Calvin College

CALVIN - Minds in the Making

Strengthening Liberal Arts Education by Embracing Place and Particularity

Monroe would have dismissed such beliefs as superstition, folklore. But Ada, increasingly covetous of Ruby's learning in the ways living things inhabited this particular place, chose to view the signs as metaphoric. They were, as Ada saw them, an expression of stewardship, a means of taking care, a discipline. They provided a ritual of concern for the patterns and tendencies of the material world where it might be seen to intersect with some other world. Ultimately, she decided, the signs were a way of being alert, and under those terms she could honor them.

- Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain: A Novel

This paper describes research undertaken by Calvin College to explore the intersection of the liberal arts and the particulars of place.  This research posed several key questions for exploration: How can the liberal arts tradition serve the common good in a particular place?  How will liberal arts be seen as an important resource for members of a particular community? How can we use our city as text to strengthen liberal arts education for our students and to strengthen engaged scholarship/ research for our faculty? In other words, how could a particular place inform and shape the teaching that occurs in liberal arts classrooms as well as the research undertaken by faculty?

Fourteen faculty members formed interdisciplinary working groups to examine theoretical perspectives on the convergence of liberal arts and place and their collaborative writing appears under Theorizing Liberal Arts and Place.  Over 500 pages of data from interviews with faculty, students, alumni and city/community leaders were analyzed by a team of social scientists to assess the difference a critical pedagogy of place makes within the liberal arts tradition. Research findings are shared under Assessing Liberal Arts and Place from Multiple Perspectives.   Case studies of projects developed in a wide variety of disciplines which connect liberal arts and place are also included with pedagogical suggestions to foster student learning and engagement.  Creative ideas for celebrating liberal arts and place are described under the Embrace Our Place Festival.  Lessons learned and recommendations for the future conclude the white paper.
Our findings suggest that a focus on place provides opportunities for liberal arts colleges to enlarge the scholarly imagination and to broaden their impact on the lives of students, on faculty and on the larger community.