- At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education ed. by David S. Cunningham
The story is now all too familiar. A well-meaning student goes to college, joins a social fraternity or sorority, selects a major based upon his or her perception of the significance of its immediate economic return, tolerates a relatively fragmented array of general education classes, gets a job within six months of graduation, and settles into a life that progresses with little to no greater purpose than participation in an ongoing cycle of production and consumption.
Such young people are male and female, from backgrounds dotting the economic spectrum, and represent every ethnicity. All said, they had the experience of attending college, but in both the short and long-runs, they missed out on the meaning such an experience was originally designed to offer.
Too often, students are blamed as they are viewed as being immature and thus unable to [End Page 312] appreciate the riches of the collegiate experience. Parents also receive a share of the blame as they are defined as being pushy, unable to accept their children just might be ordinary, and paranoid they may be the financial custodians of their offspring for years, if not decades, after graduation. Of course, faculty incur a measure of blame as they are understood as being focused on increasingly narrow iterations of their own career advancement and thus disinterested in walking alongside students in relation to questions not directly covered in any Ph.D. program. The blame administrators receive is due to moments when they refer to their most prized students as “FTPs” or full-tuition pays, not Marshall, Rhodes, or Truman scholars.
The truth of the matter is all the supposedly guilty listed above are culpable in some fashion. Experiencing the meaning of the collegiate experience demands maturity, risk, effort, and, quite often, financial sacrifice. Students who had such experiences report time and again that unstructured and often individual experiences with educators yield meaning in the short and long-runs in life. In essence, studying engineering, for example, in its various forms of application is insufficient.
As this book fortunately adds to the literature concerning vocation, students also need to explore whether they are passionate about the experiences engineering can afford them and, if so, to what telos, end, or purpose those experiences are to be oriented. In essence, passion is important but on its own still proves insufficient. Students need to appreciate the connection between that passion and an understanding of the larger purpose granting that passion direction. The same is true for almost any discipline, and here is where David S. Cunningham and his colleagues provide educators with a valuable service in At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education.
In this volume, Cunningham, Professor of Religion, Director of the CrossRoads Project, and Director of the Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing at Hope College, gathered a variety of scholars to focus “on vocation in a general way, and particularly on matters of pedagogy” (p. xiii). Some of the essays undoubtedly prove stronger than others. However, these essays read as well together as any edited volume I have encountered over the course of my career. As a result, this effort is profitable for educators interested in cultivating meaning in the lives of their students, whether they reference individual chapters or read this book as a sequential whole.
Before moving into a discussion of the details of this book and why it succeeds in both parts and as a whole, some discussion of vocation and what is meant by such a term is needed. For Cunningham and the contributors to this volume, vocation is perhaps best understood as a process students (should) undergo or “the process of trying to understand themselves—that is, to determine what sort of persons they are and who they will become” (p. 3).
Clarity in terms of vocation then comes through “two important networks of concern...