23 November, 2010
13 November, 2010
|Coat of Arms, Wittenberg|
04 November, 2010
19 October, 2010
14 October, 2010
28 September, 2010
Critical observers of U.S. higher education—of which there are far too few—have certainly seen it coming for years, perhaps decades. I think it might have finally sunk in for me when, within the space of but a few years, the ubiquitous “caf” was renamed the “dining facility,” dorm rooms that looked like what you’d get for third-class passage on a ship were replaced by suites, and the cavernous rubber-and-sweat-smelling gym was turned into a “fitness center,” often as well appointed as the local for-profit fitness club. Ironically, none of this coincided with an equally obvious renewed emphasis on teaching and learning. Those on the busy side of the podium at the front of the room might even have been able to discern, over this roughly 10-year revolution that swept American higher ed, an inverse relationship between enhanced non-academic facilities and students’ engagement.
The problem was, those who should have been keeping tabs on it all were the ones who stood to gain the most from it: the fitness club for students is open, usually free, to faculty; the house-beautiful dorm rooms are as much a badge of pride for bricks-and-mortar administrators as they are for the students who take up residence there; and, well, everyone has to eat, and adults no less than students prefer padded chairs to benches, small tables to row seating, and a nice cut of beef in the stroganoff to yesterday’s shepherd’s pie. Meanwhile, students and their parents paid more and more; the federal government released more and more funds in support of “higher education” in the form of grants and loans; and the institutions kept doing what institutions do best: engage in a Veblen-esque conspicuous grasp for the biggest piece of the pie they could get.
Which makes it, frankly, refreshing that someone, finally, has someone’s ear: the president’s. In an interview with college and university newspaper staffs from around the country yesterday, Mr. Obama shows that he: (a) is onto the federal gravy train that has allowed higher education costs to soar out of proportion; (b) understands the higher-ed “arms race” (if I may be permitted: in 1985, 25 years ago, the comprehensive annual cost of one, very nicely appointed private institution [VNAPI] which I was fortunate enough to attend was just less than a brand-new VW Golf—$8,750; today, while the equivalent 2010 Golf runs roughly $16K, the comprehensive cost of the same VNAPI is $47K); (c) rightly views spa-like accommodations on campus as having little to no bearing on the quality of education; and (d) wonders out loud whether “research” may have gotten in the way of teaching and learning. You can read more about Mr. Obama’s interview in the Around Washington column in today’s Inside Higher Ed.
What does this all mean? First, this may be the first time I’ve seen these issues addressed publicly by anyone in Washington, although, as I've mentioned, critical observers have long noted these matters privately and in smaller venues. Mr. Obama’s comments may bring some long-overdue and well-deserved attention to some of the real problems in higher education. Second, this portends a new era of what we’ve been arguing for here on RenMus, a leaner, meaner curriculum, the creation of a shared culture not based upon whether students have private bathrooms with Kohler fixtures but on what they read. Third and finally, perhaps the reign of the foxes is over in the chicken coop.
That said, the foxes will be foxes as long as they can—even if it means destroying the chicken coop. The higher education juggernaut will continue. But there is room—and it is widening—for a new way, for a return to a tightly managed curriculum taught by teachers to students who want to be...educated. And Lutheran higher education, with its unique Wittenberg intellectual apparatus, is poised like few others to deliver.
17 September, 2010
In The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, Richard Vedder wonders, "Should We Abolish Colleges of Education?" I encourage you to read the whole piece (it's very short). Among other recommendations Vedder has is this, that "State governments should consider defunding students in colleges of education, requiring future teachers to major in an academic subject, etc."
13 September, 2010
Ex corde ecclesiae, John Paul II's Apostolic constitution requesting (or requiring, depending upon your read of the document) greater faithfulness to Catholic teaching in Catholic colleges and universities, has just reached its milestone 20th anniversary. In "Catholic Colleges 20 Years after Ex Corde" in the Chronicle of Higher Education, David House marks the anniversary with a retrospective look at what the papal message has, or hasn't, achieved in Roman Catholic higher education in the United States. Among the positive results, he notes that:
[Roman Catholic] colleges are beginning to recognize that emulating secular institutions might be worthwhile in some instances, but not at the expense of what makes them truly Catholic and, therefore, distinctive.... The importance of theology and philosophy, undergraduate core curricula, and how graduates of Catholic colleges should be distinguishable from those of secular institutions has emerged because of Ex corde. [italics added]
House points out that in the U.S. context in which the Land O'Lakes Statement of 1967 was expressive of the going paradigm in the heady years of and after Vatican II, Ex corde faced some stiff opposition--a corrosive opposition to the Catholic way, a critical rather than a fostering stance.
Heirs of the Wittenberg Reformation might learn a thing or two from Ex corde's success. First, a retrenchment is possible. The Wittenberg way need not be a relic, a something that, à Hegel, has led to another, quite different something. Second, a broad consensus (by which I don't intend to say the creation of a big-umbrella consensus that means nothing) among Lutheran colleges about what is at the heart of Lutheran higher education, and a consistent application of that across the range institutional functions can, in the long run, show some positive gains. But this requires fearless leaders at all levels. Third, the founding of some centers or even entire institutions that can show the way has a leavening affect. Today, "Catholic higher education" is not defined by Georgetown, but by Ave Maria or Belmont Abbey College or Franciscan University of Steubenville. Such colleges and universities stand as a constant reminder to their accommodationist peers that faithfulness to Church teaching and intellectual responsibility not only are not at odds, but may even--and, in fact, must--work in tandem in pursuit of a unique vibrance of faith and learning.
Herman Preus is noted to have said once that the colleges of the Evangelical Lutheran Church won't be steered wrong unless the congregations want it that way. In other words, the health or sickness of the colleges is a symptom, not a cause, of the health or sickness of the congregations. Melanchthon made the opposite case: if you want to ruin the Church, ruin the institutions of higher education. The truth is probably more complicated than either man might have imagined. But it is clear that the two are interrelated--and that the Church of the Augsburg Confession, whether because it is healthy or because it wants to be healthy, requires a distinctively Lutheran higher education of the highest quality. The question is whether we have the will to do it.
[Pictured above: Lutherstadt Wittenberg, market square.]
07 September, 2010
CTS to Host Classics Conference in October
Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne is set to host next month’s “Lutheranism & the Classics” conference on their campus Oct. 1-2.
The conference will strive to consider how the classical languages have influenced church, school, and home in the past, and how Greek and Latin are poised to enrich culture and civilization in both the present and the future.
The event is free of charge to Seminary students both at Fort Wayne and those in St. Louis, with the exception of the optional conference banquet Friday night. All wishing to attend the conference are asked to pre-register online at www.ctsfw.edu/classics.
Concordia Seminary President Dale Meyer will deliver one of the plenary papers at the conference entitled “Ridentem dicere verum: Horatian Satire in Preaching the Law.”
“My Greek and Latin teachers taught me to love the classics and to love that literature for its own sake,” Meyer shared. “Still, my younger years spent with the likes of Homer and Aristophanes, with Horace and Cicero and so many others have profoundly impacted my theological formation and service to the church. At this time of my life, I want to get back to a more active study of classics and welcome the conference as one way to do that.”
The conference will be presented in three separate tracks to specifically engage those in attendance. The tracks are broken up between an Academic track for Professional Lutheran classicists, a Classical Education track for educators, and a Concordia track for university faculty and students. Each of the tracks will be presented twice to give conference goers a broader depth of the material presented.
Throughout the conference, there will also be three worship opportunities, all of which will implement historical Latin in each of the services inside Kramer Chapel on the Fort Wayne campus.
According to the conference brochure produced by Rev. Dr. John Nordling, Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology at CTS, “The conference is intended for homeschoolers, pastors, ‘classical’ educators (principals, teachers, parents), professional classicists, those who don’t know the ancient languages yet (but are fascinated by them), high school Latin students and their teachers, and collegians.”
During the two days of the conference, Nordling will also present his paper entitled “Teaching Greek at the Seminary: What’s Involved and Why Greek Remains Essential for the Ministry.”
Registration information, additional conference material, and suggested hotels can be found online at the conference website.
by Andrew Wilson; reproduced from the serial of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Around the Tower (Special edition, Sept. 2010, p. 4)
03 September, 2010
Steve Gehrke, our featured guest on RenMus the last several days, offers some further food for thought on this topic that we've taken up of late, the sciences and the Wittenberg way.
JB: Following are some of the questions that, at first blush, seem to be basic and preliminary to any further consideration: Has so much scientific water flowed under the bridge since the 16th century that it is impossible today to make the sciences at home in a Lutheran curriculum?
SG: This seems to presume that either science and theology are by nature hostile toward each other as disciplines, or else that scientists and theologians are. Since the Lutheran view would be that science and theology both are creations of God, I don’t think the former can be true. If the latter is true, then I think the two sides must be reconciled to each other and learn to communicate. If that occurred in 16th-century Wittenberg, why not among the heirs of that tradition?
JB: Is there such a thing as a Lutheran approach to science? And if so, how does it differ from, how does it complement other views? How might it be regarded as better or deficient?
SG: This I think is a most intriguing question. I have read it argued that science itself is a product of the Christian world view, because Christianity described the world as being purposefully designed for humanity, and this led to the idea that there were rules that underlay the universe that could be discovered and understood. It is empirically proven that great scientists and engineers need not be Lutheran nor even Christian. However, I don’t know how I would argue that Lutheranism would make better scientists (to answer that, one would have to define “better”). I have long thought that Lutheranism is especially compatible with engineering, a somewhat different question for another post.
JB: What need does the Church have of the sciences, if any? Put the other way around, what would be missing for the Church without the sciences? And are all sciences equal? Which are necessary, which are not?
SG: If science is understood as the discovery of the laws of nature as created by God, I think the church clearly would be missing something not to be interested in studying God’s handiwork. Exactly what would BE that missing something I’m not exactly sure. Would it be heretical to suggest that the Mind of God would be reflected in the workings of his creation? As noted above, the idea that It would be, informed the development of science in the Western world. The relationship between the Reformation and rise of modern science has been explored by scholars but I’m not well enough informed to try to describe it myself here.
I think the Church IS missing something by its general lack of involvement or appreciation of the sciences and technology. I can argue that the high view of science by modern society is less that people are impressed by esoteric scientific discoveries than they are by iPhones and medicines made possible by those discoveries. Because the Church is frequently reactive to technological developments rather than proactive it therefore does not have the influence on people that it could have, and in any case tends to promote the view that it is archaic and irrelevant (see my 2000 Logia essay on this point).[editor's note: Our friends at Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology assure us they'll be happy to send you a paper or electronic copy of this issue for a modest price.]
The usual hierarchy in the sciences is math>physics>chemistry>biology. I don’t know if any other science would be considered fundamental. Subjects like astronomy are simply a branch of physics, and geology of chemistry. Even biology can be viewed as a specialized subset of chemistry. But there are no distinct boundaries between any of the disciplines. For example, there are chemical physicists and physical chemists.
JB: What sort of philosophical or theological Weltanschauung is necessary to work under in order to have a healthy scientific community on a Lutheran campus?
SG: I think it understands that science is the study of God’s creation, but that this study and its application (technology) are clouded by sin.
JB: Will 16th-century guide-posts be helpful or harmful in this discussion? If helpful, how can they be enlisted?
I’ve read a little bit of the work of theologians of this era (mostly as presented by RD Preus in The Theology of Post-Reformation Vol. II God and His Creation) and find it very helpful. Lutherans and were already developing theological differences in the area of theology and science. Quenstedt in 1683 in debating Calvinists found it necessary to assert “We must distinguish between the book of Scripture and the book of nature,” by way of asserting that we must let Scripture speak for itself (Preus p. 186). Doesn’t this sound familiar? But because these theological discussions occurred prior to Darwin, it provides different perspective on the relationship between God and His creation without getting trapped in the well-worn ruts of the creation-evolution debates. Maybe with this fresh perspective we can learn something new in considering post-Darwinian questions.
JB: Can a science-less curriculum offer a responsible Wittenberg education?
SG: This is the only question you’ve raised that is easily answered: No.
JB: Do the big quarrels, such as that between evolution and intelligent design, materialism and non-materialist views, matter? Do they drown out the healthy discussions, or do they create a context in which a healthy discussion may occur? Are they the only “going paradigms” that may be adopted?
SG: Yes, I think they unquestionably DO drown and HAVE drowned out healthy discussions. Otherwise, from does what your opening paragraph derive? (“Perhaps no more vexatious question, no question passed over in more silence, no question more [unpersuasively] pontificated upon, is that of the relationship between science and theology. The two don’t make easy bed-fellows.”) Part of the challenge of putting science into the Wittenberg curriculum is in fact figuring out how to keep this from happening. I don’t mean to minimize the importance of these debates, but this is far from the totality of science-theology interaction. Simply consider all of the bioethical questions raised by advances in modern medicine such as end-of-life issues. Simply look for anything written by Glibert Meilaender on the subject to see why every family must understand these issues, and why confessional Lutheranism may suggest different answers to those moral quandaries than the consensus of modern society (generally strictly utilitarian).
[Graphic above: The shields of arms of the Faculty of Law (left) and the Faculty of Medicine (right) of the University of Wittenberg; Melanchthonhaus, Bretten, Germany. The shield of the Faculty of Medicine depicts its patron saints Cosmas and Damian.]
30 August, 2010
By Stevin Gehrke
EO Wilson is a non-Christian biologist (an expert on ants) who also is known for his writing on the relationships between science and religion. In contrast to the so-called ‘new atheists’ like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who find nothing of value in religion, Wilson believes that religion is an evolved behavior with natural selection advantages. He published a book in 1998 called Consilience to describe a need for the combination of knowledge from science, the humanities and the arts. Though he approaches the topic from a completely different set of foundational principles from Christians, I recently ran across some quotes from this book that resonated with me both as a regular reader of RenMus and as an engineering professor. The quotes below are taken from Wikipedia, which I’ve not had opportunity to verify (I’ve only read about the book, I’ve not read it myself), but I found it interesting that someone like Wilson echoes some of the concerns raised on this blog.
If the natural sciences can be successfully united with the social sciences and humanities, the liberal arts in higher education will be revitalized. Even the attempt to accomplish that much is a worthwhile goal. Profession-bent students should be helped to understand that, in the twenty-first century, the world will not be run by those possessing mere information alone. Thanks to science and technology, access to factual knowledge of all kinds is rising exponentially while dropping in unit cost. It is destined to become global and democratic. Soon it will be available everywhere on television and computer screens. What then? The answer is clear: synthesis. We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.
The quote opens with an intriguing statement that the study of the natural sciences can revitalize the liberal arts education. (As an aside, I have had a sense that is true and may make some comments along this line in a future post, but these ideas are quite fuzzy in my mind. But perhaps the readers of this blog can weigh in on this point in particular.)
To draw on my own experience, this “synthesis” of knowledge is the key goal of engineering education. The capstone senior courses in engineering (usually with “Design” or “Synthesis” in the titles) focus on teaching students how to integrate the knowledge they have gained in their other courses to solve a complex problem without a specific or single solution. While students have always tended to compartmentalize knowledge, engineering educators broadly believe that teaching synthesis of knowledge is an ever-increasing challenge in our courses. Most faculty have heard from students, with varying degrees of seriousness, “Why do we need to take classes [apart from earning the credentials for a job] when all the information is on the internet and quickly found using Google?” Wilson in this 1998 quote has concisely stated that the problem is not the ability to access information, but knowing what to do with that information – essentially, wisdom. But how can wisdom be taught?
Again, in Consilience Wilson also opines:
Every college student should be able to answer the following question: What is the relation between science and the humanities, and how is it important for human welfare? Every public intellectual and political leader should be able to answer that as well. Already half the legislation coming before the United States Congress contains important scientific and technological components. Most of the issues that vex humanity daily - ethnic conflict, arms escalation, overpopulation, abortion, environment, endemic poverty, to cite several most consistently before us - cannot be solved without integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social sciences and humanities. Only fluency across the boundaries will provide a clear view of the world as it really is, not as seen through the lens of ideologies and religious dogmas or commanded by myopic response to immediate need. Yet the vast majority of our political leaders are trained exclusively in the social sciences and humanities, and have little or no knowledge of the natural sciences. The same is true for the public intellectuals, the columnists, the media interrogators, and think-tank gurus. The best of their analyses are careful and responsible, and sometimes correct, but the substantive base of their wisdom is fragmented and lopsided.
Here in the opening sentence, Wilson lays out a challenging question that I think most professors (never mind their students!) have some difficulty answering. Yet I agree that a clear answer is important to develop. Farther along in this quote, Wilson lays out some of the rationale for including a general education in the sciences as something important and in fact necessary for anyone who claims to be “well-educated” in any discipline, and for anyone who holds a position of responsibility and respect in society. It has been a constant aggravation in my adult life, as one educated in the natural sciences and engineering, to read and hear frankly ignorant statements made by the sorts of people described in the quote above, and extending to some theologically trained leaders in the church whom I greatly admire and from whom I have learned much. Even Wilson’s disparaging reference to “religious dogmas” (which I am sure he meant to apply to all religious teachings) can be accepted from an orthodox Lutheran perspective, when one interprets that phrase to mean any heterodox views strongly held without understanding or reflection.
Now, an education in science and engineering education doesn’t automatically produce great and wise leaders either. Although I reject the opinion I sometimes hear from colleagues in the liberal arts that education in these fields is only a step above a vo-tech education in auto mechanics and the like, it is true that engineers and scientists often fail to understand or anticipate the implications of their work. I try to bring up examples in my courses of cases where clever engineering solutions were rejected by society because a technological solution was not in fact THE solution (for an orthodox Lutheran, surgical abortions safe for the mother could be put into that category).
To be accredited, all engineering programs are required to have a liberal arts component in their degree programs, but in my opinion, these are not well-integrated into the engineering curricula across the US. Perhaps a Wittenberg education can provide the foundation for making better engineers and scientists as well as humanists?
[Graphic: Tycho Brahe, 1546–1601, shown with his instruments]