BY JORGE CELA S.J
The Goal of Education
The right to an education is not only an individual right, but also a social one. Society has a right to have its members educated so that they can contribute to the common good.
To educate is not just to communicate knowledge and skills that teach the person to produce. To educate is also to teach how to live, how to live together, how to build community, fraternity and a common project.
To assume responsibility as an educator is to make a commitment to contribute to a common project of building the society that we want to build.
When we ask what can, and should, the Church contribute when it assumes an educational responsibility, we are actually asking what is the sense of society and nation that we, as Americans, share and what can each of us contribute to its construction.
This is the way to understand the responsibility that society, as well as the family, shares in the educational project.
¿What is the shared sense of society and nation towards which we educate? Do we share a common American sense of society and nation? ¿What is that “more perfect union” dreamt by the founding fathers?
The ¨Kingdom of God¨ As Our Project as Christians
¿What is our sense and idea of society as Christians?
Our idea is Jesus´s idea, what He called the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not the Church. The Church is at the service of the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is the kingdom of this world according the heart of God. That is to say a world of peace, of justice of freedom, of fraternity. It is the world, the society, that the founding fathers dreamt of, that we all dream of. It is obvious that as long as we remain at the level of abstraction, we all are in agreement. The problems begin when we start to come down to the practical level of the how: How to build peace, justice, fraternity and freedom. In our case, as Americans, as a nation, the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of this American world as dreamt by the founding fathers who speak of the need to create ¨a more perfect union¨.
The diversity of ideas, of proposals, of projects and ways on how to concretely achieve the dream has two possible solutions; the imposition of one proposal over the others, or an open dialogue in search of a basic minimum consensus and the acceptance by all of certain diversities. We are many times tempted by the appeal of expediency to resort to imposition by force. The Church itself succumbed to this temptation many times throughout history. In many countries the imposition of a so-called “national-Catholicism” allied to political and/or military power overtook us with disastrous consequences. This was a recurrent temptation for many religions which believing themselves in exclusive possession of the truth felt entitled to impose it for the sake of the good of the people and ended up becoming an absolute power that absolutely corrupted itself.
This was also true of some states that seeking perpetuation attempted to ally themselves with religious power in an attempt to sacralize their own power and their abuse of it.
The Shared Dream
In the present day the Church, having learned the failure of such ways, seeks with Pope Francis the way of dialogue. Renouncing hegemonic power, renouncing the claim to be the sole possessor of the truth and instead entering into dialogue with diversity in the search of a shared life lived in peace, justice, liberty and fraternity.
The pluralism of modern societies, ever more diverse, calls us to interculturality, to interreligious dialogue and to democratic participation. Pope Francis´s effort to introduce sinodality into the Church, to enter into dialogue with other religions, to renounce the symbols and structures of power opens new pathways. Dialogue does not mean renouncing one´s own identity, but it does mean that one´s own identity is not built by denying other´s identity, but rather by finding new ways of relating to them. When this Outgoing Church, as Pope Francis likes to call it, enters the public sphere it is not to appropriate it, but to participate, as one more participant, in the construction of the Common Good. Accepting the other as the other is, without seeking to dilute diversity, but rather dialoguing with it towards a mutual acceptance so that a joint effort can be achieved; as Pope Francis likes to put it, not by trying to occupy spaces but rather trying to make it a dynamic process.
When we, as Church, seek to participate in the educational effort, that is, in Education we do so not to divide and separate, but in order to collaborate in the effort to achieve that which unites us in spite of our differences, in spite of our diversity, which is to educate towards the common dream, the project of the Founding Fathers which we share. We all want a world of people who are creative and innovative, and who use their creative and innovative spirit to work together in a way that balances solidarity and healthy competitiveness in a way that teaches them the attitude for dialogue and the capacity for shared living in diversity.
As a light in the darkness of history
That is what we should seek to be when we undertake the mission of education. Our identity as Christians beckons us in that direction. Jesus invited us to be light to the world. The function of light is not to blind us with its glare so that we are unable to see our surroundings. The function of light is, rather, to illuminate our surroundings so that we can fully see the terrain where we walk, choose the path of our choice and thus unveil and enjoy the beauty of the world as well as its weaknesses that we may repair them, indeed, light is not self-referential. Neither is the vocation of the Church. On the contrary, the vocation of the Church in Education is: to be a light that illuminates knowledge, creativity, freedom to choose diverse paths that beckons into a new relationship between creation and persons. The Church is not called to be self-referential, but rather, like light, alter-referential, service oriented.
Jesus speaks to us about a kingdom where those who weep can laugh and where the dispossessed will own the earth; where the peacemakers will collaborate to create a kingdom of fraternity, of mercy, of forgiveness, of justice, of freedom and of peace. That is why the presence of the Church in Education must be especially directed towards those existential peripheries populated by the forgotten and the dispossessed.
This is a kingdom where there is a place for all and where all are welcome and all can coexist. A kingdom where Nature is cared for and tended to as the common home of the human family, where every person is acknowledged as a child of God, where no one is excluded because of age, gender, disability, race, ideology, sexual orientation, religion or social or economic condition. A kingdom that is built by all and belongs to all.
Jesus teaches us that that kingdom is inside each of us, small as a mustard seed so that we can tend to it and help it grow into a fully-grown bush. This is the true work of education, this work of tending the possibilities possessed by each human being and which we must help him or her to discover and develop. Etymologically, this is the meaning of education, educere, to bring out.
First the person in his or her Community
The first goal of our contribution to education is the very subject of education, that is, the human person, revalued as a child of God, a value that transcends any other qualification and brings us to the unlimited respect deserved by every single human being which does not allow exclusion nor discrimination of any sort. Our contribution to education finds its point of departure in that integral humanism which unveils the absolute value of each person and his or her unlimited capacity for growth and development.
This work of fostering growth and development is a collective effort. That is why education requires involving not only the teachers, but also the entire educational community. That includes the family, the neighborhood, the friends, the media and the community of which the Church is part. It is not simply a question of communicating knowledge, but rather a question of creating a human milieu of life lived in fraternity.
Jesus proposes to all Christians the parable of the talents. Education is a gift received to be placed at the service of the community. We are not individual beings in isolation from our existential communities. The bounty that we receive from the collective educational effort is to be placed at the service of the community. Thus we become the subjects of the collective history who collaborate in the construction of the Common Good, a more perfect union.
The Global Common Good; the “more perfect union.”
That is why part of our educational job is to restore the very concept of the Common Good, which in postmodern society tends to fade or disappear in the face of individualist interests. It is necessary to restore the realization that the common good, the good of all, is the best good for me. And this should not be a theoretical teaching but an experience lived in the very modes of learning, not only in the content of what is taught. Our contribution must lead towards a style of life that is shared and solidary, of teamwork and of defense of the collective interest.
Our contribution must be in line with Pope Francis´s proposal of collaborating in the ¨Global Educational Village¨. The Pope said, citing an African global village proverb, that “it needs a village to raise a child”. In our present globalized world it has become necessary that the globalized village commit itself to participate in the education of the global citizens with an ecological emphasis. The Pope insisted, upon announcing the educational initiative of September 12 2019, ¨Never before has there been a greater need to unify our efforts in a broad educational alliance to form mature persons capable of overcoming divisions and antagonisms and heal the tissue of human relations for the sake of a more fraternal humanity¨. The Pope described his proposal as ¨an alliance that generates peace, justice and hospitality among all the peoples who form the human family as well as dialogue between religions¨.
In Our Tradition
As we collaborate in the educational work we must purify our intentions in the light of the gospel and not in that of old models and schemes. We are called to conversion so that we can authentically become that which we want to give and thus be able to give what we are.
We want to be, as educators, like salt that may help to bring out the best in the American people so that we can contribute in building together that more perfect union dreamt by the founding fathers.