In his address to the students of Jesuit schools of Italy and Albania, Pope Francis said something that reminded me of one of the great teachers and educationalists of the Twentieth Century, Mons. Luigi Giussani.
‘Educating, in educating a balance must be maintained, your steps must be well balanced, one step on the cornice of safety but the other into the zone of risk. And when the risk becomes safe, the next step must venture into another area of risk. Education cannot be confined to the safety zone. No. This would mean preventing personalities from developing; yet it is not possible to educate solely in the risk zone either: this is too dangerous. It is a balance of steps: remember it well.’ – Pope Francis, Address to the Students of the Jesuit Schools of Italy and Albania, 7 June 2013.
For Giussani, it was imperative that teenage students be taught how to access the truth and rigorously verify any and every claim to truth. For Giussani, the experience of the hopelessness that accompanies the practical nihilism of a life without Christ, coupled with a deeply held Augustinian intuition that God has placed within the heart of every human person a natural desire for the supernatural, gifted him with an incredible ability to trust that, given the right method, that students could discern that T/truth in fact does exist.
This flies in the face of much of what passes for contemporary educational theory, which has been co-opted by a kind of managerialism (a topic for later discussion). For Guissani, education has a goal, and end, or a telos. And according to him the goal of education is maturity, a maturity that is manifest in a faith that is arrived at by way of a rigorous verification of one’s own lived reality.
The neutrality of present-day schools implies an “I couldn’t care less” approach to the meaning of life and the ultimate sense of the topics under study. Students may be presented with a series of solutions, without having a true critical capacity with which to assess them. This type of education normally leads youth to develop a root of scepticism regarding all the more important human problems, not an a priori refusal to take them into consideration; or else it ingrains in them a tendency to be hostile to their own tradition.
Luigi Giussani, The Journey to Truth Is an Experience, trans. John Zucchi and Patrick Stevenson (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 116.
The risk lies in allowing for such a verification. It means having one’s ideas put under serious and close scrutiny and even rejected. A Pope Francis mentioned education, if it is to be worthwhile, is itself a risk. And a Catholic education is one which is (or should be) the freest to take the greatest risks. Again, to quote Giussani,
In the Catholic conception of education, the school should be one of the principle instruments for verifying tradition against knowledge, to help people interpret, from a Christian point of view, the whole world that youth are called to enter. (ibid, 116)
This gets at something that has been close to my heart for some time and will, no doubt, be something of a focus for future posts here or research elsewhere.