March 7, 2022
by David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary
We have talked a lot about our understanding of knowledge as the integration of content, character, and craft. At Kairos, this is central to understanding the educational journey that students are on. But as members of mentor teams, how do we mentor for each of these dimensions, for content, character, and craft? What do we mean when we talk about each of these dimensions of knowledge and why is it important both understand what we mean and how to mentor with an eye toward each?
To get us started answering these questions, we should remind ourselves of where we are. That is, we should remind ourselves that we have all been deeply formed by reductionistic approaches to “knowing” that have essentially equated knowledge with “content” and, thus, education with the acquisition of content. As this tendency became more pronounced, its deforming implications became evident in our students. In response, we began to add elements to the educational journey to “shore up” the deficiencies we were seeing.
The earliest deficiencies had to do with the ability of our students to make connections between what they were learning in the classroom and what that knowledge looked like in the ministry context. These deficiencies were addressed by adding things to the curriculum where students had to put their “knowledge” into “practice,” such as in field education, internship programs, and the sort. The best step in this direction came in the form of “service learning” as we began to recognize the value of the service context for achieving our educational goals.
The second deficiency had to do with “spiritual formation.” What we began to see in our educational practices was that we were not attending enough to the personal transformation in the lives of our students. We expected an education in the Christian faith and the preparation for Christian ministry to have more engagement in that area. We found it was too easy to produce people with a high level of content awareness but who, we believed, were too little impacted by that content. The best step in this direction was the introduction of spiritual formation courses into our curriculum and even requiring the “spiritual direction” of our students.
A third deficiency was related to the work of integrating the various disciplines within the educational journey. We noticed students would develop an understanding of the content within biblical studies, for example, but that they struggled to see how content within theology, ethics, and worship were to be integrated into that understanding. We expected students to be able to integrate these discrete disciplines but were aware it was not happening. The best step in this direction was to create new courses like “integrative seminar” or “integration and ministry practice” that were designed to be completed at the end of a student’s educational journey with the goal of requiring students to integrate content from the various disciplines within their program.
The content dimension of knowledge is by far the most familiar to us. Given the priority that content has had in education, everyone in the system has been deeply formed by its importance. As we say in our master assessment rubrics, content refers to the vocabulary, cognitive frameworks, standards of excellence, historical development, and traditions of a given learning/developmental category rather than a canon of important and/or essential facts/data. In Kairos, we have built an educational system on the recognition that facts are always constituted by and interpreted within systems of thought which actually make them “facts.” These systems of thought are shaped by a variety of cognitive frameworks which have their own histories, social locations, conflicts, and debates.
At its heart, content proficiency names the way a student displays the ability to think credibly within the resources, structures, and frameworks of a particular discipline or area of thought. This always assumes familiarity with facts but is much more. For example, in Kairos, content proficiency for theology refers to a student’s ability to think theologically within their tradition and to engage in credible ways others internal and external to that tradition. It is important to recognize that all three mentors attend to this dimension of knowledge. Though the faculty mentor may carry the heaviest load in regard to content proficiency, the vocational mentor and the personal mentor have important roles as well.
All three mentors on the team are essential in defining and assessing proficiency of content. We are well aware that there is far too much credible content available than can be learned on this journey. Decisions are always being made as to how broad, how deep; indeed, how much content is needed for the student to flourish in the vocational context to which God has called him or her.
Rather than leave this solely to the faculty mentor, in Kairos, we share this responsibility with the other mentors. The vocational mentor has a particularly important role in this decision-making process related to what content is most needed in the vocational context. The specialized expertise the vocational mentor brings to the team is unique as to what content is needed to flourish in that vocational context. The personal mentor has an important role in these decisions as well. With particular attention to the life of the student, the personal mentor can provide insight into the specific needs of the student in particular areas of content growth. Given the privileged status that comes with the role of faculty mentor on the mentor team, the faculty mentor will have to work especially hard to draw out the perspective and insights of the other two mentors to help define the needed content and to define proficiency for any particular student.
Next week, we are going to turn our attention to mentoring and the character dimension of knowing.