Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning
240 pp., $22.00
Jesse Covington, Maurice Lee, Sarah L. Skripsky, and Lesa Stern
Habits of the Heart & Mind
Of further interest are developments that connect various aspects of formation—an area in which community features prominently. DeYoung suggests that humility and willing submission to the practices of a tradition show an internal acknowledgement that one needs to be formed by external influences. In reflecting on faith-based revisions to his Western Civilization courses, Glenn E. Sanders lists "community-building" and friendship as two of the practices "essential in a classroom engaged with moral and spiritual concerns." David Smith's concluding argument that people change in community suggests an outside-in aspect to transformation but may also begin to hint at reconfiguring what identity is in view: within the church, change may occur from the inside out corporately, but this dynamic may also mean that individuals embedded in such communities are shaped individually from the outside in by the church's alternative practices. Ongoing thinking about the nature of the college-as-community and its relation to the church could prove an important exploration.
TCP offers helpful developments in these ongoing conversations. More needs to be said about practices in relation to how formation occurs. Among many facets, such reflections might fruitfully explore how God's grace can be actively mediated by and manifested in multiple, interrelated modes—including cognition, affections, behaviors, and communities.
What Does TCP Teach Us About Pedagogy?
In addition to thinking about what makes practices "Christian" and the ways these practices affect change, TCP prompts faculty to question how to make tangible changes in teaching. Faculty members in various disciplines share their attempts to make pedagogical changes and reflect on the effects of those changes. What can the reader learn from these narratives? Rather than providing definitive answers or models, these essays prompt faculty to experiment with and reflect on their own pedagogies. First of all, the authors ask questions relating pedagogy to faith. Some of those questions include how to model Christian faith in their classrooms and how they are different from faculty who do not profess such faith. Additionally, TCP prompts us to think about how faith affects how we define and model "excellence" within the classroom.
Most of the contributors spend considerable time reflecting on pedagogy in relation to challenges of student engagement and spiritual change, as well as the overall manageability of practice integration. It is apparent that the changes instituted in courses are just the beginning of spiritual growth. That is, desired effects are meant to transcend any individual course. What kinds of practices might be best within the context of a Christian college to help students adopt healthy, long-term habits of heart and mind? Are there certain practices that are best to introduce students to at this developmental stage in their faith and life? Carolyne Call reflects on how she practiced hospitality—how can a hospitable classroom invite dignified student engagement with the instructor, peers, and course content? Walton wonders if eating a meal together would help promote a collaborative spirit in a class typically seen as competitive.
These and other chapters raise additional questions related to embedding practices within specific courses but also related to holistic change in students. For example, given that there may be many different ways (practices) to encourage change in the hearts and minds of students, which practices (and how many of them) should the faculty member choose per course? TCP practices ranged from shared dining to fasting, from testimony and confession to observing the liturgical calendar. As readers, we wonder which practices are best engaged in together (such as prayer and fasting, as opposed to just fasting alone). Another challenge to integration is how often to "practice a practice" to have the intended effect. Walton had students eat together twice during the semester: is this frequent enough to be called a "practice"? And even if this fellowship has a positive effect on student relationships, is it teaching the right kind of lesson about fellowship? Others in TCP wonder whether a class that meets once a week is enough to achieve the depth of a Christian practice. Is it enough to talk about a practice and then model it once with students, encouraging them to continue the practices outside of class on their own time? Given the time constraints of many college classrooms, it's worth reflecting on practices that can be faithfully enacted within a limited amount of time. Faculty do not want to cheapen a practice nor stunt its effects by rushing. Conversely, if such practices are more expansively practiced, faculty may struggle with how often they should require these practices when the practices are to be undertaken outside of class hours.