Views | Abby Stocker for The Clarion
Photo for The Clarion by Drea Chalmers.
This past February I attended an undergraduate literary conference at Taylor University. Bethel was gracious enough to sponsor our trip, and I and four other English majors spent three days with other English students from around the Midwest discussing literature. Many of us presented papers we had written for class, continuing the discussions after our presentations had ended.
I consider myself a conscientious student, but I was initially surprised to consider my paper as “scholarship.” This was a paper I wrote during finals week last fall. I didn’t sit around feeling academic and profound while writing it, yet I found that when I was placed into an environment where I was allowed to present and challenge my ideas with others, the paper became something bigger than just the product of yet another frazzled finals week.
I was surprised to be treated as an academic at the conference, and I think, in part, it’s because the Bethel community carries a stigma against being the “smart kid.” Why do we feel that we must minimize our ability to excel in order to not stand out from the crowd? We live, study and work on a college campus. We trade daily in ideas and specialized knowledge with professors who are experts in their disciplines.
Recognizing that we are blessed to attend an institution of higher education doesn’t make us proud or conceited, it’s the first step toward humility. Until we are willing to be honest about what we know, until we can celebrate that knowledge but also challenge it in an academic setting, we cannot accept the limitations of our knowledge and strive to be more.
Let’s put it this way: if I, as a good student, spend my time downplaying the fact that I got a good grade in a class, I don’t spend my time and mental energy actually learning. I limit myself by not expecting more from my own ability to learn.
As a student, I know I’m biased, but I’m of the opinion that learning glorifies God. One thing I’ve realized since coming to college is that academics, at their finest, should be driven by curiosity. The student or scholar should be someone who looks out at the world and questions it, who wants to know more and actually takes the initiative to go out and learn. Unless you are in a major or field that you picked for entirely logical/practical/disinterested reasons, I truly think this idea applies to everyone here – the English major who loves the way that words create both meaning and art, the biochemistry major who works in a lab to discover something new about an
inorganic compound, the reconciliation studies major who seeks to understand the differences between cultures and how to bridge those differences. Our studies are based in a desire to understand more than we do. It must be glorifying to God to have creation studied with so much curiosity and attention.
In this way, academics – even when primarily research-based – can be a deeply creative endeavor. And I think it’s a shame that with so much creative, life-affirming work being done within our four walls, we should feel the need to limit what we say. If anything, we should speak out even more, be even more genuine about our God-given gifts at a Christian institution. We should affirm and prize our academics in addition to our extracurriculars, clubs and experiences. It’s part of our calling.
We talk so often about being created in the image of Christ. Perhaps we should focus more on reflecting that deeper, more genuine image rather than the surface-level, “cool” look of the crowd around us.