Recognizing that the world of the twenty-first century presents continuing challenges to all who strive for a more humane world, we affirm our commitment to preparing caring and thoughtful teachers who will lead their own students to address our planet’s most pressing concerns. Our work lies in fostering a true community of inquiry in which teachers and students together seek thoughtful and just responses to the dilemmas facing the modern world.
We are supported in our mission by the rich traditions of Berea College. These traditions suggest the development of an education based on concerns for community supported by careful attention to individual needs, independent learning, interdisciplinary study, the development of critical and creative thinking, and the respectful nurturing of the novice teachers who engage in teaching and learning with us. We encourage our students to value and embrace the commitments of Berea College and their significance for our work together as learners, as teachers, and as proponents of social justice.
Committed teaching is no novel idea at Berea College. Founders like John G. Fee resolved to do their part in reforming a nation whose social fabric was rent by struggle over an economic system dependent on the enslavement of African peoples. In their eyes, Berea College was to be no ordinary school, but an institutionalized ferment grounded in the values of gender and racial equality and the affirmation of human dignity that education could bring. Those values were later codified in Berea’s Great Commitments. By attending to these commitments as we shape our special purposes as teachers of teachers, we seek to foster an environment that encourages the creation of a genuine community of learners. The Great Commitments are presented below, with a brief commentary that relates each of the commitments to the work of teacher education at Berea College.
Commitment to provide an educational opportunity primarily for students from Appalachia, black and white, who have great promise and limited economic resources.
Berea College is not an elitist institution. It neither chooses its students from among the economically privileged, nor does it aspire to do so. This means that Berea students may not have been beneficiaries of the academic training or the cultural exposure often available to the economically privileged. At the same time, the Education Studies Department acknowledges the difference between deficient preparation and promising ability, and we welcome to our community of inquiry students highly committed to making their own education truly excellent. We work to guide such students toward valuing and organizing what they have learned already, and toward encountering new learning experiences. We believe that learners assisted in this way will in turn be inspired similarly to aid their own students.
Commitment to provide an education of high quality with a liberal arts foundation and outlook.
Berea’s Education Studies Department regards the liberal arts tradition as invaluable in its preparation of future teachers. Truly liberal education leads all concerned to value and conserve learning from the past in the search for meaning in the present world. Understood in this way, the liberal arts tradition becomes truly liberating.
By honoring the liberal arts tradition, we affirm our commitment to a core curriculum and to the critical thinking and historical perspective that such a curriculum represents. We wish to help our students become truly literate, capable of reading not only the great works of the past, but equally importantly, the texts of their own lives and time. The department encourages students as they struggle to discover and appropriate their own voices so they might become capable of describing the reality they have discerned with the help of tradition. In all of this, our overarching goal is to assist all students in formulating their own philosophies of life and their own theories of education.
Commitment to stimulate understanding of the Christian faith and its many expressions and to emphasize the Christian ethic and the motive of service to others.
In the tradition of John Fee, the Education Studies Department recognizes Christian faith as a source of inspiration, and we affirm the centrality of values in the learning process. We reject attempts toward construction of a “value-free” curriculum as both undesirable and impossible to attain. We recognize as indispensable to holistic education pedagogies that bring to consciousness, clarification, and critique the religious and secular values by which human beings inevitably guide their lives. We regard teaching as a vocation, not a career. We seek to reflect in our own teaching and to instill in our students an understanding and appreciation of Whitehead’s words that all education is, in essence, religious.
Commitment to provide for all students through the labor program experiences for learning and serving in community, and to demonstrate that labor, both mental and manual, has dignity as well as utility.
Berea College’s labor program provides a unique opportunity for all members of the College community to consider the meaning and value of human labor in a variety of forms and settings. The special mission of the Education Studies Department relates to this commitment in that we believe that work must be meaningful, that it must be seen as personally satisfying in the context of a community effort that has relevance to students’ lives. The ways that we teach, the things that we ask students to do, and the thinking that we share with them are designed to foster recognition of the meaningfulness which is inherent in all worthy labor. As students engage in their own purposeful work, whether in the labor program, in service activities, or in the classroom, they are empowered with the dignity of honest effort. As they honor this dignity within themselves, they will be able to celebrate the same quality in others, including the children who will be in their care.
Commitment to assert the kinship of all people and to provide interracial education with a particular emphasis on understanding and equality among blacks and whites.
This statement represents to the Education Studies Department a crucial commitment to our common humanity and to the valuing of difference to deepen our understanding of what it means to be a human being in this world. Berea’s commitment to promote community and democracy leads us to embrace multicultural perspectives within our program. We seek especially to include African-American voices in light of the special importance those sharing such heritage have held in Berea’s history. We strongly support Berea College’s initiative to provide opportunities for international study and travel so that our students may teach in their own classrooms in ways that promote global understanding and respect for all human beings.
Commitment to create a democratic community dedicated to education and equality for women and men.
The Education Studies Department reflects Berea’s commitment to democratic community by embracing multiple perspectives within our program. We seek to create genuine community among teachers and students, and we expect students to become active participants in their own educational processes. In a community of inquiry all voices are welcomed and listened to with respect. We seek especially to encourage the voices of women, who constitute the majority of those entering the teaching profession and who often have been silenced in traditional Appalachian culture as they have been elsewhere in the world. We commit ourselves to the valuing of all voices, and we seek in every encounter to see and hear through the eyes and ears of the other.
Commitment to maintain a residential campus and to encourage in all members of the community a way of life characterized by plain living, pride in labor well done, zest for learning, high personal standards, and concern for the welfare of others.
The Education Studies Department sees this commitment as calling us to encourage students to eschew the ephemeral and the mindless materialism that often corrupt our modern way of life. We believe that education in this ecological era must lead students to grapple with the fact that much in common ways of thinking and living is harmful to the biosphere on which all life forms depend. This way of life reflects neither simple living nor concern for others in a world in which an increasing proportion of children live in poverty. The pedagogical question in the face of such contradictions is how to formulate environmental and human concerns so that future teachers can help their students construct a better world. Through our advocacy of this commitment we endeavor to help our students accept the centrality of mindfulness in the construction of a value system that incorporates love of learning, compassion for others, an acute sense of social responsibility, and pride in good work.
Commitment to serve the Appalachian region primarily through education but also by other appropriate services.
As a department, we believe our efforts to serve Appalachia through education will continue in the efforts of our graduates to serve this region as teachers. We believe the individuals and communities of Appalachia are wellsprings of internal strength and immense potential, grounded in values too often lacking in the mainstream culture: responsibility to family; love of place; neighborliness and hospitality; sense of beauty; and a perspective on life which takes into account both the serious and the humorous aspects of the human condition. Without diminishing these qualities, which must be preserved and nurtured, we see education as the liberating force that can bring direction to our students’ potential as they seek to address the pressing problems that beset the Appalachian region.
In responding to this commitment, as to all of the College’s commitments, we strive to help the teachers of tomorrow gain a deeper understanding of their own educational experiences and an appreciation of similar situations elsewhere that arise when education does not fulfill its promise. In this way, we hope to foster in prospective teachers a sense of their own responsibility for service and leadership in the region, and the understanding that each person who seeks to know and do good can make a difference.