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Research Initiatives - Embracing Place and Particularity

Strengthening Liberal Arts Education by Embracing Place and Particularity

A Proposal to the Teagle Foundation from Calvin College


(Download White Paper here)

At a recent “state of the community” breakfast, leaders from business, education, and the government discussed the present and future of the city of Grand Rapids. While all acknowledged we are going through tough economic times related to the loss of area manufacturing jobs, many expressed a measured optimism. They asserted that we have resources in Grand Rapids to help us rebuild and maintain our fine city, in particular the new biomedical corridor and the technological training offered by our community college.

This response by civic leaders prompted us to wonder: In a city with ten colleges and universities (including branches of state universities), why weren’t the liberal arts mentioned as a valuable resource for enhanced city life? How can the liberal arts be identified as a major resource for the understanding and enrichment of a particular place? And how would this linkage between a particular place and the resources of the liberal arts transform, enrich, and strengthen the liberal arts themselves?

In the fall of 2005, we submitted a proposal to the Teagle Foundation to explore the relationship between liberal arts education and a sense of place and our proposal was funded through 2007. The key questions we will explore are: How can the liberal arts tradition serve the common good in a particular place? How should this particular place influence and shape the liberal arts tradition at Calvin? How can we use our city as text to strengthen liberal arts education for our students? We are embedded in a particular community with particular issues, strengths, and needs. As we plan for engaged scholarship, it must grow out of the resources and issues where we are embedded. The needs here (urban revitalization, literacy, education, racial tension, environmental concerns) create the context from which our scholarship of engagement grows.

An upper level sculpture class began exploring issues of place by considering how to reclaim unused space in particular neighborhoods for urban gardens.Their project, called PLANT! can be explored through their blog site which documents their work and insights as the project unfolded in the spring of 2006.

A group of informal Calvin students interested in exploring issues of community and place have begun meeting regularly and are keeping a blog. In addition they plan to gather students, faculty and interested others for a monthly conversation beginning in the fall of 2006.