Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A glimpse (or two) at the paperwork

From Eastern Mennonite University: Seminary, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802-2404, USA
Photo by Colin Harris
Excited as I've been from the beginning about this upcoming trip to Ethiopia to teach, I've also been overwhelmed by the sheer administrative behemoth it's become. Trying to identify and satisfy all the various requirements to all the various parties is daunting. Passports, plane tickets, immunizations, syllabi, finding supervisors and advisors, and on, and on, and on...

While my last post offered a theological back-story to how this trip came to be, this post will contain an only slightly edited version of an important piece of paperwork: My practicum proposal, turned into my practicum advisor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), pending approval by the practicum committee. It may seem strange that I'm only just now submitting this proposal, even though real work for the practicum began ten months ago. Such is the nature of administrative paperwork at times. I've been grateful that this exciting, dynamic idea for a practicum was given this long to be wild and free before having to be codified in a boring ol' proposal. But even this administrative exercise was a good one to conduct, as it's offered some much-needed critical reflection on just how I'm going to pull off this endeavor.

I realize the problems with copy/pasting material from a particular medium (a proposal document) for a particular audience (professors) in a particular community (a graduate program) to another set altogether, namely a blog to a whole bunch of not-graduate program people on the web. So I've tried to edit where possible while still keeping it identifiably proposal-like, to give a taste for the administrative side of this awesome, exciting, project coming up in Ethiopia...

Practicum date: July, 2011
Practicum location and organization:
Brief Description of the Practicum: From July 11th through the 29th, I will be teaching “Intro to Conflict Transformation” at MKC, representing the bulk of my practicum work. At MCC, I will observe MCC projects during our one-week stay in Addis before my class at MKC starts.

Describe communication you have had with the organization: E-mail communication was established with the academic dean of the college, B.D., in August of last year after professor David Brubaker returned from a teaching assignment there and inquired as to the possibility of my teaching a course at the college for my practicum. B.D.'s response was an offer for me to teach “Intro. to Conflict Transformation” and I've been in periodic e-mail contact with him since then to finalize details, such as sending my CV and my asking logistical questions of him. I've also been in contact with M.D. at MCC since last fall.

Supervisory and Advisory roles
  • Local Supervisor: M.D., MCC Ethiopia 
  • Local Advisory Group: 
    • B.D., Academic Dean, MKC
    • K.R., Old Testament professor, instructor at MKC during my stay 
Detailed Description of Practicum Activities: The class I'm teaching is a three-week, three-credit course for sophomore-level students. The class meets for 2.5 hours each morning, Monday through Friday. Before the class starts, from July 3rd through the 10th, we'll be staying at the MCC Service Worker House in Addis, looking for odd jobs and observing MCC projects in Ethiopia and also seeking out service in the local church. “We” means that my family is going with me.

Conceptual Framework
My students in this class will be in their second year of college, and mostly men in their 30s and 40s. They will mostly have come from non-urbanized areas of Ethiopia and will typically not have a high proficiency in English, though the curriculum for the entire college is in English (and I don't know a lick of Amharic, unfortunately). Their educational background will have been largely Western-derived: learn-by-rote, lecture-based, with exams, etc.

Given these factors, I plan to teach in a mixed mode, using both transfer and elicitive models (Lederach, Preparing for Peace, 1995). I will distribute exams but they will be essay/short-answer style to elicit some critical reflection on the more “informational” aspects of our learning. During class time, I hope to lecture for about a quarter of the time and have the rest open to discussions on case studies, question and answer, role plays, and other more engaged activities.

My emphasis in the CJP has been in restorative justice, so the slice of peacebuilding that I bring will lean toward that field, but I plan on inviting guest speakers (e.g. Brian Gilchrest who works for USAID in Addis) to speak from other fields of peacebuilding. I've been informed by other instructors with experience teaching in church-affiliated schools in Ethiopia that, often, the English students might be most familiar with is from the Bible. Naturally, with my seminary education and my overall “theological peacebuilding” or “restorative theology” project, I will incorporate biblical material deeply into the course curriculum.

Pedagogical models resonant with the CJP ethos have been recommended to me – esp. Lederach, Vella, and Freire – but circumstances have prevented me from substantive engagement with these thinkers. However, since teaching as a practice and theory is an important element of my vocational future-in-discernment, I plan on such engagement. There is a gap of three weeks between my summer classes and when we leave for Ethiopia. During this time, I will be completing my lesson plan for the course. I plan on picking up Vella and Freire as companions in that process, and making contact with teacher-mentors along the way.

Monitoring and Evaluation during the Practicum
The evaluation system for my practicum will follow an action/reflection model which will incorporate my Local Advisory Group, made up of the academic dean of the college and a fellow instructor with far more experience than I in teaching, and teaching internationally at that. I will be journaling daily to help capture not only the existential awesomeness that such an experience will surely hold, but also to be reflective on how well my teaching and practice is going, and how I might need to make mid-course adjustments. In addition to the Local Advisory Group, I plan to incorporate monitoring and evaluation right into the classroom itself, offering formal and informal space for students to speak into how well I'm doing (or not).

Relationship to personal and CJP goals
I see this practicum relating quite well to my personal and professional/ministerial future. When my friend and fellow CJP'er, Solomon, planted the seed for this practicum in my imagination way back in the fall of 2008, I already saw it as an exciting way to integrate my seminary and CJP education in a practical way, while also giving me the most deeply cross-cultural experience of my life. This multi-layered and multi-faceted experience will serve to nuance my existential understanding of what it means to be a minister in the global church, the body of Christ. I'm not sure if international work will be a large component of my future work, but this particular experience will certainly inform any domestic work I do down the road.

As I've alluded to above, this practicum strikes me as the perfect balance between my seminary and CJP training, allowing me to integrate the two in practice in a way that's not possible here on the campus of EMU. It's my hope that I'll be able to not only personally/professionally benefit from this experience, but also to come back to EMU and offer critical reflection on the nature of the dual degree program between the two graduate divisions. I hope for this practicum to be a gift to many beyond myself.

Practicum Goals
My goal in this practicum is to have first-hand experience teaching theological peacebuilding/restorative theology in a way and at a depth which has not been previously possible. Put another way, I'm discerning a call to teaching ministry by engaging in this task of teaching a class "in a strange (to me) land." I hope to expand my knowledge of teaching, both the act itself and theories that drive it, both my own implicit theories and explicit theories from the thinkers listed above, and finally to make my implicit theories more explicit by way of action/reflection, then tweak if necessary.

The disciplines I'll practice while carrying out this practicum include prayer and worship with the local Christian communities there in Addis and Debre Zeit, but also the action/reflection exercise with the local advisory group. My wife and daughter and our time together will also be a disciplined source of strength and support. I hope to contribute to MKC an embodied vision for how peacebuilding can be taught in ways responsible to theological disciplines and to the disciplines informing conflict transformation (sensitive to how/where that there may be points of divergence). In the long run, I hope the connections I make in Ethiopia will be lasting ones. If an ongoing relationship develops with the church, the college, and MCC there, I will be happy.

Support and Accountability
I'll have to discern the best way to be in touch with M.D., located in Addis, while we'll be in nearby Debre Zeit. Perhaps we'll be able to travel to Addis for one or two weekends while I'm teaching so we can have at least a few face-to-face meetings while I'm teaching the class. M.D. has also mentioned the possibility of coming down to DZ. Other than that, I might have to rely on telephone conversations or e-mail.

The relatively short duration of the teaching assignment, combined with limited accessibility to the internet, means that I will probably not be getting much support from CJP folks back in the States while we're in Ethiopia. I don't foresee this being a problem, as my local support network seems strong.

My Llocal Advisory Group will be more “local” than M.D., so I anticipate more frequent conversations with them. The academic dean, B.D., is native to Ethiopia so he'll be a source for any cultural translation challenges I run into as well as any logistical/administrative issues with my teaching at the college. The other is a North American (Canadian, Mennonite Brethren) teacher with much teaching experience in Ethiopia, so she'll be very helpful for cultural and pedagogical transitions as well. (Indeed, she has already been helpful, as I've been in e-mail contact with her and another MB professor who will be at MKC this summer.)

As I noted above in the “disciplines” section, my family will be traveling with me and we'll be participating in the worshiping life of the church there, so personal and spiritual support will be part and parcel of my practicum setting and experience.

Evaluation after Practicum
The CJP capstone is intended to serve as a reflection on the practicum experience at the end of the MA program. As a dual-degree student who is also required to conduct a capstone at the seminary next year (my final year), I have been pondering the possibility of a single capstone presentation which reflects on the entire dual-degree program, which will certainly incorporate my CJP practicum, but also many other aspects of this four-year odyssey. I certainly plan on completing the work and tasks unique to each program's capstone, but wonder if a 1.5 or 2 hour single presentation in Martin Chapel in spring 2012, pulling together faculty and administrators from both programs, might be helpful for everyone. I've floated this idea to two seminary folks – my capstone advisor for next year, Nate Yoder, and the associate dean, Lonnie Yoder. A joint meeting of CJP and seminary folks might be in the cards for early this fall to explore the feasibility of this idea.

Failing that, I'll be more than happy to conduct my CJP capstone presentation in the fall. Either way I'll be incorporating all the critical/reflective material generated during the practicum itself, both from myself and my various supervisors, advisors, and students in the class.

Update: June 15, 2011
The practicum committee came back with some helpful feedback, which led to the expansion of a few sections. Additional material for Conceptual Framework:
Through my “dual citizenship” at the CJP and Seminary at EMU these past three years, it has become increasingly clear that the language/theory differences between the two programs create quite a barrier to cross-program collaboration and a steep challenge for those students who wish to try and integrate learning from the two programs. To turn a phrase from literary theorist, Stanley Fish, “language is theological...all the way down.” So stark language differences between the two programs don't only reflect mere differences in grammar, but also the deeper philosophical and even theological differences between an Anabaptist theological paradigm and a predominantly social-scientific paradigm. It has been through my ad hoc study of philosophy, particular philosophy of language and philosophical anthropology, that the depth of difference between the two programs has become clearer to me, mostly done out of necessity from the lived tension I experience as a dual degree student.
From the start, my instinct has been to want to teach this “Intro to Conflict Transformation” class from a heavily theological and biblical framework, while still incorporating a lot of material from my CJP education. My vision for what's possible in this kind of approach became clearer, however, when I took the “Biblical Foundations for Peace and Justice” at the seminary these past few weeks and saw how fundamentally different a class about “peace” and “justice” can be when there is a grounding in theological and biblical studies. Taking that class strengthened my conviction for letting theology and biblical narratives do the “heavy lifting,” so to speak, for the education of conflict transformation to people who, in the MKC context, will mostly be going on to church leadership. I feel as if I would be doing these church men and women a disservice to muddy their conceptual and linguistic frameworks for peacebuilding in the church and in the wider society, were I to adopt a primarily social-scientific paradigm. That English is the second language to all of the students would only magnify those problems, and I've been encouraged by a few people who've taught in Ethiopia that the best English to use is English that's clustered closely around the Bible.
Additional material in Practicum Goals:
In a Western context, I hope that this experience corroborates some of my instincts and inchoate perceptions as it relates to the dichotomies between theology and any number of other academic disciplines, particularly the social sciences. In some segments of the academy, theology is being taken seriously again by disciplines who had long seen it as more of a problem than anything, often pointing to secular myths of “religious violence” done by the church. Those myths are problematic in themselves and we live in a different world than the one those myths point to. Marxist philosophers are starting to read and write books about the Apostle Paul. Reporters for Al-Jazeera are starting to point to John Howard Yoder as a “political theorist” worth engaging in the Arab Spring. Philosopher Charles Taylor is proposing a secular political order that is more honest about its secularity and less suspicious of religious traditions in their place in the public square. I hope to be in step with these developments in the intellectual world and in my work in the church because ideas have consequences, for better or worse, and I think the Anabaptist tradition can speak strongly in such conversations and deliberations in multiple realms and levels of society. Though according to Stanley Haurewas, the first task of the church is to “be the church” (and I certainly agree with his argument), it certainly has a witness to the wider world.

No comments:

Post a Comment