Students as consumers or disciples? Or both?


I’ll let you in on a snippet of a faculty meeting. We were discussing how best to give students regular feedback beyond letter grades a brief comments–especially those who might have some particular struggle: academic, spiritual, interpersonal, etc. While we offer academic degrees, part of what we do as a Seminary pays attention to spiritual formation. That’s a broad category of course. But any student or group issues (and cohorts almost always have some group issues) have the opportunity of being formative teaching/pastoring moments. But I digress…

In the midst of this conversation, some faculty noted the consumerist mentality that some students have. They are coming here for MAs, MDivs, or DMins and the program should serve their interests and at the end they should get a degree that will get them a job. Nothing really new here. Most wouldn’t spend 20+K on an MA or 40+K on an MDiv just for the enrichment of it. Other faculty noted that some consumer mentality is appropriate. Students are coming here to buy a product and we need to sell the best version of that product.

So, here’s my question, can student as consumer also do a good job being student as disciple of Christ? Where’s the line between wise consumer and self-focused/demanding consumer?

This past month my credit card company submitted my check to them TWICE to my bank. That means they took a significant amount of money out of my checking account without my consent–and it could have caused other checks to bounce. I was not happy. Calls to the bank quickly resulted in our getting back what was rightfully mine. I was not happy with the bank for letting it happen and I was not happy with the credit card company for making the mistake. I want them to know that I’m not happy and to assure me it will never happen again. Ultimately, I want them to make me happy all the time. I want them to never let me down. And if they do not make me happy? Then I’ll take my business elsewhere.  Isn’t that how we approach most of our consuming? If my favorite restaurant stops pleasing me and treating me as a king, then I’m not likely to go back.

Do students bring this attitude into their education? I think so. I think I did as a student. I noted every failure of my profs. I rarely brought my concerns to them (for fear of looking petty) but more than once I’m sure I complained (shared my feelings) to my peers. Where does it lead us? Grumbling and complaining. Looking at the faults of others rather than our own. Defending rather than being appropriately self-critical. Not sure it is easy to be a disciple when I’m grumbling and complaining.

So, the challenge for students is to bring legitimate concerns and complaints to their professor’s attention, avoid gossip, and consider the formation opportunity in front of them (e.g., life when things don’t turn out as expected). And faculty/administration have the challenge before them to make sure they listen to said complaints, avoid defensiveness, repent where necessary, and pursue both their own and their student’s formative learning moments. Teachers and program administrators must remember that they too are disciples on the same journey as their pupils.

May we all pursue excellence as servants of the kingdom.  

4 Comments

Filed under conflicts

4 responses to “Students as consumers or disciples? Or both?

  1. myarhouse

    Nice post, Phil. It’s nice to read some of what you have been thinking about lately. About your post: It is a different perspective when you are on the other side of the faculty-student relationship, isn’t it? I recall having complaints, but like you I think I kept them to myself or shared them with classmates. But I may have been guilty of idealizing some of the faculty, too.

  2. Mark, welcome to the blogger world. I look forward to what you put out on yours. It is a different perspective now that we are teachers. Except I think the increased use of discussion boards, email, texting, chatting, etc. may make some more comfortable in leading class mutiny.

  3. I think both and as I read I substituted clients for students; it is truly hard to balance. One thing about remembering that our clients and students are consumers is that it encourages us to do our jobs with excellence. Remembering that our clients (some of them) and students are disciples reminds us that God is ultimately at work in their hearts and minds; it can spur us to pray.

    When I think I’ve done poorly as an instructor or counselor it’s helpful to remember my kids – they don’t have a choice – they’re stuck with me. Just kidding. I remind my Self to put my hope in God.

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