Education through Performance

Education through Performance

My colleagues in communication, literature, art, music and athletics could put together more clearly what I write about this week. They live with the importance of performance in their academic disciplines and teaching, and know both theoretically and from experience how important public performance is in educating students. Especially in this time of the semester, when so many performances are scheduled. (More on that later.)

Most disciplines, if not all, know something about performance, whether conducting a laboratory experiment, public discussion or debate or presenting a paper, recital or dramatic production. Practicing their discipline and exhibiting what they’ve learned before others requires students show several attributes all at one time: confidence, poise or presence, a command of the technique or ideas they wish to discuss or demonstrate, sensitive interpretation, several levels of communication and the adaptability to respond to reactions, questions, attacks (yes these happen), and dealing with success or failure in the midst of a performance.

No wonder students get nervous, don’t sleep, can’t eat, lose their train of thought, agonize, plead for extensions and have moments of doubt when they have to get up in front of their class or larger audience. We must always be aware that education is not the mere mastery of knowledge and process—this is simply technical knowledge—it is also about communication, sensitivity to others, the ability to deepen one’s understanding through public dialog, the ability to work with and for others and to influence those around us toward deeper understanding, appreciation, faithful response and just action.

The program doesn’t matter, nor does the form of instruction—traditional undergraduate, degree completion, graduate, face-to-face or online—performance is an integral part of education. This is one reason why “competency” educational programs, which focus on the demonstration of knowledge (facts, information, processes or methods) solely through written or objective tests, are sometimes suspect.

I write this in November because now is the time our students come to their final fall performances (April is the big month in spring), the events they have prepared for through the last almost three months (one more to go). Research will be presented on boards or before a group, individual and group projects will be presented to classes and music and dramatic performances will be presented to the wider community. For these to be successful, these students and professors need audiences. All who read this, whether friend of the university, long-time supporter, prayer warrior, alum, professor, student and even faithful critic are invited to be a part of this culminating and integral part of education. Your presence is a powerful indicator of the importance of education and of Fresno Pacific in the lives of students and the community.

Next week, the drama department will begin a two-week run of Marivaux’s Changes of Heart. The music department has a performance nearly every night beginning in late November—Pacific Brass and Opera at Pacific, Nov. 20; Lessons and Carols (multiple ensembles, vocal and instrumental), Nov. 22; String Quartet, Nov 23; Orchestra, Nov. 24; Women’s Chorale and Men’s Chorus, Dec. 1; Handbell Choir, Dec. 2; “No Strings Attached” Woodwind Quintet, Dec. 3; Crosswind, Dec. 4; and the San Joaquin Chorale, Dec. 5&6. No one can get to them all—but look at the wealth of choice!

Several other events are also upcoming: on Nov. 5, the Missiology Forum, and on Dec. 1, the School of Business in partnership with Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary is bringing Andy Crouch, author and executive editor of Christianity Today. And watch for news about the men’s soccer team, currently leading the PacWest Conference, and heading toward the regional tournament. All events can be found on the FPU Events Page.

This may seem like ending with an advertisement, and maybe it is, but I can’t think of a better thing to advertise. These events and performances are central to the educational program of Fresno Pacific, and to the lives of students (and professors) right now. And they are central to our academic strategic plan, and why we plan for, for instance, a Center for the Arts with recital hall and theater.

These are the events that the produce quality and depth of understanding and sensitivity that we work for and hope to see in FPU graduates. There will be another day to focus on the place of athletics and leadership in the co-curriculum, research days, senior recitals or thesis defenses. Today consider yourself invited to become a participant in the FPU educational process. Join us for one, or more, of the performances, lectures and discussions. FPU is a community of learners that extends far beyond our campuses—be active in this educational community!

Steve Varvis

Steve Varvis