You Can Lead a Student to the Library, But You Can’t Make Them Read, or Can You?

This is the first post in a series on developing close reading habits in a freshmen Core Biology course.

Student at His Desk-Melancholy (1633) by Pieter CoddeWhen we started doing original text reading in freshmen Core Biology, students had a devil of a time trying to understand a text like Summa Theologica.  In fact, students were having a difficult time reading and understanding just about any original text we threw at them (e.g., Plato’s Meno, Chapter 1 in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Darwin’s Origin of Species, etc.). Granted, the texts they struggled with were not easy texts to read, but comprehension was being replaced by full retreat from attempting to understand even after the first reading assignment was given. Students did not know how to tackle a text that did not have the 3 characteristics they look for in a book: short, simple, and shocking. After a long period of time we finally started to realize what the problem was. Continue reading You Can Lead a Student to the Library, But You Can’t Make Them Read, or Can You?

Thoughts on Selma and “Selma”

We pMLKause today to memorialize the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. This year, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Birmingham march that spurred the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

I have been reminded of the magnitude of this 50th celebration by watching the recently released film Selma. While I am not a film critic, I will throw my hat into the ring of historians that have decided that the film should be reviewed and scrutinized by those of us trained to reconstruct the past and tease out its lessons. Continue reading Thoughts on Selma and “Selma”

Making Higher Grades and Better Progress toward Graduation with a Merit-based W

Progress (2)This is the last post in a three-part series on a merit-based W.

In two previous posts I argued that making the W merit-based helps students take their classes—including liberal arts courses—more seriously as “real world” work with real consequences and helps them develop the vital virtues of responsibility, merit, and integrity. In this final post, I will show that a merit-based W also helps students raise their grades and make timely progress toward graduation, which saves students money.

One would think that by instituting a merit-based W that more students would receive Ds ad Fs, which would lower their GPA and hurt their scholarships. The fact is that the opposite is true.   Continue reading Making Higher Grades and Better Progress toward Graduation with a Merit-based W

Using the W to Develop Academic Character

This is the second post in a three-part series on a merit-based W.

In a previous post I concluded with the contention that making the W an earned grade would not only help students take their classes—including core text courses—more seriously, but would also lead to three additional benefits: students would develop the virtues of responsibility, merit, and integrity; raise their grades; and graduate sooner. I will develop the first of these three claims below, saving the other two for a final post on this topic. Continue reading Using the W to Develop Academic Character

Preparing Students for the Real World, Not Video Games

WThis is the first post in a three-part series on a merit-based W.

Students in core text courses can be (in)famous for their complaints about how required liberal arts courses are a waste of time and money because those courses have no practical value in preparing them for the “real world.” One semester not that long ago I received this written criticism from a student who had taken two of our university’s commonly-required Core history and literature courses:

I do not know what was going through the Core boards members when they concocted this curriculum, perhaps they did not understand the fact that we students have many other classes which are more pertinent to our LIVES and future CAREERS than English [and history] reading is….[S]ome of us are more concerned with the real education we came to school for.

Why do students react this way to core text courses? I submit that one significant (and completely ignored) reason is that universities tell students that college is a video game, not real life. Continue reading Preparing Students for the Real World, Not Video Games

Philosophy and Virtue

Plato and Aristotle in the School fo Athens

As a father, I want to help my children develop good character—to learn self-control, humility, wisdom, perseverance, and similar virtues. I want the best for my children, and I believe that adults who exercise such virtues are more likely to achieve what is best for them. I have a similar attitude toward my students. I want the best for them, and I think certain virtues will help them achieve it. My role with my students, however, is more limited than with my children. I’m not likely to help my students develop more self-control than they already have, and life will probably teach wisdom better than I can ever hope to. However, there are two virtues I can help my students develop: humility and perseverance. Continue reading Philosophy and Virtue

The Wisdom of Solzhenitsyn

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This is the fourth in a series of four essays on core texts connected to the educational goal of developing wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens.

The student with a beach ball, flip flops, and sunglasses at graduation is neither original nor clever. While the student may be excused for youthful indiscretion, when a graduation speaker is neither original nor clever it is the gravest of all commencement sins.Often times a graduation speech is a panegyric to days gone by or a story with a few ethereal Carnegie-inspired quotes that will evaporate as soon as the student receives the diploma. If what the graduation speaker has to say is so important, a student might wonder, why does it have to wait until the end of the student’s time at university? The graduation speaker is usually remembered for being very brief (very few claim this to be a problem), overly verbose, or upstaged by events beyond their control.

The commencement exercises at Harvard Yard on June 8, 1978 were upstaged by an unexpected and unpleasant cold weather front. The students, parents, and faculty that sat uncomfortably in the weather had also the sometimes jarring experience of hearing a foreign tongue echo only to be chased seconds later by a translator’s approximation. But this speaker was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famed author of the Gulag Archipelago and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, now residing in Vermont. Continue reading The Wisdom of Solzhenitsyn

Negotiating Honor in Cicero’s De Officiis

Maccari-CiceroThis is the third in a series of four essays on core texts connected to the educational goal of developing wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens.

Concordia University Irvine’s Core Curriculum seeks an ambitious vision set forth in the words of Martin Luther: “to develop wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens.” One danger in running with a vision that’s so catchy is that the virtues these words espouse may eventually become confused, diluted, or even meaningless. The hazard is compounded when the word “honorable” enjoys center stage in that vision, a word that for many has eluded a simple definition distinguishable from a kind of vanilla “moral uprightness.” One purpose of this essay, then, is to seek whether clarity can be at least provisionally attained about what we mean by “honor.” To do this we will aim at a discrete delineation along the lines suggested by one core text, Cicero’s De Officiis (“On Obligations” or “On Duties”). Continue reading Negotiating Honor in Cicero’s De Officiis

Euthyphro and Civic Responsibility

This is the second in a series of four essays on core texts connected to the educational goal of developing wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens.

Martin Luther claimed the value of a liberal arts education was in transforming youth into “wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens,” with classic texts instrumental to such a transformation. Moreover, the notion of a responsible citizen has been foundational to all of secular and sectarian Western education. But what is a responsible citizen? When asked of my students, I usually receive a legalistic response. A responsible citizen is one who doesn’t cause trouble for her neighbor, obeys the laws of the land, secures a designated driver when hitting the town, etc. Essentially, the responsible citizen is a rule follower.

Ironically, faculty members often help the student internalize such an anemic view of responsible citizenship. Continue reading Euthyphro and Civic Responsibility

Psalm 1 as Educational Pattern and Vision

This is the first in a series of four essays on core texts connected to the educational goal of developing wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens.

Psałterz_florianski1In 1524 the theological and educational reformer Martin Luther wrote a letter to the councilmen of Germany encouraging them to maintain and establish Christian schools. One snippet nicely summarizes Luther’s missive:

Now the welfare of a city does not consist solely in accumulating vast treasures, building mighty walls and magnificent buildings, and producing a goodly supply of guns and armor. Indeed, where such things are plentiful, and reckless fools get control of them, it is so much the worse and the city suffers even greater loss. A city’s best and greatest welfare, safety, and strength consist rather in its having many able, learned, wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens. They can then readily gather, protect, and properly use treasure and all manner of property.

In Luther’s view, which Concordia University Irvine has adopted and adapted in its Core Curriculum, all young men and women need a proper education so that they can use their gifts and callings in the best way possible to serve society and the church.

But what sort of education best suits this end?  Continue reading Psalm 1 as Educational Pattern and Vision

The Q&I Forum of Concordia University Irvine