Sunday, January 17, 2016

Spirituality and Being an Academic

Sometimes I wonder if having an academic career is detrimental to being a Spirit-led disciple of Jesus Christ.  I present, as an academic would (especially one who was a debate coach for several years), the arguments.
1.     In a career in academia, we must be merit mongers.  In order to achieve tenure and promotion, the only two big monetary awards outside of the move to administration, or to be eligible for grants and awards, one’s accomplishments in all things teaching, service, research, and professional development must be documented, recorded, and broadcast.  Volunteerism for the institution is not valuable for it own sake, but for expanding he CV, or at least, one starts to feel that way.  One begins to question one’s motives.  Of course, one could leave things off the CV, but . . . it’s absence may mean the difference in a promotion or award.
2.     Academic teach, which usually involves some level of lecturing and talking; therefore, we talk a lot, even the introverts.  Of course, 21st century pedagogy warns against lecture as the primary method of teaching, but most of us have not eschewed lecture totally if at all.  Silence is not golden in this paradigm, but listening can’t happen when one is talking. 
3.     We are experts; we know a lot, more than others.  Knowledge puffs up.  So we can become prideful; we define critical thinking idiosyncratically and egotistically and therefore are capable of rejecting ideas out of hand.  Someone who disagrees with us cannot possibly have been a critical thinker about the issue.
4.     Knowing can get in the way of caring. Does academia attract emotionally stunted people or make them that way?
5.     We can become very annoyed by conventional wisdom or misconceptions that fly in the face of what we know to be true of our discipline. 
6.     We live in a world of text, ideas, and data.  We spend time away from people while engaged with these things. 
7.     Depending on our disciplinary training, we see and do not see certain parts of the whole picture.  For example, I study politics and social trends and am more conscious of the trends than the individuals.  But as a Christian I cannot minister to social trends, only to individuals, one at a time.  I saw this in a recent reflective string on single mothers (see below). 
8.     We can become very stressed over incredibly insignificant things; we can convince ourselves we are doing what is best for students when it is really just best four ourselves; we can believe we are protecting our discipline when we are excluding learners. 

On the other hand . . . How can academia help>
1.     We should be slow to pass judgment, having been trained in data collection and the knowledge that there is always more data and evidence to be gathered.
2.     In light of the exponential growth of knowledge, we should doubt our own opinions and hold them lightly rather than graspingly.
3.     We should see God in the details.
4.     We should be able to read Scripture deeply, fully, informedly, and contextually.
5.     If we are social scientists, or natural scientists, or textual critics, we should be able to bring our unique perspective to the discussion, but humbly.
6.     We should get out of our nests of colleagues and be friends with all kinds of people, even if they initially bore us.   We should listen to others and realize that, as hard as we worked to earn the doctorate, God’s world is wide.  We should appreciate different points of view.
7.      Rejection is part of the discipleship life.  We work hard to be accepted as part of this community called the academy, which might make us compromise.  Compromise for the sake of being accepted is not an option.

In terms of reflection as a learning tool, I did this recently about single mothers.  I was getting annoyed by the “I am a single mother” routine that students use, as if it were the instructor’s fault or as if it meant they should get special treatment.  I realized how judgmental I was being, judging them for immorality, for doing something I didn’t, for using it as an excuse, for not putting their children first in going to school, and for symbolizing a societal problem.  All of these are off-base; some are divorced and dumped by husbands and some regret their pasts; but for the grace of God go most of us; well, maybe they do act like martyrs but some of that is from fear; they are trying to create a better world for their children (although a father would probably help); and they are individuals, not social problems.  I am overweight, so am I symbolic of the social problem of obesity? 


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