The Value of the Christian Liberal Arts

If you follow Chris Gehrz on his any of his social media outlets, then you may have already read about his concern regarding the future of the liberal arts at Christian colleges.  Among the many points Gehrz raises is that instead of just focusing on how a liberal arts degree can net students a job, we might also start by asserting that:

“Our tuition is high, but engaging in four years of patient study in a variety of fields with highly-trained faculty is the most valuable investment you’ll ever make, resulting in the transformation of your heart, mind, body, and spirit at one of the key stages of your life.”

Some of our colleagues at Bethel have read the post, and at least a couple give the impression that purveyors of the liberal arts education still need to reassure parents that such an education will provide their kids jobs and get kids out of their parents’ basement.  Well, for the most part, it does.  But there’s a lot of ways to get a job, and it may not involve going to college at all.  I am all for employment.  I just happen to agree with Gehrz that a lucrative job is not the primary reason folks should attend a Christian liberal arts university.
Back in 2005 when I first applied for my position at Bethel University, I responded to a prompt asking me to “explain what you believe to be the elements essential to the educational theory and practice of a Christian liberal arts college.”  Even then I spoke about the tension between competing visions about education–one emphasizing practical concerns and one emphasizing more visionary concerns.  If you care to read further, here’s what I wrote:

            At the turn of the twentieth century, Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois disagreed on the type of education African Americans should pursue. Washington thought African Americans should pursue a vocational education because this education would allow them to pursue the practical goals of economic independence, or self-reliance. DuBois, on the other hand, believed that African Americans should pursue a liberal arts education; exposure to the arts, literature, philosophy, and the natural sciences was the route to intellectual excellence and leadership.

            These differing perspectives on education reflected contrasting ideas about the relationship of African Americans to the rest of the world. Washington’s ideas about education supported his theory of racial accommodation—that African Americans should not seek primarily to change the world in which they lived. Instead, they should seek to develop the skills that would allow them to get along as best they could in an imperfect world in which racism circumscribed black rights and opportunities. DuBois, on the other hand, did not believe in racial accommodation. He hoped that, through exposure to the liberal arts, black leaders would arise and challenge the existing norms of society to change it for the better.

            For Christians, questions about the function of education are different, yet there are certain parallels. What are Christians called to do? Are they to give this world up for lost and focus exclusively on their individual quest for reunion with God in the afterlife? Or does the work of sanctification call on Christians to bring about renewal in the present world? In the process of making themselves holy before God, Christians are also called to take part in the redemptive work that Christ himself epitomized with his sacrifice on the cross. For this task, the liberal arts education has much to offer by seeking to acquaint students with a broad understanding of the world in which they live.

            On the one hand, a liberal arts education can deepen students’ appreciation for God’s creation. When God had finished creating the world, he pronounced it good. Even though sin has corrupted this world, there are still evidences of that goodness. This is true not only in the natural world but in the contributions of humans, who, after all, were created just a little lower than the angels. The study of the natural sciences helps students see the intricacies of that creation just as the study of the arts allows students to understand the creative abilities God endowed to humans.

            On the other hand, a liberal arts education can also show students the brokenness of creation, alerting them to the redemptive work that must still be done. While we are commanded to think upon holy things, we must also be willing to minister to the broken parts of creation. The study of natural sciences also helps students see creation run amuck just as the study of the arts shows students the darkness in the hearts of humankind.

            Today, a Christian liberal arts college must retain some of the Washingtonian elements of education, equipping students with practical skills for economic independence, so that they can accommodate themselves to the world in which they live. Yet, a Christian liberal arts college must also offer students a deeper, broader understanding of the world in which they live, not only as a way of strengthening their understanding of the Creator but also as a way of creating Christian leaders to challenge the existing brokenness of society and change it for the better.

When I think about what I want for my daughter, I don’t first think of what kind of job she will have.  Instead, I think of what kind of person she will be, and–to paraphrase the 1928 Book of Common Prayer–what good works the Lord has prepared for her to walk in.  My hope is that a Christian liberal arts education is in her future, that it will help her grow in her faith, illuminate and challenge her mind, and provide her with a beloved community of support as she sets forth on a path of holy calling.  If such a path involves some couch surfing in my basement, so be it.

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Upcoming Bethel Alumni Events in DC and the Pacific Northwest

While many of our alumni remain in the Twin Cities, many have moved elsewhere. (Almost 40% of those on LinkedIn.) So if you’re one of our graduates who doesn’t live in town and maybe doesn’t have many chances to return to campus, know that Bethel might be coming to you!

This semester the Office of Alumni Relations has several Royal Nation events scheduled for different spots around the country, including one tomorrow night! (too late to register online, but it sounds like you can still attend if you just email that office)

Washington, DCThursday, March 1, 7:30pm, Washington Court Hotel — featuring Bethel political science professor Chris Moore, whom some of you might know from his cross-listed course on Revolution and Political Development — or from his many contributions to Prof. Sam Mulberry’s Live from AC 2nd podcast network.

Jefferson Memorial at dusk
Creative Commons (Joe Ravi)

Seattle, WASaturday, May 5, 2pm, The Museum of Flight

Portland, ORSunday, May 6, 2pm, Oregon Zoo

We’ll keep you posted about other such events. Last year Royal Nation came to Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, and Phoenix, among other cities.

On Starting

“The hardest page to write is the first page, and the hardest sentence to write is the first sentence.” 

I have said these words to students countless times every semester for the last fifteen years as I have sat with time in my office.  Along with being a teacher in the History department I also work as an academic counselor.  I work with students on developing their study strategies and their time management skills.  Inevitably we end up talking about ways to combat procrastination. One of my favorite questions to ask them is, “How many books have you finished reading in your life that you didn’t start reading?”  There is always this wonderful, awkward pause as they do the math of the question in their head.  The answer of course – by definition – is zero.  The point I keep coming back to is that it is all about starting.

I bring all of this up because although this week marks the end of the fall academic semester, for me it mostly feels like it is about starting.  The end of the fall 2017 semester means the beginning of my spring 2018 sabbatical.  This is not only very exciting but also a little terrifying.  It means I need to begin a very big project that I’m not 100% sure that I will be able to pull off.

My Sabbatical project – if I may quote myself from my sabbatical application form:

[E]xists at the intersection of oral history, artistic endeavor, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.  I plan to film long form interviews (60-90 minutes each) with 20+ Bethel faculty members – beginning with those who have been awarded the Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching and expanding outward to include other faculty and staff – on the art and craft of teaching.  From this footage, I plan on building a variety of productions.  First, I plan on creating a feature length documentary film which centers on the core themes that arise from the interviews.  Secondly, I plan on editing each individual interview into its own film which will be available along with the aforementioned documentary on a website I will build to make these materials available to the Bethel community and beyond.  Finally, I foresee cataloging these materials in a way that would make it easy for me to work with groups like the faculty development team to build shorter theme based films for the purposes of faculty development and education.

Nearly every individual part of this project is something I’ve done before on a much smaller scale.  I’ve conducted long form interviews with various Bethel Faculty members. over the years as part of my Autobiography Podcast project.  I’ve done lots of different video directing and editing projects.  I’ve built websites and digital archives.  I’ve even managed a pretty large independent sabbatical project before.  All of this should lead me to feel pretty confident about this spring – and if I’m being honest, I don’t totally lack confidence in myself or my project.

But I am little scared.  What am I scared of? I’m scared that this is bigger than other projects I’ve undertaken. I’m scared that it won’t turn out well.  I’m scared I’ll get in too deep with what I film and I’ll just get buried and won’t be able to find my way out.  I’m scared that I won’t be able to pull it off.  I’m scared because I’ve built a project in which I’m not quite sure where it will go.

Because of all this, I haven’t really thought much about my project all fall.  I’ve looked for other things to fill my work life all semester so I wouldn’t have to think about or worry about sabbatical.  I realize that – just like the students that I work with in my office – I’m pretty terrified to get starting.  I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get used to that stinging realization that I need start to listening to and following the advice that I am always giving to others.  But that is where I find myself sitting this week.  I’ve never finished reading any book that I never started reading, and I’ve never finished making a film that I didn’t start making.

For me starting this project involved two tasks – the first speaks to humility and the second to ambition. For my first task I sent out a message to all Bethel Faculty who have won the Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching to ask if they would participate agree to an interview.  This is humbling because my project relies on their cooperation and partnership.  There is no project without them and in many ways I am at the mercy of their generosity.  For my second task I booked a big classroom for 7:00 pm on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 7:00 pm to debut my film.  Now I have created for myself the urgency that comes with having other people involved and with a public deadline to meet.

“The hardest page to write is the first page, and the hardest sentence to write is the first sentence.”

My my sake, I hope I’m right.

Recording the Stories of Students of Color at Bethel University

During the Spring of 2014, Bethel’s Associate Dean of Intercultural Student Programs & Services Leah Fulton and I were talking about ways that we could share stories of students of color at Bethel.  She came up with the idea of filming interviews with students of color who where about to graduate.

We sent out a call to all of the graduating students of color at Bethel to see if anyone would be willing to sit down for an interview and ended up having six students agree to individual interviews. It was really wonderful to have the opportunity to spend time with these students as they shared their stories.  That summer we edited these individual interviews in an 88-minute film which intercut their stories.

In subsequent years, Leah and I continued to interview students and to record their stories.  When Leah Fulton left her position in Student Life to pursue further graduate study, Priscilla Kibler stepped into her role, and we continued on with the project.

In the Spring of 2017, we had ten students agree to sit down for interviews.  Then in the Summer of 2017, we edited these interviews into a 79-minute film.

As someone who has spent half of my life in the Bethel community, these films can be hard to watch. I am deeply moved by the honesty of these students. What they have to say is very important.  When we started this project, our goal was to collect student stories to be able to share them with other students, faculty, and administration.  I feel like I have learned a great deal from these students about their experiences and the experiences of other students of color at Bethel.

As an historian, these videos represent the types of projects that are closest to my heart.  I love the idea of creating an outlet for people to leave a record of their stories.  I love being able to find ways to share these stories with the Bethel community. I also have hope in the possibility that these interviews and the interviews that we film in the future will serve as a primary source for future historians of this institution.

Greetings from the Huntington

mcsorleyscats1929sloan
John Sloane, McSorley’s Cats (on display at the Huntington’s Virginia Steele Scott Gallery)

As Dr. Gehrz mentioned a few posts ago, I have been spending my time of late at the Huntington.  Located in San Marino, California, the Huntington boasts several gardens, terrific art galleries, and an incredible library.  Daily I walk past lemon, orange, fig, and kumquat trees, and the abundant jasmine and lavender infuse the smog with a hint of perfume.  Sir Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” resides here in what was once the Huntington mansion (but since 1924, a full-fledged art gallery). I definitely preferred the collection of American art at the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery, however, including John Sloane’s “McSorley’s Cats” (shown above).  Given my research interests, let’s just say that scene is fitting. The library, too, is home to several masterpieces, including some from my neighborhood’s namesake, John J. Audubon–just one example from a collection of 420,000 rare books and 7 million manuscripts.   So, if you’re still looking for summer travel ideas, the Huntington is worth a visit.

The Huntington is also a great place to research.  Summer is peak research time here, and you can find folks like me in the Ahmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Center.  I’ve spent most of the last week and a half poring over the collection of  “Los Angeles area court records, 1850-1910” for my book, Gender and the Business of Prostitution in Los Angeles, 1850-1940.  The research has been rewarding, but in surprising ways.  The criminal records, for example, yielded a few nuggets of new information, but they mostly confirmed what I knew from extensive newspaper research.  The records dealing with property–whether in the probate or superior court–were a different story.  They painted an extraordinarily detailed picture of the everyday lives of individuals involved in the business of prostitution.  When people fight over assets, they tend to list every one of them in the court documents they file, down to the “one petrified greyhound” in the “rooms off the parlor”–what?  Digging through such inventories has made me feel like more of an archeologist than a historian, but such an experience speaks to the craft of our discipline.  History requires not only the work of uncovering the artifacts, but the skill (and discipline) of interpretation and narration.  I only hope that NE Minneapolis is as beneficial to the latter as the Huntington has been for the former.

Glimpses of Graduation, May 2017

This past weekend Bethel University celebrated hundreds of new graduates, including thirteen History and Social Studies Education majors. Thanks to our in-house photographer, Prof. Sam Mulberry, we’ve got a few glimpses of graduation to look back at:

Congratulations again to all of our 2016-2017 graduates. And to the rest of our returning and incoming students: we’ll see you in the fall!

Reporting from MUHS 2017

Senior Seminar at Kooistra's House (Sp 2017)

This year the University of Northwestern St Paul hosted the fourth annual Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium.  In addition to closing remarks from our very own Dr. Gehrz, twelve Bethel University students also gave presentations.  Attendees had the opportunity to hear:

Ryan Auer, “People of Influence in the Life of Caesar Augustus”

Mitchell J. De Haan, “Hamilton and Popular Culture: An Analysis of History, Legend, and Music”

Lauren Gannon, “Stifling the Sideshow: The Resilient Nature of American Freak Shows, 1860-1940”

Lauren Kent, “Victorian Corsets and Tight-Lacing: A Look at the Promotion, Broader Implications, and Heath Consequences of Corsetry”

Connor Larson, “The Evolution of American Cooking and Technology, 1750-1850”

Eamonn Manion, “Engaging Roman Civic and Religious Knowledge within Iconography of the IMP(erator) CAESAR Numismatic Series”

Mikalah Pruss, “A Shift in American Birth Control, 1950-1969”

Grant Martinson, “Gold Medal Man”

Emily Ruud, “The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Religious Violence”

Angela Stephens, “What Were They Thinking? Contraception during the Middle Ages”

Grace Wiegand, “An Analysis of the Reign of Catherine the Great”

Emma Young, “Nursing during the Civil War”

These presentations represent progress these students have made already thus far this semester as part of the History 499: Senior Seminar course.  Students will present again at Bethel on May 15 and May 22 at 6pm in HC413.  Danny Jaderholm, who completed his Senior Seminar paper in Fall 2016 on “Chicago’s Front Lawn: A Balancing Act of the Natural and Built Environments surrounding Grant Park, 1890-1927” will join them in presenting his research.  If you love history, and you want to see some interesting and intelligent work from Bethel students, please join us for these final presentations.

Check out other reports of MUHS 2017 via Twitter. #mnuhs  Oh, and if you want to see other photos of Senior Seminar students eating together, I hear you can find them on this thing called Instagram?

 

Honoring God Through Athletics

On Saturday, November 12, 2016, friends and fellow travelers of The History Center gathered at the Underground for the program “Honoring God Through Sports and Athletics.”  Three coaches—Gene Glader, Tricia Brownlee, and Steve Johnson—presented the history of athletics at Bethel University.

In the 195os and 60s, Dr. Gene Glader was coach or assistant coach for four men’s athletic teams (football, basketball, track and cross country), intramural director, instructor in physical education, athletic director, and chair of the physical education department. Glader’s presentation highlighted the challenges of athletics at Bethel in the two decades before the campus moved from the Snelling Avenue location to Bethel’s current home in Arden Hills.  Only basketball had “home” turf with a campus gym; all other sports had to scrounge around the area for practice and game fields.  Glader described the men’s football team practicing on the quadrangle lawn of the Snelling Avenue campus.  This was also the era before Bethel had a conference affiliation, so coaches were on their own to organize a “season” of athletic competition for their teams.

Nine of Dr. Tricia Brownlee’s 33 years at Bethel were in the physical education department. Brownlee started the volleyball program in 1968 at the urging of female students, and the softball program in 1969.  The remainder of Brownlee’s years at Bethel were in the academic dean’s office, retiring in 2001 from her role as Dean of Academic Programs. In addition to narrating Bethel’s athletic history from the 1970s to the present, Brownlee’s presentation highlighted the impact Title IX (1972) had on women’s athletics at Bethel and the stunning successes of women’s teams beginning in the mid-1980s.

Steve Johnson, now in his 28th year as Bethel’s head football coach, shared through a prerecorded video interview.  For those familiar with Coach Johnson, he stayed true to form with an emotional testimony about the interaction of faith and sports in the lives of athletes and coaches.

The event also featured athletic artifacts from The History Center and a book sale of publications produced by the Friends of The History Center.

 

 

History Major Emma Beecken Wins 2016 Library Research Prize!

Congratulations to Emma Beecken ’16, history, elementary education, and social studies education triple major, nationally recognized speaker, and, most recently, winner of the 2016 Bethel University Library Research Prize for her Senior Seminar paper, “Hannah More’s Moral Imagination: Fiction that Reformed a Nation.”

In addition to being the best-selling author of the Georgian era, Hannah More worked closely with William Wilberforce to evangelize Great Britain and was one of the most influential women of the British abolition movement. Emma has described her as both a “great lynch pin of history” and as a “brilliant woman of God who did amazing work for the Kingdom, serving as both a fascinating woman to research and a great role model.”

You can learn more about Emma’s research on Tuesday, April 26th at 10:20 AM in the Bethel Library, where she will discuss her project and the research prize trophy will return to the History Department for the fourth time since the competition began in 2010.

 

Sankofa: The Past is Alive Within Us

Amanda Soderlund ’17 is an international relations major. She recently accompanied a group of Bethel University students and faculty on the Sankofa trip, and has graciously agreed to write about her experiences.

Over spring break, a group of 29 Bethel students and faculty participated in an intensive learning experience about the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples. We visited sacred sites and engaged in a process of cultural learning, historical understanding, and racial reconciliation.

We encountered many narratives of historical injustice against the Dakota in Minnesota on our trip. Stories of genocide, being robbed of land, stripped of language and spirituality, dehumanized and forgotten. Some major events we studied included the US-Dakota War of 1862, the hanging of the 38 Dakota in Mankato, and the forced march of 1,700 Dakota people to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling, in which 600 people died.

We experienced history through the eyes of Native Americans. We abandoned our notion of seeing history as linear, which distances ourselves from the past. Instead, we adopted the Native practice of considering history as alive in space and time. With this viewpoint, the very ground is a witness to history, and the past exists in that space. Through this paradigm shift, I could no longer remove myself from the pain and injustice of the past because of a great chasm of time. “The Earth remembers,” as our leader Jim Bear would say.

It was painful and eye opening to hear their history and the immense tragedy that accompanies it. I felt betrayed by the American school system, and the ugly, hidden truth of our state’s history. The version of history I was taught in school emphasizes American patriotism while hiding its crimes. At best, we hear about certain events of injustice against Natives, but these events are either quickly mentioned, one-sided, or are told with a gross lack of moral sensitivity. Teaching about historical oppression with detached passivity is not conducive to healing the generational trauma that oppressed communities feel today.

Going forward after this trip, I am sure of a few things. The first is that we have a responsibility to teach what really happened to the Dakota people in Minnesota in 1862. This also means bringing to light the racist actions of celebrated figures like Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, or Andrew Jackson. Lincoln himself signed off on the execution of the Dakota 38 in Mankato, which still remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

I also ask that we strive to find ways to honor our neighbors and their sacred practices. The Ojibwe and Dakota have a very strong connection to the earth, and taking away their land is like taking away a part of who they are. The current struggles they face include developers destroying sacred lands and the constant violation of treaties. The government has already taken so much away from the Dakota and Ojibwe; it’s time to ask our government to protect and uphold treaties and sacred land.

I want to encourage Bethel students and faculty to go on Sankofa the next time it is offered. It was an immense privilege to learn about Native American culture and history outside of a classroom context.

-Amanda Soderlund