Lee Hardy learned some valuable lessons as a young boy, working for his dad in Fullerton, Calif., at the family-owned drugstore.
"I got to see how my father related to people," he recalled, "and I saw the real sense of connection between him and his customers."
He added with a wry smile: "I also learned what it means to work hard."
Those traits mark Hardy's work today as a Calvin College philosophy professor. And they are, in no small part, why he is the college's 2007 recipient of the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching.
Hardy is the 15th winner of Calvin's top teaching honor-the award's inception was in 1993-and will receive a one-of-a-kind medallion and a significant financial stipend from the George B. and Margaret K. Tinholt Endowment Fund, established at Calvin by a donor in honor of George Tinholt, a former member of the Calvin College board of trustees.
For Hardy it's been a long and interesting journey from Fullerton to Grand Rapids , one with twists and turns along the way that he never would have predicted. But he said he's found a home at Calvin, and in Grand Rapids, and while he feels undeserving of Calvin's top teaching honor, he admits it is validating.
"I never expected to win [the award], and I don't particularly think of myself as a great teacher by nature," he said. "I'm pretty introverted, so I've had to work hard on teaching. In grad school you're trained to be a researcher, but then you're hired as a teacher. You don't take classes on pedagogy. But I've always tried to be good at what I do, to do the best I can. And I've tried to connect with my students. I think I learned those two things a long time ago, and they're still a part of me."
Hardy noted, too, that his influence as a teacher on Calvin's campus might go a little beyond his classroom thanks to his work in the late 1990s on the Calvin core curriculum revision committee, a role that consumed countless hours of his time.
The college had tried twice before to revise the core curriculum and failed both times-once in the late 1980s, once in the early 1990s. Under Hardy's leadership the third time was the charm, and today Calvin students study a curriculum developed by Hardy and the core revision team.
One of the biggest changes with the new core curriculum was an entire section on what Calvin calls core virtues: diligence, honesty, courage, charity, justice, faith and wisdom. Hardy said the virtues are critical to a Calvin education and have been a strong influence on his own teaching.
"From its very inception in the Greco-Roman period, liberal arts education has sought not only to equip students with knowledge and skill, but also to shape their character," he said. "Our new core curriculum was actually a return to some very ancient ideas about what education is intended to achieve."
Hardy said early in his teaching career the idea of character in the classroom was a blind spot for him personally. But in the late 1980s he began to think more about work and about how God's calling, a sense of vocation, was tied into what people do. That led to his writing a book in 1990 called The Fabric of This World, which is a study of the philosophy of labor and deals with such topics as career choice, management, job design and more (the book has since sold 15,000 copies and has been translated into French, Spanish and Chinese!).
The book also led Hardy to examine his own work as a professor.
In the academic year of 1992-93, he served as the first senior fellow in the Lilly Fellows Program at Valparaiso University (Ind.), devoted to sustained reflection on the vocation of teaching. "There I began to realize that students brought more to the classroom than their brains," he said. "They were present as whole persons, the good and the bad, the smooth spots and the rough edges. And combined they and I formed a community which was shaped by our personalities and our characters. It began, for me, an important shift in how I thought about teaching, one that has made me, I believe, a better teacher than I was before."
Hardy's colleagues concur.
Greg Mellema, a longtime member of the Calvin philosophy department, recalls visiting Hardy's classroom one day when Hardy was being considered for tenure. Mellema was blown away by Hardy's ability to bring alive the 18th century philosophical texts.
"The students in turn," he said, "were drawn into the discussion, and it was evident they found the material fascinating."
Students echo that sentiment.
In nominating Hardy for the teaching award, students were quick to praise his abilities to make the subject matter compelling.
"A good teacher not only engages and excites students about material they find interesting," wrote one student, "he also draws them in and helps them along when the subject matter is difficult."
Another wrote succinctly: "He might be one of the best teachers in philosophy that Calvin has ever had."
Growing up in Fullerton, Hardy would have been bemused to think that someday he'd be living in the Midwest, teaching at a Christian college.
He wasn't raised a Christian. In fact it wasn't until the age of 13 that he made a commitment to Christ, going forward with his family during a Billy Graham Crusade at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1963. After high school he went to art school and then began working in San Francisco, Calif., as a graphic designer. He also began reading Christian books, looking to deepen his still-burgeoning faith.
Author Francis Schaeffer became a big influence, showing Hardy what it might mean to engage culture as a Christian. From Schaeffer he migrated to work coming out of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Ont.
"Eventually, I read myself into the Reformed tradition," he said. "I think it was the Kuyperian idea that attracted me."
He decided to study at L'Abri, which Schaeffer had founded, where his tutor was Os Guinness. From there he went to Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights , Ill. , where Calvin alumnus Cal Seerveld had been teaching. Although he and Seerveld missed each other by a year, Hardy's experience at Trinity was a good one.
"I enjoyed the program," he said, adding with a chuckle: "And I met a lot of Canadians."
That was important for two reasons. The first: One of those Canadians, Judy Knoops, became his wife and the mother of their four children. The second: The Canadians turned him on to the writings of Dutch philosophers in the Reformed tradition.
"The Dutch philosophers were coming out of the continental tradition," he recalled, "so after graduating from Trinity I decided to do graduate work at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh because they were really strong in continental philosophy."
Trinity was also where he learned more about Calvin College, so after Duquesne he applied for teaching jobs to a number of schools, one of which was Calvin. He was hired in 1981 and has been a part of the Calvin community ever since.
"It's sort of amazing really," Hardy said with a smile as he recalled the journey he's been on since that Billy Graham Crusade some 44 years ago.
He notes, however, that in doing genealogical research he discovered that his British ancestors came to the United States in the 1600s as Puritans.
"So my roots are in English Calvinism," he said. "I've often wondered why I was so attracted to the Reformed tradition. I didn't know how to explain it. Perhaps the answer is almost 400 years old!"
Whatever the answer, Calvin students are glad Hardy asked the question some three decades ago. His migration to the Reformed tradition has been their gain. And the gain of the entire college.
— Phil de Haan is Calvin's media relations director.
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