Kenman Wong, Bruce Baker, and Randal Franz serve on the business faculty at Seattle Pacific University.
We are honored and gratified by the comments our esteemed colleagues have made regarding our article. We deeply value their affirmations of the notion of education as formation, as well as their comments which bring important insights to the conversation. We hope to see this dialogue grow within the university community (religious and secular, business and broader). We want to express our heartfelt appreciation to these scholars for taking the time to read and respond to our paper. Space limitations prevent us from responding to every issue raised in the comments, but the major themes we address in this short response include: balance, context, voyeuristic tourism, and virtue ethics.
Several of the comments reflect a concern for balance between “head,” “heart” and “hands”—which are innately linked. We agree. In partnership with our colleagues, we are like children on a seesaw, who lean in opposite directions to counter-balance one another’s weight. Similarly, commentators on the moral implications of theology and philosophy will tend to lean in opposite directions, while holding onto the center of the beam in order to find their mutual balance. This desire for equilibrium thoughtfully and appropriately frames a fair portion of the commentary as each reviewer adds important considerations to the conversation.
Neubert argues for the need for balance between the “integration of head and heart,” concluding, “Formation is a holistic process.” We could not agree more. While our paper emphasized the affective, experiential aspects of character formation over the cognitive, worldview approach to education, we did not intend to minimize the importance of a rigorous program of cognitive learning. An accurate understanding of the relevant issues and information is vital to any effective course of action. Our aim was not to ignore the essential impact of the cognitive dimension, but rather to emphasize and elucidate the affective and experiential aspects of learning in order to produce a well-rounded and balanced business-person. While our paper definitely leaned in favor of character-formation, it was intended as a counter-balance for an educational system already leaning too far toward the cognitive (as affirmed by other respondents to our paper).
Another recurring theme in the comments pertains to the context of the formation endeavor. This also points to the need for balance. The nature, shape and content of character-formation will look and sound different depending upon the context. In an environment where faith-commitment is shared and biblical knowledge is widespread, the risks of “over-preaching” and blasé reactance are much more likely. Alternatively, to pursue character-formation in a secular-university context will require a different vocabulary. Dyck’s thinking-doing-being framework is a thoughtful adaptation of the affective, experiential methods to such a context. He provides a powerful example of translating these themes into language accessible outside the faith community. Speaking for ourselves, teaching at a faith-based university with open enrollment, we often encounter classes full of students (especially graduate students) from various faith traditions, where Christians may be in the minority. In such a context, the likelihood of “over-preaching” to the point of blasé reactance is much lower. But we failed to consider adequately the potential downside of the affective, experiential approach. So we thank the commentators for highlighting the importance of keeping context in mind as an institution, or a faculty-person, adopts new techniques. Like every intervention, it needs to be appropriate to its surroundings. The kind of experiences or “heart-shaping” a student needs will depend upon her background and prior training. Sheltered, Sunday-school kids might need a “real-world” wake-up call; while non- or lapsed believers need a safe, spiritual encounter.
As Stansbury points out, helping students expose the underlying assumptions and presumed values of specific business practices or contexts runs the risk of turning them into voyeuristic tourists (rather than dispassionate participant observers). While this is a potential danger, we feel the greater danger is leaving students in their too-comfortable acceptance (blasé acquiescence?) of the dominant cultural model and its associated business practices. Being a tourist implies one is foreign to the local culture. To study a foreign culture effectively one must immerse one’s self into it and become a participant-observer (as Stansbury notes). But when one is already a resident of the culture, one needs help experiencing it as an outsider, to see the taken-for-granted assumptions with fresh eyes and feel the strangeness of everyday practices. Giving residents insights into their own culture is the goal. Ultimately, we want our students to become resident-aliens of the business world—able to negotiate through society like a native, but with the eyes and heart of a tourist.
“Virtue ethics” drew the interest for some of our commentators. Neubert and Stansbury both embrace it, while Wolterstorff takes exception to its “me-ism” tendencies. Wolterstorff is undoubtedly correct that virtue-talk is badly twisted into another expression of egoism when reduced to cognitive ethical guidance in the form of “whether or not I can live with myself” or “who I want to be” type questions. Properly understood, virtues or dispositions are about preparation and are always connected to larger traditions, communities and practices. For Christians, the narratives of the Bible and the practices of worship and various forms of service should both provide us with an appropriate telos and serve to decrease our natural tendencies to make ourselves the ultimate focus of character formation.
Cioffi and Snyder provide a rich illustration of the goal of Christian education in their call to live “eucharistically.” They provide some beautiful examples to show that a sacramental understanding of business responsibilities and practices can transform moral deliberations. Indeed, the Eucharist would seem to be the quintessential enactment of holistic identity and relationship, engaging head and heart fully in the divine mystery. To create opportunities for such experience of wholeness (shalom) in our teaching would be our highest hope.
In sum, we are thrilled to have such august colleagues chime into the conversation around the issues of character-formation in business education. We look forward to a long and vibrant dialogue within the broader university community about these topics. We find ourselves very much aligned with the view that, as educators, we join our students in a community experience aimed at building shalom. This approach to education is a complex, even mysterious “adventure,” as Wolterstorff has deemed it, and we agree. We are thankful to have thoughtful, caring colleagues with whom to share the challenges of this “adventure in understanding, imagining, desiring, and enacting that constitutes us as human.”1