State Council Taps English, Philosophy Assistant Professor as MC’s Humanities Teacher of the Year
When it comes to empowering and equipping students to make their own choices, Dr. Daniel J. White is a true believer.
In recent years, discussions have emerged about the concept of liberal arts professors politically “indoctrinating” their students. Yet it’s the systems and beliefs of yesterday, White argues, that have given society the intractable problems of today.
“I don’t want to indoctrinate my students into my way of thinking, because that would only perpetuate our problems,” said White, assistant professor in the Department of English and Philosophy at Mississippi College. “Instead, I try to give my students the best knowledge and frameworks available, and then encourage them to think and build beyond those. It’s my students’ ability to build something new that sustains my optimism.
“If we equip them well, they can address what, for generations, may have been impossible. When I get to work with students who are capable of pushing beyond what is known and toward creating something new, that’s what I enjoy the most about teaching. Delightfully, I get to see this all the time with MC undergraduates.”
It’s a teaching philosophy that has yielded much success for White, who has been selected by the Mississippi Humanities Council as its 2022 Humanities Teacher of the Year for MC. The award recognizes outstanding work by Mississippians in bringing the insights of the humanities to public audiences.
As part of his recognition by the MHC, White will present a lecture, “What Should MC Teach? Curricular Efficacy and the Core,” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 24, in the Discovery Room in the Leland Speed Library. A reception will follow White’s presentation in the Discovery Room and in the lobby of the Aven Fine Arts Building.
White’s research outside of the classroom focuses on a concept called curricular efficacy, or the degree to which a university’s curriculum aligns with the needs of its faculty, staff, students, and community. He said his presentation would look at some recent primary research efforts across campus and how their findings reflect on the curricular efficacy of MC’s core curriculum.
“In an ideal world, a school’s curriculum is perfectly aligned with the expertise and capabilities of its faculty and staff, and addresses deficits or needs in its students and community,” White said. “However, over time, the needs of the curriculum’s recipients change while the curriculum tends to stay roughly the same. This can lead to curricular inefficacy: in other words, universities can end up teaching the wrong thing.
“Folks who come to the presentation should get a sense of whether MC’s core is doing what we need it to do, or if it’s time for us to revise our curriculum.”
The following day, White will be formally acknowledged for his achievement, along with the MHC selections from 29 other public and private colleges and universities across the state, during the organization’s Public Humanities Awards Ceremony at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson.
The MHC’s selection of White as MC’s Teacher of the Year comes as no surprise to Dr. Jonathan Randle, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“The awards recognize excellent and inspiring humanities teachers across the universities and colleges in the state, and Daniel is certainly a gifted professor of English, writing, and research,” Randle said. “He’s incredibly personable and effervescent in the classroom, and he brings seemingly boundless positivity to his work with students, colleagues, and the larger university community.
“He is absolutely student-focused in his teaching, but he also has an eye on the larger institutional picture, and he makes a particular effort to ensure that his teaching fits pragmatically into the larger objectives of the department and the institution.”
Dr. John Meadors, professor and chair of English and philosophy, praised White’s capacity to think clearly about complex and difficult topics and communicate his ideas clearly.
“He is a great asset to MC because he can navigate a group of students or faculty through difficult and controversial topics in an intelligent and charitable manner,” Meadors said. “He listens carefully, asks great questions, and always responds in a Christ-like and generous way.
“His service to the MC community is exemplary in every respect, and his treatment of students and colleagues is always kind and generous.”
A graduate of Mississippi State University, where he received his B.A. and M.A., White earned his Ed.D. from the University of Mississippi. While he enjoyed his academic experience at the larger, public institutions of higher learning, he said Mississippi College offers a greater opportunity to engage openly in some ideas that could only be indirectly addressed at his alma maters.
“Those schools were full of God-loving faculty, students, and staff, but the mission of a place like MC allows us to discuss the common faith traditions that bind the University together,” he said. “For instance, if I wanted to discuss a multifactorial issue like poverty with my students at UM or MSU, I’d need to frame the moral argument to care for others in humanism. This is effective because it’s generally easy to convince a set of students that they should care about others.
“But at MC, I can directly turn to the teachings of Jesus. I can challenge myself and my students to consider how Christ taught us to treat the least of these among us. For me, this is a principle that underpins the general compassion of humanism, but I can address it directly through my Christian faith with students at MC.
“Opportunities like that are among the reasons I was drawn to MC and are no small part of why I’ve stayed here for the last 10 years.”
White’s persona in the classroom is part of what makes him a strong contributor to the University, Randle said.
“Our institution prides itself on faculty who get to know their students, and who personally engage them in ways that are related to their academic disciplines, but also in ways that correspond to the Christian mission of the University,” Randle said. “In paradigmatic fashion, Dr. White captures both of these goals. He’s a model for other faculty to follow in how they engage students inside and outside the classroom.”
White said he is grateful that his efforts are being recognized by the MHC – and his colleagues.
“That my colleagues would see me as deserving of this honor is both humbling and encouraging,” he said. “Humbling because I know how good they are as teachers, and encouraging because it makes me believe I belong among them.”
His colleagues in the Department of English and Philosophy and in the Faculty Senate at MC are among the individuals he credits for his successful tenure at Mississippi College. At the very top of that list is his late mother, Frances White, who attended MC decades ago and became a junior high school English teacher.
“Up until she passed in the spring of 2021, I’d get phone calls or texts from her encouraging me to ‘make a difference today,’” he said. “When I got those, I knew what she meant I should do: I should find students or colleagues who felt left out or were otherwise being neglected and find a way to encourage them like she encouraged me.
“Her ethos has guided me throughout my career and likely is why I became an educator.”
He called his wife, Ashley, a public school teacher in the Jackson metropolitan area, a “critical touchstone who calls me back to task and helps keep me centered” on what matters most in his work.
Looking over the list of those who have influenced his career the most, White said he is struck by how the Teacher of the Year Award is “less a recognition of personal success” and “more an acknowledgement of what a person can achieve when they are allowed to work in a supportive and collaborative environment” like Mississippi College.
“It all makes me very grateful to have been born and educated in Mississippi and called to work alongside such wonderful colleagues at MC,” he said. “In a word, I’m grateful.”
Tickets for the Mississippi Humanities Council Public Humanities Awards ceremony and reception cost $50 each and are available for purchase online at www.mshumanities.org/program/public-humanities-awards/ or by sending a check to the Mississippi Humanities Council, Room 317, 3825 Ridgewood Road, Jackson, MS 39211.