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Dordt College News

Calvin Jongsma

May 24, 2013

Calvin Jongsma

Leaving 31 years of teaching for more focused research and writing.

When Mathematics Professor Calvin Jongsma enrolled as a freshman at Trinity Christian College in the mid-60s, he thought he was just moving to the next level in Christian education.

“But,” he says, “it was life-changing.”

What changed Jongsma was being introduced to a neo-Kuyperian/reformational vision of life: “The whole world opened up. Faith wasn’t just about morality or church but about everything you did, including your studies.” 

Forty-five years later, this Kuyperian worldview is still central to everything Jongsma does. It also directs the way he teaches mathematics.

After completing his M.A., Jongsma returned to Trinity to teach mathematics. Convinced that he was called to teach, he decided to learn more about the philosophy and foundations of mathematics in a doctoral program at the University of Toronto.

“I thought that by taking a historical approach I could show that philosophy—worldview—makes a difference in the way mathematics gets developed. Looking at its history, one can see clearly that mathematics is not a neutral field. So perhaps we should be asking, ‘How can a reformational Christian perspective inform the way we do mathematics?’” 

Answering that question has been at the heart of Jongsma’s teaching and research. A Christian approach to mathematics, he says, does not draw upon special methods or content derived from Scripture or theology. Rather, a Christian perspective recognizes the significant but limited role mathematics can have in contributing to our understanding of the multifaceted world God has created.

Jongsma began teaching at Dordt in 1982. Thinking he might stay for five years, he stayed for 31, held by Dordt’s commitment to promoting a reformational vision of education. 

Few people at Dordt have done more than Jongsma to promote the flourishing of that vision. One significant contribution has been to the General Education (now Core) Program.

As director of that program in the 1990s, Jongsma, with Hubert Krygsman, developed and wrote The Educational Framework of Dordt College. Using earlier documents, they distilled a set of four themes that could help put the concept of serviceable insight into practice. 

“We really wanted to move from educational philosophy to educational practice,” he said. “How can we make insights serviceable? How can we take the ideas of creation, fall, and redemption, structure and direction, and craft them into operational emphases around which to organize the curriculum and do program reviews?’”

The resulting four curricular coordinates, Religious Orientation, Creational Structure, Creational Development, and Contemporary Response, continue to provide a framework for the entire educational enterprise of the college.

Jongsma helped this vision flourish by serving nine years as the director of the New Faculty Orientation Program. He says with a smile, “I really enjoyed seminar discussions and debates with new faculty. The conversations helped many of us who participated to grow.”

But Jongsma has always seen himself first of all as a teacher. At Dordt he has taught 27 different courses. He’s written a textbook for Discrete Mathematics that he’s used for 25 years, and he is now developing a resource book for middle school math teachers in which he shows how the history of mathematics can give ideas for effective teaching and learning. He hopes to finish that book and do further writing in his retirement. And he still gets genuinely excited when he sees an elegant proof or a surprising linkage between different fields of mathematics.

“I’ve been exceptionally blessed to have been able to do what I enjoy: teach mathematics and logic; do historical, philosophical, and educational research; think about, organize, and synthesize ideas. These are the ways I’ve tried to share my gifts with others,” he says. 


DAVID SCHELHAAS (’62)

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