Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

Expanded Statement of Mission - Enacting a College Mission

B. The Mission of Calvin College in Education

Firm convictions about the task of Christian education lie at the heart of learning and teaching at Calvin College. As stated in CLAE (pp. 27-38) and reaffirmed in this report, three convictions have special status among us. First, the aim of Christian education is to let faith find expression throughout culture and society. Second, the life of faith, and education as part of that life, find their fulfillment only in a genuine community. Third, the Christian community, including its schools, is called to engage, transform, and redeem contemporary society and culture.

Accordingly, the college sees higher education as a God-given vocation, to be enacted on behalf of the Christian community, for the benefit of contemporary society, and to the praise of God's name. Christian learning and teaching at the college level are not optional frills but essential contributions to Christ's work in the world. Without Christian higher education, the body of Christ would lack much of the careful reflection it needs to be a thoughtful and effective agent of renewal.

Calvin College seeks to engage in vigorous liberal arts education that promotes lives of Christian service. This mission in education affects the goals that the college sets for its programs, the contexts in which various fields are studied, and the pedagogical techniques used to fulfill those goals and to examine those fields.


Educational Goals

To ask about the goals of education is also to ask how we should live. As Christians we offer our hearts to the Lord. In so doing, we recognize purposes and goals for education that go beyond simply knowing about reality or simply acquiring competence in some academic or professional field. Knowing entails responsibility, and competence includes caring. Accordingly, we acknowledge several interlocking educational goals at Calvin College .

At the heart of our programs lies the pursuit of knowledge of our triune God as revealed in scripture and creation, and as expressed through religious traditions in general and the Reformed Christian tradition in particular. Along with such knowledge come an understanding of God's world and critical inquiry into its problems and potential. We need to understand the structure and integrity of nature, discern the cultural and social forces that shape our world, and address the needs and issues of contemporary life. We also need to know ourselves-our nature, gifts, and callings-as we engage this world.

So that such knowledge responsibly guides Christian living, the college's programs encourage insightful and creative participation in society. We aim to foster sensitivity to the working of God and creation and respect for the variety of gifts that are offered by people of different genders, races, ages, and abilities. We strive to learn the demands of justice, an appreciation for diverse cultures, an attentiveness to the religious meaning of life's events, and an awareness of ways to renew the world for God's glory.

Our educational goals include the development of abilities and competencies that enable people to be effective in the tasks of knowing and caring. Gaining competencies, however, is not enough; they should be used in ways that honor God in the tasks for which they are intended. Competence is not only a skill; there is a moral purpose as well as a technical purpose for the competence. Competencies that are emphasized at Calvin College include reading and writing Standard English well, listening and speaking effectively, employing graphic and numeric forms of communication, exercising valid and sound reasoning, making discerning use of technology and popular culture, and maintaining personal health.

In order for knowing to include responsibility and for competence to include caring, the mind and heart must be one. To do this in a way that is faithful to Jesus Christ, we need to foster commitments. A goal, then, of education at Calvin College is to foster a thoughtful and compassionate commitment to Christian faith and to such values as stewardship, justice, truth, and gratitude. These commitments include a joyful trust in the triune God, an attachment to a Christian worldview, a strong desire to connect theoretical understanding with Christian conduct, a readiness to contend against evil and oppression, a willingness to work for the common good and the Body of Christ, and a dedication to the cause of Christ's renewal of the earth and human life.

Christian education at the college level needs to be seen as a dynamic process in which all of its participants continually try to get their deepest commitments, educational activities, and life practices headed in the same direction. Goals, however, remain abstractions until fulfilled by someone, and fulfilled in a particular program rather than by educational accident. Our educational goals carry certain implications about students at Calvin College , about the academic programs offered to them, and about pedagogical methods used to educate them.


Students at Calvin

Students at Calvin College are engaged in the mission of the college. They participate in the mission of pursuing vigorous liberal arts education for lives of Christian service, producing solid works of art and scholarship, and caring for one another in the performance of tasks. For this reason the college seeks students who are eager to learn, value learning as a gift of God, are curious about creation and culture, and strive to develop individual and communal gifts for leadership and service. Given its mission, the college seeks to serve any student interested in higher education that is shaped by the Christian faith.

While the qualities common to all students at Calvin College are important, both the nature of the church and the nature of education require that the college serve a diverse student body. The guiding premise for Calvin's educational program is that God's revelation is not restricted to one people or worship form, nor indeed to one curriculum or pedagogical method.

The college wishes to serve persons from Christian traditions beyond that of the Christian Reformed Church. Affirming its confessional commitments, Calvin recognizes that Christian traditions are gifts that strengthen the church and build up its members in the full image of Christ. Students from other Christian traditions will enrich the community and enhance education at Calvin through their contributions.

Finally, the college strives for ethnic and racial justice and reconciliation, without forgetting its own ethnic roots. The goal of an ethnically and racially inclusive college community is to recognize that the Christian community transcends cultural and geographical boundaries. Yet we live in a world that erects and enforces such boundaries in ways that grant privilege and power to some and disempower others. A commitment to overcome racism will assist in the educational goals of appreciating different cultures and promoting justice and reconciliation among people.

Similarly, the college also seeks to serve students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, from a range of intellectual abilities, and those with disabilities that do not prevent them from the task of learning. Not only does this honor our commitment to being a diverse community, but it also recognizes the diverse educational needs that the body of Christ must meet and the diverse ways in which leadership in society occurs. Our academic programs should enable people with different intellectual abilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and gifts to prepare for positions of leadership and lives of service.

Moreover, because of its strategic position among Christian institutions of higher education, the college wishes to serve students of diverse ages and walks of life. It does not restrict its mission to undergraduate students of traditional college age, but seeks to attract and benefit adult learners and graduate students.

The commitment to cultural, social, and academic diversity constitutes an important part of the future mission of the college. The college is not content simply to confirm students in their traditions and prejudices. In order to achieve its goal of leadership, the college desires graduates who make a difference in their cities, countries, churches, and places of work. This challenge, moreover, bears implications for the academic programs and curriculum of the college.


Academic Programs

Calvin College currently offers three types of programs: undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education. The oldest, best established, and most heavily enrolled is the undergraduate program, which divides into either disciplinary or professional degree programs. About half the undergraduates pursue disciplinary majors in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. The other half are enrolled in professional programs, with over a third of these students being in education. All undergraduates take a liberal arts core.

Graduate programs and continuing education are relative newcomers at Calvin. The college has stated three purposes for its graduate programs (GRADS 21-50). First, these programs are to train Christian leaders at the graduate level, with particular emphasis on the areas of public service, church work, and education. Second, graduate programs should enhance the teaching, scholarship, and alumni support of Calvin's undergraduate programs. Third, Calvin's graduate programs should serve to develop advanced Christian scholarship aimed at academic, professional, or public audiences.

The purpose of the continuing education program at Calvin is to help adult learners understand and address issues of the Christian life in society (ACE 13-15). The primary audience is alumni of the college's undergraduate programs who wish to deepen their reflection on cultural and social issues and become more effective agents of renewal. By serving these students, the college not only recognizes their continuing part in Calvin's mission and community but also seeks to benefit from the insights they gain through engagement with contemporary society.

With such a wide range of programs and students, questions inevitably arise regarding the unity, balance, and character of programs. Unity comes from the conviction that in creation and in Christ all of reality coheres and finds meaning. Unity in curriculum and community in education also require a balance in programs offered; a few programs with many students and faculty should not dominate the college curriculum. A full range of disciplinary courses is necessary, and enrollment levels should not serve as the sole guide to whether a course remains in the curriculum. While we affirm the conviction with Abraham Kuyper that "every square inch in the entire cosmos Christ claims as His own" and, as a result, that all of creation is worthy of investigation, the liberal arts, with emphasis upon contextual study, remain central to education at Calvin College . Since the liberal arts are basic to all the college programs, they should also be the most prominent feature of a Calvin College education. Professional programs, graduate programs, and continuing education as well as undergraduate programs should reflect an emphasis on contextual study in the liberal arts.

Contextual Education

The fundamental premise of a contextual view of education is that objects and events do not appear randomly or independently, but rather that they exist and occur within such contexts as the natural, cultural, societal, and spiritual. Moreover, information and ideas about objects and events should be understood within their larger contexts. The aim of such education is to capture a living heritage of information and ideas, rather than seeing them as isolated events stripped of contextual implications and ultimately of contextual reference.

Contextual education seems particularly well-suited for a Christian college. Such education helps one see the working out of God's revelation and redemptive plan in creation, in culture and in the patterns of society. Furthermore, the contextual approach provides a practical means of integrating faith and learning as one discerns the revelation of God in all areas of life and learning and begins to employ Christian beliefs in the relevant contexts of one's own time.

To call attention to contexts requires both an appropriate curriculum and effective pedagogy. The contextual approach should not be relegated to certain disciplines or courses, but should permeate the entire curriculum, at every level, whether undergraduate, graduate, or continuing education, and in every type of program, whether disciplinary, professional, or practical. At the same time, the core courses in Calvin's academic programs should be those that best enable all students to study and understand the wider contexts of their lives and learning.

With the adoption of CLAE in the 1960s, Calvin's curriculum focused especially on religious, historical, and cultural contexts. To be more precise, it has emphasized Reformed Christianity, Western civilization, and the academic disciplines. Since the 1980s the college has also directed attention to the study of world religions and other Christian traditions, internationalizing the curriculum, and addressing additional areas of culture such as popular art and entertainment. Furthermore, the societal context requires greater attention to such issues as poverty, sexism, racism, and the destruction of the environment. Such emphases affect both the core curriculum and the design of majors.

Core Curriculum

The challenges confronting Calvin College in the area of core curriculum resemble those facing most other colleges and universities in North America : fostering common learning, promoting upper-level engagement in the academic disciplines, engaging current world issues, and addressing interdisciplinary subject matter including non-Western or minority cultures. In order to meet these challenges appropriately, the college must achieve as much clarity as possible about the character and role of its core curriculum and must not let departmental interests and professional certification requirements set its curricular agenda. Every proposal for revision of the core curriculum must demonstrate in detail how it will serve the college's educational goals and give renewed vigor to contextual education.

In contrast to the major, study in the core will usually be more general than study in the major, and the competences learned will be those basic to the life of an educated person generally rather than for a specific vocation. The goals of the core curriculum extend beyond those for the individual student; they are goals that help shape the educational community of the college. Calvin College students should be part of a vibrant Christian educational community, and they should be prepared for a Christian life in society. The core curriculum, while directing individual students toward the educational goals of the college, contributes significantly to shaping the character of the educational community in both its practices and commitments. It prepares students for a life of Christian citizenship in the world.

Majors

The CLAE document recommends major concentrations and group concentrations, but provides little rationale for this recommendation and leaves the details of concentrations to various departments. PECLAC gives even fewer aims and guidelines for concentrations in professional programs, choosing instead to argue broadly for the legitimacy of professional programs and for their recommended relation to general education requirements. Presumably there was not sufficient debate about the character and role of disciplinary and professional majors to warrant more detailed discussions in CLAE and PECLAC.

Since the adoption of CLAE and PECLAC, two developments have made such discussions more urgent. One is the proliferation of undergraduate majors. The other is the growing conflict between careerism, or the use of an education as a springboard to a career, and vocationalism, or the discovery of one's life calling through education, as the goals of a Christian college education. Taken together, these developments often result in the nature of the academic major being dictated by external forces-professional concerns and accrediting agencies, for example-rather than being shaped by the internal mission of the college. With increasing external demands upon a major, one finds a very real danger of the unifying educational goals of the college paling in significance.

These developments affect Calvin College no less than they affect other North American colleges. Indeed, careerism is not restricted to students and departments with professional majors. It also prevails in attitudes toward majors in the disciplines, which in the past were seen as preparations for graduate study leading to academic or learned professions, and now are often measured as training grounds for potentially lucrative careers. The danger in this kind of thinking is that colleges lose sight of their educational goals as various majors are pitted against each other in terms of their potential payoffs. One corrective approach is for all majors, whether professional or disciplinary, to place their fields of study in the larger contexts of culture, society, history, and religion. This approach recognizes the importance of proficiency in a field, but gives equal importance to the way in which one achieves, holds, examines, and assumes such a proficiency.

General education, anchored in the core curriculum, serves to equip all students to live the Christian life in contemporary society. The major should do the same, but equips students to assume specific positions in society and to show expertise in shaping contemporary culture and social institutions. The major is a study in depth: its later courses build on previous courses, and it gives preparation for service with expertise. Through such cumulative and preparatory study in depth, students gain more detailed and complete understanding of a particular field; they come to terms with a definite range of traditions and institutions; they learn to make creative use of specialized methods and techniques; and they gain a concrete vision of how to serve the church and society in a vocation. Since the body of Christ needs many different members to accomplish its work, the major should enable people to respond to Christ's calling by finding suitable vocations through which they can make contributions to the church and society.

As well-educated members of Christ's body, students need specialized expertise, but they also need to serve the body with discernment regarding the place of that expertise in the contexts of life. Calvin's commitment to contextual education calls for innovative approaches to the entire curriculum, together with appropriate strategies of instruction.


Pedagogy

One of the hallmarks of Calvin College has been its steadfast and enduring commitment to excellence in teaching. In accordance with the assertion of the Faculty Handbook that "effective teaching is expected of all faculty members" (3.6.3), and in order to maintain and further that excellence, the college appointed a Committee on Faculty Teaching (1987) to examine all areas of pedagogical concern, from methods of instruction to peer and student evaluations of those methods. The mandate to the committee, furthermore, is to provide careful training of new instructors and ongoing assistance to regular faculty to develop pedagogical effectiveness.

Pedagogical techniques are often closely associated with an instructor's subject matter, the number of students in a given environment, and the tasks at hand. Instruction techniques will probably differ between a laboratory and a lab theater. They will likely differ between a survey course and a seminar, and may well differ in response to students' cultural frames of reference. Similarly, pedagogical techniques will differ according to an instructor's personality, prior models, and training. Even the traditional mode of college-level pedagogy-the lecture method-will vary widely depending upon how an instructor delivers the material.

While respecting these variables, Calvin College challenges its teachers to employ pedagogical techniques that quicken the interest of students, recognizing the varying backgrounds, learning styles, and capabilities of students to actively engage them in learning. The teachers also aim to make the subject matter of the disciplines relevant to the lives of students and encourage students to take responsibility for their learning. Teachers are also encouraged to reflect systematically on their pedagogy and to ask whether it achieves the college's purposes.

The college also supports the use of instructional materials and technologies that are appropriate to learning and are within the available resources of the college. Such materials and technologies enhance learning and prepare students to use new approaches in their chosen vocation. The employment of technology should contribute to the pedagogical pluralism that is important to effective teaching and learning.

Faculty members, therefore, are encouraged to a pedagogical pluralism, a willingness to employ a variety of pedagogical methods befitting subject matter, classroom setting, cultural context, and student abilities. One such variation, for example, is the concept of collaborative learning whereby an instructor outlines a problem or question and organizes the students into groups to find solutions or answers. The concept involves several types of peer tutoring and evaluation, as well as group discussions, student-run group presentations, and team projects. Collaborative learning requires students to participate actively in the educational process and to appropriate the materials as their own.

Flexibility of pedagogical methods can also encourage and strengthen connections between the curriculum and co-curriculum. The co-curriculum includes a wide range of events, programs, and organizations outside the classroom setting. This larger network plays a crucial part in the learning of students. It has great potential for helping students test the personal, social, and religious implications of their education.

The most desirable institutional culture at Calvin is one that best accords with our deepest shared convictions about the task of Christian education: that Christian education should let faith find full expression; that genuine community is essential to such faith and education; and that Christian colleges are called to help transform contemporary society and culture. Taken together, these convictions point toward an institutional culture where students take wide-ranging responsibility for their learning, experience their learning as part of a communal undertaking, and direct their learning toward the renewal of contemporary society and culture.

<-- Previous | Next -->