How to: Mentoring and the Craft Dimension of Knowing

March 21, 2022

by David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary


In this third installment of mentoring for the three-fold dimensions of knowledge, we turn our attention to craft. In doing so, we focus on a simple truth that is easily forgotten, overlooked, or even denied in our current educational philosophies.

Mentoring and Craft

All knowing is a kind of doing, and all such doing is inherently and inextricably connected to our bodies. There is simply no way for humans to get around this fact, nor should we want to. It’s the way God created us. We are knowers physically embedded in time and place. We are neither disembodied thinkers nor are we brains on sticks (a la James K. A. Smith). Failure to attend to our bodies in the process of knowing has disastrous effects of which anyone who has tried to take a final exam with the flu or study with a migraine is aware. Our bodies are what situate us in the world. Simply put, we used to think that knowing and doing were two separate things, but contemporary neuroscience has decisively put that falsehood to rest.

It is this “doing” dimension of the knowing process that is named by “craft.” So, in mentoring for the craft dimension of proficiency in an outcome, one question we can start with is: what should you be able to do with the content of this outcome? It is the recognition that if a learner can’t do the things that their vocational context needs them to do, they are not prepared to flourish in that context and their proficiency in the outcome is diminished.

We should note that all education has focused on some kind of doing, whether it was made explicit or not. But historically, the things we learned to do in the educational journey were dictated by the academy. We should make clear, there is a lot of value in the things it has asked us to do. Memorizing data, analyzing arguments, writing book reviews, writing research papers, taking exams, and the myriad other things which could be added to this list all cultivate and display skills important for life. But it should not go unnoticed that these tasks are most particularly important for the creation and distribution of knowledge (i.e., content). Once again, the issue isn’t that these “doings” are wrong or bad, and they are important skills we have cultivated in the past that should be maintained. We mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater but rather ask whether what we have been asking for is adequate for the tasks students are being asked to do in their vocations? What a knower should be able to do with what they have learned needs to be informed by not only the academy but also the vocational context.

For some of the things that students need to learn, the craft dimension is straightforward. If the student is developing proficiency in effective communication, they must learn to communicate; in interpreting the bible, to interpret the bible; or to teach, they must teach. It is not good enough for them to know about preaching, interpreting, or teaching, they must actually be able to do something with what they learn: to practice the skill.

But the craft dimension of knowing is not limited to these skills. In fact, as one matures in one’s proficiency in knowing one begins to recognize deeper, broader, and more subtle ways in which we are impacted by our knowing.

This is what has led many people to think about knowing an outcome as much as “ways of thinking” as they are “collections of content.” For an overly simplistic example, the importance of knowing history certainly includes content (e.g., familiarity with the data of history such as dates and time periods) and learning history often brings with it the ability to recite dates (e.g., identifying events with dates, etc.) but certainly does not consist of merely being able to recite or identify dates. Sure, that’s one thing you can do, and sometimes that’s really needed, but another is to help us understand what’s happened in the past to enable us to see the impact of that past on how we live and think today. Thinking historically is about being able to contextualize and situate events that impact life today. In this sense, learning history is about being able to think historically.

The same could be said about theology, biblical studies, cultural studies, and a host of other outcomes we engage in Kairos. Thinking theologically, biblically, and culturally involve a variety of skills that are needed in the life of the knower as well as in the vocational context to which they are called. This invites us to ask: what does thinking historically, theologically, biblically, or culturally look like in the vocational context of the student? These are important questions for each learner and for flourishing in the vocation to which they are called to serve and ones that must be discerned through the mentor team’s mentoring of the learner.

Thus, again, all three mentors have important voices in assessing the craft dimension of knowledge. The faculty mentor certainly represents an important lens, one which often gets privilege status even here at Kairos. The vocational mentor, however, has an indispensable role in this dimension of knowing as an essential voice in determining both what needs to be done and helping articulate how well it must be done in order to flourish in the vocational context. The conversation between the mentor team and learner about what an outcome looks like when performed well in a context is a vital step in both guiding the learning pathway and in assessing how proficient the learner is in the craft dimension.

As we often say, education is a journey of going from where you are to where God wants you to be. In the Kairos journey, proficiency of knowledge and the integration of content, character, and craft happens best when the mentor team attends to all three dimensions of knowing by learning to hear and appreciate the contribution of each of the three mentors.

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