Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First cup--September 11, 2012

Coffee at The Bipartisan Cafe and rich conversation with a good friend. He's a fellow educator who is passionate about Warner Pacific and the grand experiment that is going on here. He's committed his whole life and career here and in a variety of ways that grow out of the remarkably gifted person he is.

Bipartisan is a great place to meet during this political season: dedicated to politics, good coffee (Stumptown), conversation, and pie! It has lovely pastries. This morning I had a wrapped scone--pastry wrapped around blueberries and cheese. Surrounded by memorabilia of past and current campaigns, I'm reminded of what a remarkable (if not always pleasant) story is the life of this strange democracy. It, too, is an experiment--and as long as we keep remembering that it is experiment and not something set in concrete, once and for all done, we'll likely do just fine. It takes a while but we usually get it right.

But I started writing about another kind of experiment, that is, the one going on here at Warner Pacific College, "nestled on Mt. Tabor's bosom." I think one of the realities about this place that has always moved me is way faculty really care about what is going on in their classrooms. While it is not unusual to hear faculty talk passionately about the content of their disciplines, it is also not unusual to her faculty talking passionately about how they teach, that is, the methodologies and relationships of their workplace.

Last Friday I was sitting in a meeting of the English faculty. The meeting was a conversation about why we teach and how we teach and to what ends we teach. Amazingly it was a conversation about these things in the context of mission: What does this mission—"WPC is a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts college..."—have to do with writing well, appropriate grammar, and APA guidelines. Now, I know that for many (most?) that sounds like a pretty exciting conversation, and you are trying to figure out how you could get to be part of it. At least, you wonder, if you could sit around the edges, on the edges of your seats, eager to hear the thoughtfulness and creative nuances of the conversation. Right?

Well, in response to such sarcasm, let me tell you that you are exactly right; the conversation does matter just that much! How many times have you walked away from a conversation or an email exchange convinced that you had been heard and heard, well, only to have it blow up behind you? Or how many of you wish that you could compellingly say what you really think people need to understand? Right! All about communication.

Another way to understand our conversation: Is our role as English teachers to help students do well as students or is it to help them do well as persons living in a large and diverse world? Well, what if the answer to both questions is "Yes." Finding that middle way is important, but underneath it and in the context of mission, it is about helping students find their voice. Finding voice is an ontological goal because voice and self are so intimately connected.

Another way to emphasize its larger importance: As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live a transparent life--living out in my world the who I am in Jesus. How do I live that and speak that--that's voice. So, part of what we are about is empowerment: living truthfully and compassionately engaged with others. At the heart of the living is communicating. I need to do that well as well.

Well, this has turned into more than I thought it would; probably because of the two cups of Stumptown this morning, the wonderful pastry, and conversation with a good friend who is also following Jesus. Have a good day all. It is nearly time for chapel and I want to be there in my pew.

"Let's have another cup of coffee..."

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