Lendol Calder, InterVarsity alumnus and history professor at Augustana College, was recently named the 2010 Illinois Professor of the Year, an award recognizing professors who excel in undergraduate teaching and mentoring. With over 300 professors nominated for this award, it's quite an honor that Lendol was chosen.
Lendol has earned the attention of the academic world in recent years with his belief that there is more to history classes than memorizing events, names, and dates. “Every course I teach is built on the foundation of this question: How should we live yet do not yet live?” says Lendol. “For example, I’m teaching a course for freshmen right now called To Love and to Wed: A Different Kind of Sex Ed. I can hardly believe I get paid to talk to young people about what love is historically and what kind of lovers we strive to be now.” (see Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey)
Some of Lendol’s current teaching style can be traced to his InterVarsity days at the University of Texas – Austin. Lendol remembers the day when a senior in his dorm invited his roommate to a Bible study. Lendol says, “My roommate wasn’t interested. But I chased the senior down and asked if I could come.”
From that point on, God began to use InterVarsity in Lendol’s life. “As an undergraduate, InterVarsity provided my education,” Lendol says. “Colleagues look at me funny when I tell them this, but it’s true. It wasn’t professors who taught me how to read, how to speak in public, or how to think. I learned these things through InterVarsity. For example, in our small group Bible studies and at Bible & Life conferences, we learned the inductive method of reading: observation, interpretation, and application. I’m still teaching this way of reading with my students today.”
It’s tempting to think that teaching must come easy for anyone named Professor of the Year; however, that is not always the case. “You see, teaching is hard, exhausting, frustrating, intimidating, and uncertain work. It’s an act of faith, really.” Lendol says, “You pour your heart and mind into creating learning environments for students, only to find that most don’t care nearly as much as you do about the subject. I often walk back to my office thinking, ‘Did anything get through?’”
“Students today are like adventure tourists walking through a jungle,” says Lendol. “‘Nothing here but trees and grass,’ says the student while their guide shouts ‘Look! There’s a tiger in the grass!’ Except that young people today don’t have guides. They have iPods, they have cable TV, they have each other. But no real guides. We may be the first society in human history to create a cultural environment in which the young are turned loose in the world without benefit of the wisdom of elders telling them how to find a vocation, how to find a mate, how to make love last. Cut off from adults and entombed in their peer culture, they are expected to make maps of their own. No wonder they don’t have time to read and prepare for class. They’re too busy trying to figure out how life works.”
Lendol is not only making a difference in the lives of his students, but is changing the way history classes are taught at universities around the country. “This is why being named Professor of the Year is so meaningful to me. Since news of the award was announced, I’ve received over a hundred letters and emails from former students. The wonderful thing about these letters is that they don’t just offer congratulations, they also tell me what they’ve learned from me, what they remember years later, and how it matters to them. This is feedback teachers rarely get. It’s been a wonderful gift and has made this a joyful year for me.”
Lendol Calder graduated from the University of Texas – Austin in 1980 and worked for InterVarsity in the Red River Region for five years before pursuing his PhD at the University of Chicago. In 1999 he wrote Financing the American Dream: A History of Debt in America and Lendol currently teaches history at Augustana College. One of Lendol's former InterVarsity students, Steve Mitchell, was profiled in 2008.