Educating the Whole Person

Why is Ignatius Loyola placed with educators from Socrates to Dewey as one of the world’s great innovators of education? After his profound spiritual conversion at Manresa in Spain, Ignatius gathered around him an energetic band of well-educated men who desired nothing more than to help others find God in their lives. Seems like a simple and healthy idea but it still has trouble even today of finding traction. The activity of seeking God in all things makes sense down deep. The payoff is peace minus all the anxiety, anger and suspiciousness so prevalent in our society. It may sound like a Pollyanna approach to living, but in reality it really does work to reduce the pressure level that courses through our veins every time we turn on the news.

In the early days while the Vatican was condemning vernacular bibles and prayer books of Protestants, Jesuits were translating their beliefs into Tamil, Japanese, Vietnamese and other languages. While the original mission was not education, within 10 years of its’ founding – the Society of Jesus had opened 30 colleges around the world. Ignatius revised his original plan and became an enthusiastic champion of systematic education. Education was no longer for religious or the elite it was for anyone. Today there is an extensive network of Jesuit schools educating one and a half million students. There are 90 Jesuit colleges in 27 countries. That is not to mention the many Cristo Rey and Nativity networked schools founded specifically for financially strapped communities. Here in the United States the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities have over a million living graduates.

So the ingenuity of these schools and the approach used in them disposes people not just to think outside the box, but to live outside the box. It gives individuals the chance to stretch their wings and their perspectives offering true choices for what kind of a life they want to live but more importantly what they can positively do with their talents. That is where “finding God in all things” comes into to play. “We’ve always done it that way” can now be questioned and analyzed.

Stephen Jacobs, S.J. of Regis University, Denver lists four priorities of Jesuit Education that have hardly changed since 1600.

1. Education needs to be practical. focusing on knowledge and skills to succeed in a chosen field. Which makes sense. To be the best at what one does.

2. Education needs to address life’s most basic questions like what are values? What are a person’s values? What does it mean to be a good citizen a good leader and how to use the education one gets for others? The idea to use what one has learned to make this a better world is an example of justice. That rather than be selfish, we use knowledge to solve problems together for the betterment of all. In that way we all benefit. To whom much is given much is expected.

3. Faith and reason are not opposed to one another. How much energy has been spent on a either/or solution to the faith and reason issue? The debate suggests a deep seed fear that the head and the heart can never be joined or at best, live compatibly with one another. Issues such as the origins of life, love, God, after life and being for and with others need not take sides. Education needs to bridge between the two. Darwin can be a man of faith. Too much in the head or too much in the clouds makes living in the present very difficult. And isn’t that where we spend most of our time…in the present?

4. Education is not knowledge for it’s own sake, but the more basic question needs to ask “knowledge for what?” Is it for money? Is it for prestige? Is it for the “other”? Nothing wrong to want to succeed and to be compensated for it, but we also have a collective responsibility to use the new knowledge we gain from education to better those around us as well. Beware of the professional student who spends most of their time in pursuit of knowledge forgetting they live in an imperfect world that needs them.

and so it goes...