Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 19:1 (Spring/Summer 2018), pp41-62.
Over the last few years, I have sat in the opening sessions of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) conference and felt equal parts concern and conviction. In 2015 and 2016, opening speakers enumerated the challenges and opportunities that confront honors educators in a rapidly changing higher education landscape. I sympathized with their concerns in an institutional and cultural context marked by what Schwehn called the “Weberian ethos” of education—an instrumental, and less charitable, attitude toward academic inquiry. Yet, even as I acknowledged the veracity of their arguments, I was buoyed by belief in the Jesuit mission that animates my institution, particularly its emphases on social justice and care for the whole person. When NCHC leadership revealed the “just” honors theme for the 2017 conference, I felt affirmed in my optimism about the future of honors education.
This optimism occasioned my inquiry here on the curricular design and academic practices of Jesuit honors programs. As a way of tying this curricular review to recent trends in pedagogy and the wider literature on the science of teaching and learning, I used Dee Fink’s significant learning taxonomy as a heuristic device to examine eight honors programs at Jesuit institutions. Fink, whose work has gained widespread appeal in teaching circles over the last fifteen years, promotes dynamic and student-centered pedagogy that leads to substantive and enduring learning outcomes. Many of the tenets Fink emphasizes in his model reflect honors pedagogy as defined by the NCHC and various educators and administrators within the honors community. One might thus expect honors programs to reflect significant learning principles in their curricula.
Jesuit honors programs, however, are marked not only by their adherence to principles of honors education but also by what the Honors Consortium of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) calls “essential characteristics of a Jesuit Honors Program.” These characteristics include integrative learning, reflection and discernment, and commitment to social justice in the spirit of the “intellectual apostolate” (Honors Consortium, n.d.). Recent work by Kraus, Wildes and Yavneh Klos, and Yavneh Klos et al. makes important connections between these Jesuit ideals and the larger honors community, where reflective learning and service to society often thrive in non-Jesuit contexts. I follow their lead here by suggesting a Jesuit-inspired curricular paradigm but one that is ultimately applicable to all programs interested in promoting a just curricular model for the twenty-first century.