The Voice: Summer 2002

The Voice

Sanctified common sense

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Excuse me, but doesn’t anyone teach common sense these days?” The alum who asked me that question is less than ten years past her graduation from Dordt College. She is in a position to hire people from a variety of different colleges and universities. And increasingly, she said, her disillusionment with major university graduates is growing. “Doesn’t anyone teach common sense?” was her major complaint.

That’s not an unusual complaint either. A major concern of human resources professionals around the country is that the skills people bring to their first job don’t carry them through to successive promotions. Typically, people leave their educational institutions knowing some entry level skills but lacking the communication, judgment, and strategic abilities that tend to get them promoted and make them valuable to their employers long term. In short, they lack common sense.

All that started me thinking. Do we really teach common sense at Dordt College? I often hear from employers that Dordt College grads are enthusiastic, committed, ready to contribute, and eager to keep on learning. What makes the difference? Why are graduates from colleges like Dordt able to approach their tasks with what, for want of a better term, could be called “common sense”?

There are several reasons, I think. One is that virtually all of our unmarried students live on campus. In many cases they come in as freshmen who have never had to share a room. Suddenly they have to share a bedroom with a roommate, a bathroom with forty others, and a dining hall with 600. Pretty clearly, they’re either going to learn some common sense quickly or they’re going to be in trouble.

And, if they don’t learn it then, they certainly will learn what it means when later they team up with four to six other people to live in a campus apartment. Cooking together, cleaning together, and sharing living space together will demand a rapid learning curve in just plain “getting along” and working together.

Similarly, over 800 of our students have on-campus jobs. They soon learn what it means, in one way or another, to serve the rest of the campus community. Whether washing dishes, mowing lawns, or calling next year’s prospective freshmen, students find that in order to pay for their time at Dordt College, they need to do more than write a check. They have to put themselves personally on the line where the rest of the campus will hold them responsible.

Then too, our extensive student residence advisor system builds in requirements for mutual accountability. To a far greater extent than at most colleges, Dordt College relies on a student residence life staff in which students are charged with holding each other accountable for adhering to campus community standards. Students soon learn that failing to meet standards is not a matter of outsmarting a professional supervisor. It’s a matter of letting down your colleagues and other members of your team.

And speaking of teams, the high number of students involved in co-curricular activities also provides experience in what it takes to accomplish shared teamwork. It’s not just that in a college of Dordt’s size there are so many opportunities for students to experience multiple roles in music, theater, and athletics as well as their own academic area. It’s also that, with 800 students staying on campus each weekend, there’s a lot of opportunity to join a lacrosse club, a strategy game club, or a hockey club. Or at least to join the 750 other students who play intramural sports throughout the year.

Still, I like to think there’s something more. My mother used to tell me to use my “sanctified common sense.” After all, we aren’t just teaching people to “get along.” We’re trying to educate Christian young people with a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading in applying biblical standards to our life together. We’re trying to teach covenant living that includes those principles of communication and shared vision that can apply in any civic or employment setting as well.

At Dordt College we talk about developing biblical insight. We want people to see how the world works from the inside out and to discover how they themselves can fit within it and serve Christ’s kingdom work of renewing that world where it’s gone off the track. It’s the heart of the education in our classrooms, and it’s the foundation of the education that takes place 24/7 in the classroom of our comprehensive campus life.

I know that no college is perfect and no graduate represents a college perfectly. But I trust that the alum who asked me the question that prompted these reflections will find that, should she ever interview one of our graduates, she will find that, by God’s grace, at least Dordt College still teaches truly sanctified common sense.