In Formation

Wednesday, December 10


A good exercise

As I was finishing up my dissertation, among the last things I did was write the acknowledgments section. I recommend that everyone go through the exercise of writing an "acknowledgments" section, even if you haven't written a major work. What I learned from writing my acknowledgments seemed to almost make writing my 400 page dissertation worth the effort. Indeed, it made me grateful. It caused me to bring to full consciousness what I have always known, if only implicitly. The fact is, the work that I did writing my dissertation, though mine, was not mine alone. It was rather the product of the many men and women who have invested their lives in me.

It's humbling, actually, and good for the soul. The challenge in writing my acknowledgments was deciding whom I wouldn't mention. The list of those who have been my mentors and teachers is exceedingly long, not to mention the countless friends and acquaintances who have influenced my life in large and small ways.

In any case, here's the way I began and ended my acknowledgments:

If nothing else, this long, long effort of mine has taught me that my personal efforts in the writing have been the fruit of the many relationships that have graced my life. It is fitting to reflect on those who have shown me the way in my life and work . . . .

Finally, I thank God, who is the giver of all good gifts. Without this "great cloud of witnesses," I would not know what it means to engage deeply in intellectual life, what it means to be a friend, what it means to embrace a vocation, or what it means to have faith, hope, and love; in short, I would never have been able to write this dissertation. My dissertation bears the mark of those who have been God's messengers to me, in their words and the witness of their lives. To be sure, none of them is responsible for any shortcomings of this work. But if there's credit to be taken, I give it all to them.

The abstract of my dissertation

The title is A Changing Metaphor: Instructional Reform as Evangelism.

Many scholars have attempted to make sense of the long and often disappointing history of American educational reform. Some reforms present greater challenges than others. Reforms that comport well with current school structures and assumptions are often successful, but those that challenge the "grammar of schooling" are markedly less so. Reformers often seek to make fundamental changes in schools, but these "deep reforms" present problems that seem intractable.

With the intent of developing a new perspective on the problem, and following Donald Schön's (1993) thinking on generative metaphors, this study proposes instructional reform as evangelism as a generative metaphor for thinking anew about the problems and possibilities of instructional reform. Based on reviews of instructional reform and evangelism (including religious conversion), the study makes a case for the plausibility and appeal of the metaphor. The metaphor is plausible because of many parallels between instructional reform and evangelism-conversion. The metaphor has appeal because it comports well with the personal nature of teaching and emphasizes the interrelationship between individuals and their community. In a sense, evangelism is a people-and-place-changing "technology."

The generative potential of the metaphor stems from salient differences between the two domains. From those differences, the study distills seven "evangelical principles of reform," which provide a heuristic for viewing past, present, and future reform efforts. The seven evangelical principles are: 1) The Ecclesial Principle, 2) The Principle of Human Dignity and Freedom of Conscience, 3) The Creedal Principle, 4) The Magisterial Principle, 5) The Pastoral Principle, 6) The Incarnation Principle, and 7) The Evangelical Principle.

After viewing three reforms in light of the seven principles, the study suggests that instructional reform as evangelism has heuristic potential to help contribute to a more balanced understanding of the problems and possibilities of instructional reform. The study concludes with a meditation on the role faith, hope, and love play in the process of instructional reform, and how thinking of instructional reform as evangelism could potentially help reforms seem, even to teachers, more like good news.

posted by Fr. Steve | 12/10/2003 |

Tuesday, December 9


Learning to speak again

A year without blogging has been good for me. I've learned a great deal about myself this year, though I can't say that's a direct result of not blogging. Instead, I'd say it's largely a result of prayer and the four-fold formation I am receiving at the seminary. The four types of formation (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) are drawn from the Holy Father's apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, which is definitely worth reading.

Though not blogging wasn't the key to all I learned this past year, it was important. First of all, it allowed me to spend more time in sustained prayer, listening to the voice of God. It also allowed me to finally finish up my dissertation: A Changing Metaphor: Instructional Reform as Evangelism. (I graduated December 5 with a Ph.D. in Curriculum, Teaching, and Educational Policy from Michigan State University).

Now that the dissertation is behind me, and I've become wiser about the benefits of silence, I'm going to test out the other side of Qoheleth's maxim: "[There is] a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7). In short, I'm rising to blog again.

I'm not sure how often I'll post, but there are things I've been thinking a lot about these past few months, and the blog seems a good place to try them out. As always, I invite you to give me your comments, questions, observations, and criticisms.

In the meantime, let me express my heartfelt thanks for all your prayers for me and the many other men in formation.

posted by Fr. Steve | 12/09/2003 |