Teaching the Whole Person

By Dr. Keri Bostwick (’98 and ’13), Provost

25 years ago, I bounded up the stairs of Central Middle School, excited to begin my student teaching semester.

As I made my way around the classrooms, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells, I introduced myself to the teachers I met along the way. I walked into a seventh-grade geography classroom and asked the question of the morning. “Hi! Who are you, and what do you teach?”

I expected this teacher would tell me his name, the subject he taught, and I would move on. Not so. “I am Gerald Thompson, and I teach future citizens of the great United States of America.”

I only blinked in response. What did he mean that he taught future citizens? Why didn’t he tell me his subject matter? Didn’t we all teach “future citizens”? Why did he phrase it this way?

His response challenged my assumptions about my own work. What if English wasn’t my subject? What if my subject matter was people?

Having a Calling

The phrase liberal arts stems from the Latin words liber, meaning free, and art, meaning skill. A direct translation could be the skills that make someone free. A liberal arts education includes the study of history, mathematics, language, arts, sociology, psychology, writing, and technology. The term can also refer to anything outside the professional and technical knowledge and skills related to a job or career.

Recently, some people have advocated limiting or eliminating the liberal arts, arguing that this education doesn’t prepare students for career success. The argument is nothing new. In 1977, Donald L. Berry wrote, “Many students and their parents now seek a clear and early connection between the undergraduate experience and employment. Vocationalism exerts pressure for substantive changes in the curriculum and substitutes a preoccupation with readily marketable skills.”

Berry’s argument prioritizes vocation and skills. It uses education as a means to employment. But consider this challenge from Ellen Lagemann (2013): “The word vocation implies more than earning a living or having a career. The word vocation implies having a calling: knowing who one is, what one believes, what one values, and where one stands in the world.”

Education is more than a means to a job. A true education means I know who I am, what I believe, what I value, and where I stand in the world. And a liberal arts education helps me understand all of that.

What the World Needs

I am a Christian before I am a teacher. I am a believer before I am a leader. I am His before I belong to any entity, group, organization, or political party.

Similarly, we are believers before we are our careers. We seek Him first. OKWU helps students pursue an education that prepares them to live out their calling, fully equipped to advance the Kingdom and change the world. We do that with a robust liberal arts core that focuses on the whole person. We believe in teaching the whole person so s/he can go out and influence the whole world. We believe in the liberal arts, too, that they help us become critical thinkers who are well equipped to solve the world’s complex problems.

We want teachers in classrooms who understand how language influences culture. We want nurses who have wrestled with their own identities, as Hamlet did. We want pastors who understand history. We want entrepreneurs who understand the way society thinks. We want scholars who see the synthesis of all education.

The liberal arts help us see people. Gerald Thompson saw people. He was teaching future free citizens of our great nation, and he understood, intimately, the importance of thinking critically and fully engaging with our senses. He understood that his students would become the problem solvers the world so desperately needs.

The world needs Christians who can think critically and who can help solve problems, people who see others through Christ’s eyes. The world needs OKWU graduates who understand how the world works and can advance the kingdom.

The world needs the liberal arts.

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