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Toward pedagogical progress: in support of Mark McEntire

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To the editor:

This statement is being made out of deep concern regarding the previous letters about Dr. Mark McEntire’s comments on the Chris Simcox convocation. I believe that both George Scoville and Dr. Vaughn May misread Dr. McEntire’s intentions in writing his letter. I do not believe that McEntire wrote the letter to further a personal agenda, nor do I believe that he was attempting to degrade Chris Simcox by aspiring to an elitist notion of academic pedigree and credentials. Rather, I believe that McEntire’s worries were pedagogical in nature.

I will state outright that I am not affiliated with the School of Religion and that I have little knowledge about the issue of illegal immigration. My concern lies with how we received McEntire’s letter. Last fall, I had the pleasure of being taught by Dr. McEntire in a required Old Testament course. McEntire seemed to be the embodiment of progressive Christian values: he possesses an ever-flexible worldview, has a constant willingness to change for the better and is dedicated to intellectual integrity. He seemed tireless in making every effort to better his pedagogical methods. I believe that Dr. McEntire’s worries about the Simcox convocation were stated for the sake of betterment, not for himself, but for Belmont University as a whole.

It is hard to overstate the importance of refining our teaching method as a university. Whether or not Chris Simcox was right in his views on illegal immigration, McEntire’s claims about his credibility as an academic were undeniably true. Simcox did not have the credentials for me, as a student, to feel comfortable about his presentation of the subject. I would not want to have surgery done by someone without an M.D. any more than I would want the former owner of a baseball team to dictate foreign policy. Much the same, I would not want to be taught by someone with no experience in college education. There was no reason to call this convocation an “academic lecture”. It was misleading to me as a student, and I hope that our university takes Dr. McEntire’s concern for the quality of our academic discourse as seriously as I do.

I admit that I do not have the credentials to comment on Chris Simcox’s lecture. However, I am at Belmont University to become credentialed. In education, you cannot have the chicken without the egg, and vice versa. Whatever precedent my professors set now affects how I will teach in the future. Thus, an error in teaching is double edged. This issue goes deeper than illegal immigration; it goes to the very heart of our goals as a university. Dr. McEntire was promoting the idea of bettering our academic environment.

Dr. McEntire was calling for a more careful construction of our academic lecture curriculum. The fact that academic lecture convocation is required for graduation means that it should be treated like any other academic course given at Belmont. Belmont would not hire a new professor if they did not display effective teaching during their audition. Further, they would never hire someone lacking the academic credentials required for teaching at the college level. From what I have seen, the process of hiring a new professor is done with excellent care and concern. We owe it to our faculty, who dedicate their lives to effective teaching, to ensure that those who give convocation do so with as much academic integrity as we would be proud to call the Belmont University standard. Chris Simcox lacked that integrity, and it was disrespectful to the rest of our dedicated staff to include him in the academic lecture series.

I hope that all of those involved have the presence of mind to realize the true nature of Dr. McEntire’s protest. Put your political views aside, and look at the basis for McEntire’s claims. I’d hate to see politics get in the way of progress, as it often does. I know that perpetual betterment is a quixotic notion, but in is the only option that we can morally choose, especially when it comes to pedagogical progress.

February 28, 2008

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