally, she attempts to answer her third question in Chapters Four, Five, and Six as she models relearning hope.
Throughout this volume, Tran explores a number of subjects that interrelate with her subject including race as political theology, racism as a form of violence, religious education malpractice, and the erasure of historical memory. Her model for relearning hope includes practicing communicability, redeemability, and educability. She reminds her readers again and again of the vital importance of religious education and the role of the religious educator in fostering transformation. As she writes in her conclusion, “Let the people of God say ‘Amen.’ And let Christian religious educators remind the people what ‘Amen’ means” (164).
Tran makes excellent use of a powerful theological writing technique rooted in what theologian Heather Walton describes as “performance autoethnography.” Her use of this technique makes the book’s content come alive in a faithful and academically solid narrative; Tran shows readers theology instead of just telling them. This is particularly true in her opening chapter as well as in Chapters Four, Five, and Six, when she integrates the support of 14 other theological voices that she engages as “theological reflectors.” This complex and stimulating writing does make the writing style in Chapters Two and Three, where Tran establishes her argument within the wider academic narrative, seem flat and uninspiring. Nevertheless, this is a very well-written narrative that is a pleasure to read.
Tran provides readers with a valuable and insightful addition to the theological understanding of religious education. This volume should be added to all theological libraries and is a must read not only for academics who specialize in religious education but also for clergy and leaders in parish religious education.
Race on Campus: Debunking Myths with Data
Date Reviewed: April 16, 2019
In this highly accessible book, Julie J. Park lays out current debates surrounding affirmative action regarding race on campus. The subtitle of the book, Debunking Myths with Data, conveys the direct approach Park takes: chapters focus on a particular topic associated with discussions about race on campus, such as “the problem of mismatch,” and makes the argument with data for why such language is problematic and inaccurate.
For instance, in the chapter on “The Problem with the ‘Problem of Mismatch’,” Park lays out current debate surrounding whether race-conscious campus admissions should end. She highlights the work of authors such as Richard Sander, who in his book Mismatch (Basic, 2012) suggests that race-based affirmative action leads to students going to schools where they are mismatched, and who would have benefited from going to other (and less prestigious) schools. Park draws on data to show how the information Sander presents only looks at a particular set of examples, and ignores the larger and more positive impact that race-based affirmative action has had for persons of color. Parks lifts up statistics that show underrepresented minorities doing better at some schools than others, arguing that rather than blaming the individual or group of students for their lack of academic success, entire institutions need to reevaluate their role in contributing to or preventing the success of their underrepresented minority students. Parks points to support systems in place at particular top-tier institutions that help students excel. Park also reveals data showing that Asian American and white students struggle similarly in college, and focusing too narrowly on underrepresented minority students like African American students ignores the fact that college can be challenging for all students, and yet no one is suggesting that white students go to a lower-tier school for reasons of mismatch.
Other myths Park debunks include the complaint that black students are self-segregating by sitting together in the cafeteria or in student organizations. Park points to the ongoing racial segregation of historically White Greek Life, the sororities and fraternities that remain highly segregated across college campuses, showing that these groups have deep historic roots in intentionally racist exclusionary policies.
Ultimately, Park makes several suggestions for how to think about race on campus. First, being race-conscious is still important, not only to support racial diversity on campus but also to support economic diversity. Park lifts up data that shows Asian American students benefited more from policies that looked at race and class, rather than just class alone. Park also advocates for supporting underrepresented minorities students in interracial contexts as well as promoting intra-racial organizations. Finally, while diversity and inclusion are both terms that hold value for the work that needs to be done, neither are states or destinations where institutions can say they have “arrived.” Park underscores the need to continually work towards these goals, particularly in light of the resurgence of alt-right white supremacists. Antiracism is the work we need to be doing, and diversity and inclusion efforts are part of that larger and ongoing struggle.
Training students to identify and traverse the identity politics in the United States begins on the first day of my courses. On day one, I introduce myself, then launch into the syllabus review. In describing the required readings, I hold the book or article in my hand, tell students the ...
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things ...