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- An experiential approach:
As Jesuits, we are invited to dwell on our experience as the Ignatian starting point; in this case our experience in education is the starting point; more particularly our experience as ‘Teachers or Educators’. Allow me to dwell on one such experience.
1.1.At Santiniketan. For ten years (1995-2005) I taught in the department of philosophy and religion’ at Viswa-Bharati University in Santiniketan. For most of that period, I was the only Christian in the university staff. My students called me ‘Father-da’, sir, or simply Father or Georgeda’. I enjoyed teaching and interacted with the faculty and students on a regular basis. Often I was asked to organize the UGC sponsored Refresher Courses for the staff, coming from different universities. On one such occasion, after getting everything ready for the refresher course, I checked with the department office if the staff ‘toilet’ has been cleaned. I was told that they saw the man who is supposed to clean, around. I had my doubts. I found out that it was not cleaned. I bought cleansing liquid and cleaned the toilets myself. The seminar concluded very well both in its content and style.
The next day in the staff room there was a serious conversation about the fact that I cleaned the toilets which is the duty of a sudra (untouchable). During the rather emotive discussion, one of them seemed to have said that Georgeda is a Christian and they do all kinds of jobs. I felt proud of my Christian identity being known as doing the job of a sudra. That is the best witness I could give to Lord of the Good News.
What baffled me is the fact that even at the university level, education does not change the mind-set. On the contrary, it seems to reinforce the social stratifications. Our educational system, be it school or college, does not invite the students to interrogate the social, ethnic, caste and cultural biases and prejudices that they have inherited. Education does not question the inherited social biases and prejudices. With the blatant Hindutva ideology doing politics all around us, we need to device strategies to impart the spirituality and the outlook of the Constitutions that views citizenship in itself. We impart education, (often claimed as quality education) for our students enabling them to rank high in the exams; they pass out in colours but their social and religious self remains at the infantile level. We are known for our management of institutions; but are we known for the values of the gospel and that of the Constitution? We need to device ways and means of influencing their mind-set; reaching to their heart to facilitate true growth as citizens of this land.
During his rather brief stint at St.Xavier’s school in Kolkata, Rabindranath Tagore had an unusual experience which he recalls in his memoirs. One day rather sick and tired, Tagore sat at his desk in the class room waiting for the class hours to get over. To his surprise a Jesuit father in charge of the class walked up to him and enquired of his health. ‘Rabi, are you not well’? He felt deeply moved by this gesture of concern of the Jesuit.
The primary motive of education is to enable the students to experience ‘respect’ and ‘concern’ as a human being and to give that respect to one another. Care and respect for the human person of the student is the first lesson that is to be taught in our schools. The human person of the student is enabled to grow through mutual acceptance and respect. In spite of the brevity of his school days, Tagore ( a drop out from Xavier’s) recalled the human touch in the class room. ‘Class room’ is the sacred space. An open and flowering mind and heart is waiting to be led into the world of wisdom. Jesuits formed in the process of the Spiritual Exercises is inviting each child to be proud of herself and to be growing with one another in deep respect toward that horizon that is beyond and beckoning. This is the sacred path of Jesuit education.
Going beyond managerial skills for employment, a Jesuit education leads the student to the path of search, to the path of ‘more’ and to the journey beyond. Education for topping the list or to find a more lucrative job is the concern of the parents; our concern should be to mould a citizenry that is built on respect, mutuality and justice.
2. Ratio Studiorum. Critical and Humanistic.
In its early stages, Jesuit education was known for its humanistic and critical perspectives. It meant on the one hand to care for the integral growth of the person of the learner and on the other to critique a given ‘text’ to expand the horizons of the reader. They introduced reading even Cicero ( a pagan author) in view of helping students to understand a thought pattern and learn to critique it. To think logically and to cultivate an enquiring mind through debates and discussion were the forte of Jesuit education. This resulted in Jesuit ‘Ratio Studiorum’ giving shape to a pedagogy of teaching and learning that would enable the learner to be a pilgrim, seeker of knowledge. Human concern and human development become central to Jesuit education. This humanistic perspective was promoted at a time when ‘religion’ and ‘religious practices’ were the over-arching thinking of the day. Having introduced to humanistic knowing, the student is led to the recognition of the limits of status quo and is given a taste of the Magis – to know more.
Our engagement in education, especially in school-education, is meant to bring these humanist-critical perspectives to our students. However, much of our energy in school-education in South Asian Assistancy is spent on maintaining the institution, its name and fame, rather than capacitating our students in ‘humanistic-critical perspectives’, to cultivate an enquiring mind. Our schools and the Jesuits involved in schools are meant to serve the school as ‘public space’ encouraging public debates on social concerns. Today however, we are perceived at best as the managers of a system that often sucks us into it or depletes all our energies. Is it possible to make a shift in favour of our original intent? Joe Arun speaks of disruptive leadership that moves away from administration to animation (JIVAN, August 2017) – a perspective that was adopted by JEA Zonal coordinators meeting in 2015. He adds: “In my experience, I have seen the campus ministry making the entire campus alive and vibrant. It is a movement pole that orients and reorients, constantly corrects and guides the rigid institutional nature of schools and colleges. If things are done properly, the campus ministry gives visibility to the Jesuit identity of our colleges and schools.” (p..9. Jivan, August 2017).
In South Asian context, school animation would mean cultivating true human concern in our schools beyond class, caste and religious divisions. How can we foster a sense of respect for one another no matter which caste or religion that we belonged to? How can we nurture true social concerns in our students? How do encourage ‘social time’ among students, giving them a sense of real world distinguished from the virtual world? Can we not foster creating catchy phrases that mark the ethos of our Jesuit education? Can we pool our resources in order to capacitate teachers in critical and humanistic perspectives, to cultivate thought process in the students? How do we enhance scientific temper and rational thinking in our students? In the growing divisive ideological onslaught on the country, we need to move and move faster to build up inclusive perspectives in our students. Can we devise A South Asian Alternative to the successful model of “Fe y Alegria” and evolve a new pedagogy of education for poor students? Can we create space for interaction between formal and non-formal education?. With Assistancy Development Office efforts are being made to network and resource non-formal education across the assistancy. Formal education can play a vital role to support the informal education sector.
In our engagement in formal education through schools, are we victims of ‘spiritual worldliness’ that Pope Francis asked us to shun? Spiritual worldliness brings us to vanity, arrogance, pride and domination; ‘the power/caste politics and careerism” (Joe Arun in Jivan, August 2017, p.9); it would be counter-productive if our school system make us arrogant, proud and domineering Jesuits. An Ignatian review is in place on what school administration does to us as Jesuits.
- ‘Mission of Reconciliation and Justice’ in Jesuit Education in South Asia.
“In India, thugs assault Dalits and Muslims employed in the cattle trade in the name of Hindu dharma, a writer is hounded out of two Bengals for saying that minorities have been ill-treated in Bangladesh, priests attack Rohingyas in Myanmar for no other reason than that they are Muslim, in Sri Lanka racists suppress a Tamil minority on grounds of difference, in Pakistan a Christian sweeper is arrested upon accusations of blaspheming Islam, and in Nepal people of the hill country disempower those of its plains through constitutional manoeuvre. Even Afghanistan, which tends to be seen mainly as the victim of big-power rivalry, has its share of home-grown domination to acknowledge in the condition of the Hazara, a people with a history of living there for at least as long as anyone else. In all these countries, an entrenched patriarchy ensures that women are subordinated. Thus, in parts of India it is considered normal for widows to be forced by tradition to board a one-way train to Mathura. And, amidst the beauty of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, a girl child is shot and mutilated for seeking the right to go to school.
It would be difficult to name another region of the world that produces as much hate as South Asia. Is there a common thread to these ghastly incidents? Yes, there is. These acts are the outcome of identity politics that enforce behaviour based on sectarian values derived from religion. Of significance is that the overwhelming majority of South Asian states are formally democracies. These incidents take place while the state mostly stands by watching. While in some instances the state is an active agent of identity politics, in others it has been captured by its custodians. Across the region, the state in South Asia is culpable of empowering the mob against the weak”. Pulapre Balakrishnan. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/our-collective-cross-to-bear/articl...
South Asia at this point of time requires, more than ever, a pedagogy of reconciliation to contain the conflict ridden situation across the sub-continent. A pedagogy that would on the one hand unmask the violence and injustice embedded in the society, and on the other, reach out in reconciling mission of building communities of solidarity. More particularly education is the best means to inculcate non-violent perspectives and ways of conflict resolution. I propose the following five educational ways, – pancha sikshaseel - for our school education in South Asia to make reconciliation possible against hateful divisive ideology..
4. 1. Educate to remove ‘Mind Fences’.
It is said that students come to us with ‘tabula rasa mind’ – in a sense empty but ready to learn. The mind is capable of learning. From childhood, we are under the constant, unending influence of our thoughts. The mind, which creates these thoughts, is an instrument which helps us think clearly and logically, rationalise, make judgements, choose the right option among many available, plan, visualise, be creative, and to execute tasks. Education we provide cultivate the mind in these capacities. However, in addition to doing all this, the mind is also a generator of thoughts, worries, anxieties, fears, jealousies, greed, anger, biases and prejudices. These thoughts and emotions are often inherited from our families and neighbourhood; they imprison the child and often leave them powerless. As Rene Girard has shown reason can be hijacked by emotions; emotions can be suppressed by reason. A child that comes to our school often has a mind that is already fenced with a sense of the ‘other’ as alien, inimical, and even dangerous. Jesuit education should capacitate the student to remove the cultural, religious and linguistic fences and to view the world as created, loved into existence by a loving God. The Principle and Foundation of the Exercises provide us with a vision that God is the source of the beginning and the end; that mind is open to the infinity. We need to device ways and means of removing the social, cultural, religious and ethnic fences and clear the mind for an inclusive thinking that is open to the infinity.
4.2.Educate to Nurture Inter-cultural Space.
South Asia is blessed with many ethnicities, languages and cultural traditions. In our schools there are students hailing from varieties of cultures and backgrounds. This is a given factor of richness and often we take them for granted. School should be a space where students learn to appreciate different cultures, respect them and celebrate diversity - thus get enriched. Through stories, poetry, drama they learn to appreciate diversity and to live with them in joy.
Since independence in 1947, India (and other South Asian countries) has been growing as a multi-cultural pluralistic society. The soul of India is multi-cultural and multi-religious. Our education should build on this to foster inter-culturality. However this multi-culturality is not taught as a value in our education system. Even when they fare well in the school and receive top ranking, many of our students operate from the inherited cultural biases and prejudices. Their cultural self remains infantile with a homogenous approach, looking at other cultural groups with suspicion or even hatred.
Inter-cultural living is an art that needs to be taught to our students. This is further compounded with deep rooted caste mentality. Our educational system should enable students to critique caste system that is so embedded in the psyche of our people. “These days events like Una are being filmed on phone cameras and shared in a celebratory manner by the perpetrators. What does this do to the psyche of the caste-Hindus, whom Ambedkar called the sick men (and women) of Hindustan?The Hindutva bigots are indeed displaying their sickness. The Una incident, which made news because the video shot by the gau-rakshak goons had gone viral, revealed their confidence and impunity. They knew that they would never be brought to book”. (http://scroll.in/article/817737/ten-years-after-khairlanji-only-retaliatory-violence-can-dislodge-the-deep-rooted-venom-of-caste).
We are a mob lynching nation. Education should capacitate our schools with inter-cultural skills and methods to interrogate this inhuman phenomenon and to widen inter-cultural space.
4.3.Educate to globalize compassion (Karuna) through Non-violent Conflict Resolution.
Buddhist teaching on Karuna (Compassion) and Mudita (feeling joy in other’s success) express the social dimension of love. Karuna goes beyond the distinction of ‘I’ ‘We’ and ‘Other’. Knowledge and compassion are closely related. True wisdom brings about compassionate feeling of joy in others’ success and rejoicing with them. Karuna in Sanskirt means active sympathy, gentle affection and willingness to bear the pain of others. It is a wish for all being to be free from suffering. The Pali word is Metta which means loving kindness, friendliness, benevolence, fellowship, amity, inoffensiveness and nonviolence. It is a strong wish for parahita-parasukha-kamana, the welfare and happiness of others without any selfish interest. Metta is universal, unselfish and all embracing love. As Kailash Satyarthi said in his Nobel Peace award speech let us globalize compassion to set our children free. Mahatma Gandhi said: If we are to teach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with children; let us unite the world through compassion for our children.” Pope Francis speaks about primary proclamation of a ‘Merciful God’.
We need to globalize this compassion among our children and for our children. Let us remind ourselves of the prophetic call in Satyarthi’s words. “Whose children are they who stitch footballs, yet have never played with one? They are our children. Whose children are they who mine stones and minerals? They are our children. Whose children are they who harvest cocoa, yet do not know the taste of a chocolate? They are our children.”
Compassion equips them for life; brings them closer to children who never go to school. They come to know that there are millions of children in our countries who can’t go to school. Compassion leads them to recognize that the farmers who cultivate the land do not often get their due; that they foster love for the earth that sustains us and care for the farming communities. In spite of the fact that the greatest experiment in non-violent struggle in the history of the world happened in Indian freedom struggle, India (and South Asia) continues to remain a violent prone society. Caste, ethnic and religious conflicts irrupt at regular intervals. Mob lynching is condoned by the rulers. The rhetoric of violence and terror are getting legitimacy.
We need to initiate in the schools methods of non-violent communication and conflict resolution. Conflicts are bound to happen in a multi-cultural society. We have to produce manual on teaching children non-violent attitudes and the skills for non-violent conflict resolution. These methods would enable children to affirm self and others and to reach out in non-violent ways. We should teach them how to solve conflicts and problems in a non-violent atmosphere. Children should be taught to cooperate for and build on peace. This should be the long term mission of education in South Asia. The Sermon the Mount is the universal ethic that Gandhiji put into practice through non-violent struggle at personal, communal and national level. We need to impart this heritage to our younger generation.
4.4. Educate them into Integral Pedagogy of Inter-relatedness.
“Love,” Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “is the physical structure of the universe.” Love is present, he said, from the Big Bang onward: “Even among the molecules, love is the building power that works against entropy, and under its attraction the elements feel their way towards union.”
For so long we have kept love outside the limits of nature, as if it is a peculiarly human emotion that we develop. Hard core scientists and ivory tower intellectuals are easily annoyed by love-talk, as if their precious time is being wasted with sentimental silliness. Yet, apart from love we are not at home in the cosmos – literally. Theologian Philip Hefner asks, “can we entertain the hypothesis that love is rooted in the fundamental nature of reality, including the reality we call nature?”
In his poem, “The Eternal Feminine” Teilhard wrote of love in the voice of wisdom: “I am embedded in the force field that is driving the cosmos towards greater novelty, towards greater integrity, and eventually towards greater consciousness. . . . I am the principle of union, the soul of the world. I am the magnetic and unitive force that brings the disparate matter together and urges each newly created form to multiply, to beautify, and to bear fruit. . . . Each step towards union moves my creation towards greater spontaneity and freedom.”
Physicists today tell us that everything in the universe is, in a sense, “genetically” related; interconnectedness lies at the core of all that exists. The universe is bound together in a communion, each thing with all the rest. “If there was no internal propensity to unite, even at a rudimentary level – indeed in the molecule itself,” Teilhard said, “it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, in a hominized form.”
The poet Wallace Stevens wrote, “Nothing is itself taken alone. Things are because of interrelations or interactions.” When one lives from a deep consciousness of love as the bond of interconnectedness, one lives in God because God is love, a communion of persons intertwined in the flow of love. To live in God is to live in deep communion, to know oneself as part of a whole.
Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish woman who died in a WWII Nazi concentration camp in 1943, describes herself as a person who loved life. . “Each of us moves things along in the direction of war,” she said, “every time we fail in love.”
“All disasters stem from us. Why is there war? Perhaps because now and then I might be inclined to snap at my neighbor. Because I and my neighbor and everyone else do not have enough love. . . . Yet there is love bound up inside us, and if we could release it into the world, a little each day, we would be fighting war and everything that comes with it.” Etty’s deep insights resonate with what scientists have discovered: local changes can have global effects because we are deeply connected by fields of energy. Our thoughts as well as our actions impact one another, even if we are spatially separated because in our cosmic roots we are deeply entwined.” (For this section on Integral Pedagogy, I owe to Ilia Delio. http://globalsistersreport.org/column/speaking-god/spirituality/2015-yea....
Pope Francis in Laudato si (138) says: “Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality. Again in No.139 we read: When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it”.
(142) If everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life. “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment”.
Let us teach our children this cosmic inter-relatedness; this lure of the infinite in the smallest atom; this sense of wonder of the Universe as uni-verse; perception of the progress of the whole and the part in holon movement; thirst for ultimate goodness for all. Orla Hazra and Prashant Olekar have developed an Integral Pedagogy based on this inter-relatedness of all and everything, combining South Asian wisdom with scientific findings. Integral pedagogy flows from the Principle and Foundation as everything is coming from God and journeying back to God.
4.5. Educate them in the Art of Conversation.
Taking cue from Ignatius, we educate our students in the art of conversation; in our terminology a sort of ‘adda’ – talking together freely and genuinely. Ignatius talks about ‘spiritual’ conversation. Spiritual does not mean pious talk but rather depth conversation. How do we enable ‘depth conversation’ in the daily ‘adda’ of students? The Ignatian pedagogy of reviewing the day to recognize the movement of the Spirit in each one is the most universal tool available to cultivate a ‘reflective sense’ in students and teachers.. ‘Examen’ means listening to the interior movements of the Spirit (accessible even if one does not believe in God of religions). This sense of ‘Review’ provides a reflective mind-set in students and a distancing of ‘ego’ from one’s Self. This is the Ignatian staff for the wayfarer of the world, unafraid of the unknown. This is the most practical easily available human device to recognize one’s true well-being. ‘The still small voice within’ is inner compass that guides and directs our journey of life.
The second step is to invite our students to talk about it to one another. This is more audacious. When they get to talk to one another on what is going on within, they recognize each other and begin to trust one another. Such conversation brings them to a comfort level of sharing, moving away from the ‘inherited biases and prejudices’ to innovative relationship. Perception of one’s inner journey and dialogue about one’s inner life and its emotional tone develop a depth and interiority that is amazing for the students. In the high-tech ‘virtual’ world of ours, there are numerous ways – be it what’sup, face-book, instagram – for the starter. The ‘adda’ begins there. From there we move on t
o the interior movements resulting from the stories; from that awareness, we share. In this sharing we introduce them to ‘active listening’: listening to the person speaking; to the tone and emotions in what is expressed; what is not expressed; listening with reverence. From there, we enable them to ‘intentional speaking’ speaking what one experiences interiorly, honestly and without judgement. One makes oneself vulnerable in speaking but also knows that one can trust each other. ‘Jesuit adda Circles’ would distinguish our schools from others, where they excel in conversations that enable ‘active listening and intentional speaking’. Imagine that our TV anchors learn this from our schools!! How many hours we would have saved!! How much of harmony we would have built up!!!!
The three key words of GC 36, namely integration, process and collaboration are most visibly enacted and contained in the mission of reconciliation; and it is in education that we can effectively put them into practice. We initiate our students into a process of integration of personal life and society that leads them to growing collaboration and thus promoting reconciliation to deal with conflicts.
Conclusion: You are special; so also everyone else!
A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a R20.00 note. In the room of 200, he asked, "Who would like this R20 note?" Hands started going up. He said, "I am going to give this R20 to one of you but first, let me do this. He proceeded to crumple up the R20 note. He then asked, "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air. Well, he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into
the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. Still the hands went into the air. My friends, we have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth R20. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who DO LOVE you.
The worth of our lives comes not in what we do or who we know, but by WHO WE ARE – Children of God.You are special- so is every one else. That is the recognition that we want to inculcate through Jesuit education. Stay Blessed and make others blessed!!!!!