As I was saying …
I’ve been writing about the tectonic shift from Christendom to missional and how we must adopt accompanying shifts in our approach to biblical higher education without succumbing to mission drift. In the realm of curricular programs, I believe drift occurs when we lack clarity about what motivates the initiation of a curricular program, what constitutes the appropriate program content and design, and what validates the quality of our programs.
Curricular program motivation
Why should we offer, for example, a degree program in business? Because it will attract more students and square with the parental priority of ensuring employability that enhances affluence? Or because that occupation corresponds to a pertinent and promising platform for exercising ministry vocation? I maintain that when we muddy our motives for establishing new programs, or settle for merely pragmatic ones, we open ourselves to mission drift. Moreover, when our motives for offering a particular program are inadequately explicit or, worse, patently inconsistent with our mission, erosion at both a programmatic and institutional level are virtually inevitable.
Curricular program composition
When we achieve clarity and consensus about why we are introducing a new program of study, it inevitably brings greater clarity as to what should comprise the curriculum. Instead of allowing the professional or academic guild to dictate what should be the contours and composition of our program, we can engage those we envision our future graduates serving (e.g., churches, mission agencies, non-profits, community service agencies, as well as “secular” business leaders) in helping define the characteristics of an ideal graduate so we can appropriately build our curriculum “backward.” Such clarity about distinctive program content and outcomes, moreover, offers a useful filter by which to determine who are the faculty and students that best fit the program’s purpose. Wrong choices about faculty and students will skew the direction of a program as quickly as anything I know.
Curricular program validation
How do you know you have an excellent business (or intercultural studies, or communications, or teacher education) program of study? Conventional wisdom frames the question in this way: To what extent does our program resemble those of other institutions in content and quality (i.e., program resources, reputation, outputs, and learning achievement outcomes)? I think a better way to frame the question is thus: To what extent is our program distinctive in content and quality? In other words, being “just as good as” or even “superior to” conventional benchmarks does not necessarily validate your program relative to your institution’s mission or motives. Surely your institutional and programmatic mission and motives differ in important ways from those to whom you compare yourselves. Uncritically appropriating the rest of academia’s assessment criteria and quality benchmarks can lead you off course. After all, entropy occurs not only in nature but also in human institutions.
I believe the shift from Christendom to missional desperately demands that we alter and add to our curricular programs. Yet we must do so in ways that foster and forge greater distinctiveness rather than conformity and resulting creep. In upcoming posts, we will look at additional significant shifts that require adaptation lest we drift …
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
Sociologist James Davison Hunter asserted two decades ago that the real “culture wars” are between those who affirm some transcendent authority source and those committed to the authority of self-grounded rational discourse. According to Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, it may be time for us to recognize the real battle is the battle for the Bible.
I hope you’re staying aware of the momentum within the higher education community toward “competency-based education.” Although this new wave of innovation likely faces, at best, skepticism and, at worst, entrenched opposition by guardians of the status quo and funding coffers, there is increasing evidence that this alternative to the traditional class and credit hour format is gaining traction toward legitimacy. Should you and your team be talking about this?
Is the threat to religious freedom escalating? According to a new Barna Group opinion poll, most–including relatively nominal Christians of all ages and most particularly, and perhaps surprisingly, millennials–believe it is.