Years ago, I came upon a book entitled Calling: Essays on Teaching in the Mother Tongue, published by Trilogy Books in 1992, by Gail Griffin of Kalamazoo College. I have been thinking of it some in recent weeks, in part because I keep encountering the v-word. Vocation, I mean. Everywhere I look, it is an issue. There seem to be two meanings to it these days: vocation as in calling and vocation (often adjectival) as a synonym for work related. In the latter meaning, the term is often set over against the non-vocational, setting up the usual false binaries between meaning and work, intellectual and economic, and etc.
Griffin is taking up the other meaning in many ways (though to teach as a college professor implies both meanings perhaps, given the binary between teaching and research or scholarship). She takes up the gendering of these matters in various ways, including the ways teacher=female, scholar=male, for example. She also gave me one of my favorite quotations about the vocation of teaching, worth us all reflecting on -- especially given the ways Shimer focuses on teaching and learning, and perhaps even teaching as learning. Here are her words:
...teaching is about passing on the tools for survival. (p. 73)
Hmmm. I think this is about more than those tools we use to gain and use jobs, but they are also those (especially given the ongoing gendering of the labor market in the US and globally). And, of course, survival means more than that -- especially given the spate of news on violence, sexual assault and harassment, and related matters across the US, including on our campuses. Here are more of Griffin's words:
Teachers have always been the voices for culture, passing on accumulated knowledge. Academe thus amounts to oral history. If in thinking of oneself as a voice a teacher has in mind a sort of funnel or a megaphone through which culture spreads to the little pitchers with big ears -- then one's task is relatively simple. If, however, one sees oneself in a problematic ironic relation to that story as its narrator; if one cannot tell the story without disrupting it -- then in that case, one's vocation is at once more difficult, more dangerous, and much more interesting. (p. 181)
Survival and danger. Is that what it is all about?
Griffin ends the chapter from which this last quotation comes from with these words: "A vocation: a song in many voices." Is that what a Shimer education is all about?