We here at NWEI are excited to have worked with over 400 colleges and universities to offer our discussion course books and EcoChallenge (and counting!). This summer, Dr. Dan Brunner of George Fox Evangelical Seminary used NW Earth Institute’s Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability discussion course book in his Poverty and Restorative Earthkeeping class. In this post, Lacy Cagle, NWEI’s Director of Learning and Engagement, interviews Dr. Brunner about his innovative use of NWEI courses and how he is changing the world for good, one student at a time.
Thanks for speaking with me today, Dan. Can you tell us what you do at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and how have you used NWEI course books in your work?
I am Professor of Christian History and Formation and the Director of Christian Earthkeeping. For that second position, I co-teach four courses in the seminary in the Christian Earthkeeping concentration. Each course uses an NWEI discussion course book. Because NWEI discussion courses are so focused, they allow both first and fourth class students to engage as equals.
This summer, you used Seeing Systems in your Poverty and Restorative Earthkeeping class, tell me a little about your use of Seeing Systems.
Poverty and Restorative Earthkeeping is a hybrid class, mostly online, with one GoToMeeting session at the beginning and three consecutive days in which we all meet in person. Overall, it’s about a ten week class. For the first four weeks, students read the first three sessions of Seeing Systems and from a more academic and theological textbook, Resisting Structural Evil. Students also engage in three interviews during this time: they interview one person who is of a different class than them, one person who is of a different gender than them, and one person who is of a different race than them. They then complete an integrative assignment. During this time, they engage via Facebook and Twitter, using hashtags to post quotes from Seeing Systems and their theology text. The idea was that they would use their own social media accounts to publicly start thought-provoking conversations with their friends around the issues explored in the text. For the in person meetings, we knew that these days couldn’t be lecture-based – we needed to get students out into the community and sharing experiences together. We want students to relate the environment to urbanization – to see that social, cultural and environmental systems are integrated. Our experiences try to help students broaden their perspective. For example, we do a liturgy of the river and take them on a walking tour of the Willamette on the bluffs above a super fund site. The tour tells the story of the river from the perspective of the river as first person. Then during the last six weeks of class, they finish both Seeing Systems and Resisting Structural Evil, write a research paper and put forth their own theology of creation care.
It seems that you structure your class very intentionally around engagement and pedagogy – something that’s very important to NWEI. You’ve structured your class to get at the essence of NWEI’s method – to create community, to connect the issues we currently face to what students can do in their own lives and fields, and to see that things are connected. What did your students think of Seeing Systems?
The students loved Seeing Systems. The Academy tends to become so siloed – my students have theological glasses on, others have economic glasses, or biological glasses, or cosmological glasses. Seeing Systems brought those perspectives together and forced students to see beyond those theological glasses and to see more broadly. Students mentioned how much they liked the book many times, they quoted from it more than any other text they were reading, and they talked about what they had read with energy and passion. We will definitely use this book again because the feedback was so positive. I will also use Seeing Systems in my Doctor of Ministry course this fall. It is more prophetic than some of the other books we’ve been using.
You’ve mentioned to me a couple of times that you find Seeing Systems to be prophetic. What does that term mean to you?
Prophets try to help a system to see things from a different perspective, most often from a minority perspective that is invisible or silenced. The prophet has no idea if he or she is right. People think that a prophet foresees the future, and that a prophet is legitimate if a prophecy comes true. But a prophet calls for change – did a prophet see things ahead of time that the community came to see as true? Prophets are confirmed by the community. The prophetic role can be a lonely one, but it’s very necessary.
Dr. Daniel Brunner is a Professor of Christian History and Formation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, Dr. Brunner has authored several peer review publications on hybrid learning in addition to his theologically-focused work. Thanks to Dr. Brunner for sharing this thoughts and experiences using the NWEI course books. For more on NWEI’s work with college faculty, students and staff, click here.