- 4.1 The Skills of Reasoning
- 4.1.1 The General Art of Reasoning
- 4.1.2 Quantitative and Empirical Reasoning
- 4.1.3 Cultural Discernment
- 4.2 The Skills of Communication
- 4.2.1 The Rhetoric of the Written Word
- 4.2.2 The Rhetoric of the Spoken Word
- 4.2.3 The Rhetoric of the Image
- 4.2.4 The Discipline of Reading
- 4.2.5 The Discipline of Listening
- 4.2.6 The Discipline of Seeing
- 4.2.7 Competence in a Foreign Language
- 4.2.8 The Art of Cross-Cultural Communication
- 4.3 Technological Skills
- 4.3.1 The Use of Information Technology
- 4.4 Research Skills
- 4.4.1 The Art of Executing a Research Project
- 4.5 Physical Skills
- 4.5.1 The Exercise of the Body
The following is a list of skills all students should acquire in the core curriculum of Calvin College. Some of these skills are essential for progress in their studies at Calvin; all of them will be useful as they pursue their callings in the world; many of them will be reinforced and elaborated within the curriculum of a major concentration or professional program.
In many ways the art of reasoning lies at the heart of the intellectual endeavor. It is, however, daily threatened by an invasive market culture that thrives on the manipulation of impulse and image, sensation and association. Moreover, it finds little support in the popular or political argument of our day, which more frequently provides us with examples of informal fallacies than models of valid inference. While made aware of the limitations of fallen human reason in the discovery and communication of truth, Calvin students should nonetheless become accomplished in the art of reasoning. Through instruction, encouragement, correction, and constant practice, they should become adept at picking out the central thesis of an argument and assessing its supporting evidence according to relevant standards, at distinguishing between deductive, inductive, and hypothetical-deductive arguments--and knowing the rules of inference for each. They should be well aware of the tricky business of deriving causal claims from statistical correlations. They should be able to analyze matters, making subtle distinctions; they should be able to set matters in their larger contexts, making insightful connections. In addition, they should know not only how to assess the cogency of reasoning on the part of others, but also how to construct arguments for their own positions, testing them to see if they should be held, and if so with what degree of confidence. With such skills, students can become active and qualified participants in the dialectic that leads to reflective knowledge.
Not all Calvin students will pursue disciplines or professions that require a high level of ability in mathematical analysis or the quantitative methods employed in empirical research. But they will all live in a society that has become, in the words of the AACU’s Integrity in the College Curriculum, “bombarded by numbers.” To operate in that society they must possess computational skills sufficient for the conduct of practical life. In addition to those basic skills, Calvin graduates should achieve a degree of sophistication in forms of quantitative and empirical reasoning that will enable them to understand and assess arguments given in the public square and the marketplace, arguments often and increasingly couched in numerical terms.
One of the distinctive features of the Reformed tradition is its insistence that the deepest motives of the human heart are religious in nature and comprehensive in scope, and that our relation to God will therefore condition and direct the way we relate to our world, our neighbors, and ourselves. Moreover, the Reformed understanding of life in this regard holds that we cannot opt out of the religious relation. Whatever we love the most is in fact our god. If we do not serve the true God, we will serve an idol instead--and human life will be distorted as a result. Calvin graduates, schooled in this tradition, should become skilled at detecting the religious import of human life in its varied cultural expressions--its political manifestos, its art movements, its architecture, its technology, its markets, its myths and types, its blockbusters and bestsellers, its sit-coms and docu-dramas, its plays and poetry, its styles of worship, in what it preserves, what it forgets, and what it promotes at the moment. Further, Calvin graduates should be encouraged and trained to make use of such discernment in providing leadership for appropriate institutional and cultural change.
Fundamental to success in academic endeavors at the collegiate level is the ability to write expository prose that is clear, concise, vivid, and convincing. Such ability is also of crucial moment in professional and personal life, indeed, wherever understanding is to be achieved through written communication. Calvin graduates should be accomplished in the rhetoric of the written word, able to produce jargon-free prose that is freshly fitted both to subject matter and intended audience, in a style that sometimes delights even as it informs and persuades.
In democratic and republican societies before the advent of print media, spoken rhetoric was the key to a successful career in the public world. Of the seven liberal arts, it was in fact most prized by those preparing for the active life. Although the role of the spoken word is now diminished by the availability of the written word and the ubiquity of the image, it continues to be an important skill for educated people in positions of leadership. From the classroom lecture to the sermon, from the business presentation to the impromptu address given at the meeting of a neighborhood association, speech remains an irreplaceable medium of human communication. Students at Calvin should have training in the fundamentals of oral rhetoric, so that they may present their ideas and beliefs in the classroom, in the public square, in the church, in groups, and on the job in a manner both winsome and forceful.
Recent advances in digital technology--computers, scanners, cameras, desktop publishing, graphic programs, presentation software, webpages, and the like--have placed in our hands powerful means of communication by way of the image. Although all students at Calvin need not be trained as visual artists, they should become acquainted with the basic principles and techniques of visual communication, applying these principles to their own expression in a variety of media, from the organization of typographical elements on a page, to the visual representation of data and information, to the effective and succinct use of image and symbol.
With the accession of image-based media, the diminishing role of books as companions and consultants in life, and the frequent spoonfeeding of pre-digested ideas from textbooks in the schools, the discipline of reading among our incoming students has gone into steady decline. As one of our colleagues put it in a comment on the core curriculum, students often read their assignments with the same mental effort they devote to watching TV--the words wash over them, but leave little that is won only by the hard work of analysis. Calvin students should be challenged and taught how to read with care, precision, and a great deal of energy; how to detect the logical structure of prose intended to persuade; how to assimilate material embedded in prose intended to inform; how to identify and interpret tropes; how to spot an author’s rhetorical strategies, shifts, and devices; and how to appreciate an author’s use of genre conventions in the interest of conveying sense.
Listening is to the spoken word what reading is to the written word. Both should be active, not passive, operations of the mind. Listening with care and attention is a prerequisite to participation in productive dialogue, where the interlocutors speak to, and not past, each other. In the course of their studies at Calvin, students should be encouraged in the classroom to grow in the discipline of listening, so that they may not only express their ideas clearly, but do so in collaboration with others, and thus make human conversation generative of deeper insight and mutual understanding. Unlike reading, however, listening is not limited to the spoken word, but extends, by the bridge of pitch and rhythm, to music as well. Students should also have ample opportunity in Calvin’s core curriculum to become more conversant and discerning in the special rhetoric of music, which has become, by means of the mass media, a powerful and pervasive agent in today’s culture.
If we have become a society bombarded by numbers, we have also been drenched by images--in plaster, print, video, and the cinema; on canvas, billboards, skateboards, T-shirts, letterheads, and the computer screen. A Calvin graduate should acquire an understanding of the ways in which images communicate, powerfully shaping our imaginations and self-understanding, the conventions that govern the use of images in different contexts, and the perceptions of life conveyed in the imagery that does so much of the work of instruction and persuasion in our media-saturated culture. They should come to learn that looking, too, is an art, and become alert, attentive, and discerning in their perception.
We share the world with members of several hundred distinct language groups. As members of that global community, Calvin graduates with a liberal arts degree should have a facility in at least one of those languages in addition to their own. A second language is a key that unlocks the door to the people, literature, history, outlook, and activities of another culture. Contact with another culture in its native language, in turn, represents an opportunity for a significant expansion of the self beyond the provincialities and limitations of its particular place and time. Although language instruction at Calvin will always involve more than the simple inculcation of linguistic techniques, its students should nonetheless receive thorough training in the skills of understanding, speaking, and writing in a foreign language, if that language is modern, or the skills of understanding and writing, if that language is ancient.
We live in a world of many cultures. The North American continent, home to most of our students, has itself become culturally complex as a result of European colonization, the institution of slavery, policies of forced migration, the cumulative effects of immigration, the growth of international economic systems, and development in the technologies of travel and communication. To live a life of effective service in contemporary society, Calvin students should become skilled at cross-cultural communication, at understanding and making themselves understood to those outside their tribe. For some, this skill will include a competence in a foreign language--although such competence alone does not guarantee success in cross-cultural communication. For others, cross-cultural communication will be conducted in their native tongue with those who share the same language but belong to a different culture. Both forms depend upon the ability to read subtle cues, to see how the world looks from the standpoint of a different community of interpretation and experience, to distinguish between the deep and enduring principles of human morality and their situation-specific applications, to discern and, where feasible, to adapt graciously to the cultural expectations of others.
The computer has irreversibly shaped the ways in which we obtain, produce, retrieve, transfer, display, and analyze information. It is difficult to think of any area of life that has not been touched, for good or for ill, by the continuing revolution in information technology. Calvin students should become competent and confident users of available information technology, in full possession of the skills of word-processing, electronic communication, navigation in cyberspace, and of searching, filtering, and interpreting electronically available data.
The conduct of research at the collegiate level demands skills of which many of our incoming students have only the foggiest notion. In the core curriculum, Calvin students should be thoroughly instructed in the art of academic research, both individual and collaborative: how to formulate a research plan; where to locate relevant sources; how to make use of new information technologies; how to distinguish between primary and secondary sources; how to evaluate secondary source material; how to do bibliographic research; how to collect and evaluate empirical data; how to make, track, and organize research notes; and how to present the results of such efforts as individuals or in groups according to the conventions of the relevant genre.
For all the media attention given to physical fitness and appearance, many North Americans of middle age are amazingly out of shape. Aside from any aesthetic difficulties this may present to their fellows, or to themselves, this is cause for concern because physical health, besides being a good in itself, is a prerequisite for other activities we judge to be important--from taking care of the kids, to participating in the life of the church, to writing books. Obesity, high blood pressure, indigestion, fatigue, sore backs, and immobile joints all conspire to slow a person down, making it all the more difficult to “run the good race,” either literally or figuratively. While at Calvin, students should develop skills in several sports and leisure activities that will serve them well in their college years and for a lifetime, God willing, of health and fitness.