Professional Fields - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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President's Desk
September 14, 2015

Professional Fields

God entrusted our first parents with two tasks, horticulture and animal husbandry (Genesis 2). Cain’s offspring gave us three great inventions: metalworking, musical instruments, and domesticated animals (Genesis 4:20-22). Hebrew craftsmen built the Tabernacle (Exodus 31), and Phoenician craftsmen helped build the Temple (I Kings 7). Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3), Peter a fisherman (Mark 1:16), and Paul made tents (Acts 18:3). We call these activities “practical,” because by them we secure food to eat, clothing to wear, and places to live and worship. Doing them to the glory of God are good works pleasing to Him.

Practical skills, which a person uses in his “calling,” are part of Geneva. The Foundational Concepts of Education notes that Geneva’s curriculum includes both the “humanities and the sciences, theoretic and applied.” Professional and pre-professional programs at Geneva College answer God’s calling to cultivate the earth for food, shelter, and clothing and prepare students to provide their neighbors with valuable goods and services. In the 1920s, Geneva added education, engineering and business in response to the needs of employers in the Beaver Valley, and it has added other professional and pre-professional programs since then, along with non-traditional adult and graduate programs starting in the 1980s.

Until the 19th century, practical and professional education did not usually occur in a university setting. After learning the classics and the Bible, future lawyers apprenticed with practicing lawyers, young men lived with preachers, and so on. Businessmen and accountants learned necessary skills in the firms employing them. Farmers and shepherds learned from their parents. But by the end of the 18th century, special schools for mechanics and engineers began, while law schools, medical colleges, and the like became attached to universities; and as economies grew more complex and learning expanded, new professions emerged. By the Morrill Act of 1862, Congress established “land grant” universities to focus on teaching agriculture, engineering, the sciences, and military science “without excluding…classical studies.” Geneva College is not a land grant school, but our Charter provides for teaching “certain professional fields” alongside the liberal arts.

One reason that professional preparation began migrating to universities in the 19th century is that classroom instruction with its textbooks and tests, although in many ways inferior to apprenticeship learning, is more cost and time efficient. Jesus trained His first disciples face to face, but we now learn about Him and His teaching from four textbooks. Because the cost of higher education has risen faster than family incomes, colleges are now looking for more cost effective ways to teach: online courses are taking their place alongside classroom instruction.

Professions old and new differ from the liberal arts in important ways.

First, education in “certain professions” aims at providing students with directly useful knowledge and skills that lead to employment. When only the relatively wealthy sent their children to college, they took for granted future economic opportunities. Now that many more Americans attend college than before World War II, frequently from families of limited means, they often look for training that will enable them to pay off their college loans and support themselves and their families by doing God-honoring work. Most Americans by now are aware that a college degree usually increases lifetime income.

Second, if they are to benefit students, Geneva’s professional programs must adjust quickly to the dynamic capitalist marketplace, with its expanding opportunities and new demands. That is why the Charter does not specifically name any professions the way it names a number of the liberal arts.

Third, no one expects all educated people to know the basics of agriculture, accounting, or engineering. There is no Engineering 101 or Accounting 101 in the “core” of any college.

Fourth, while all educated people reasonably have opinions about what today’s core liberal studies should include, only experts are qualified to set standards in specific professions. Many professions thus have their own official organization, independent of universities, which both establishes its ethical standards and cooperates with the states to certify professionals as competent. Some of Geneva’s professional programs, therefore, have an outside advisory board to help the faculty keep Geneva’s curricula current with developing professional standards.

Without the professions, our society would be a poor place indeed, and Christians do not despise education aimed at meeting marketplace needs.

The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship. – Martin Luther

Because productive labor is one of God’s central callings on humanity, colleges like Geneva did not balk at including “land grant” fields in their own offerings. Indeed, people in professional fields may sometimes allude to the gibe of the Third Estate in pre-Revolutionary France: if all of the aristocrats disappeared, France would be none the worse for it, but if all of the Third Estate including lawyers, doctors, mechanics, and merchants disappeared, France would cease to operate. (Of course, it turned out that when the Third Estate did take over governance from the Ancien Regime, they did not do such a good job of it.)

The professions need the “big picture” that only the liberal arts guided by the Open Bible can provide, and students at Geneva need the professional fields of study that we offer for employment. Working as teachers, businessmen, engineers, and accountants, they will honor God by serving society and earning their living by the sweat of their brow. Placing those professional studies in the context of a college that teaches a liberal arts core to everyone gives them the breadth of outlook that may allow them to take on wider responsibilities and leadership as they gain experience in their professions.

 

Dr. William Edgar, Interim President


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