REFLECTIONS on JESUIT EDUCATION
& IGNATIAN PEDAGOGY

Based in part on a talk given in September 2005 by the Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J.,
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
last update: 03 February 2007

EDUCATING THE WHOLE PERSON
Since the founding of their first school in 1548, the Society of Jesus has been committed to educating the whole person, head and heart, intellect and feelings. Disciplined studies engaging critical thinking are constitutive of the call to human excellence. The “product” of a Jesuit education is not a parrot repeating rote knowledge, but a person who exhibits precision of thought, eloquence of speech, moral excellence, and social responsibility. Ignatian pedagogy entails an apprenticeship where teachers “accompany learners in the lifelong pursuit of competence, conscience, and compassionate commitment”—a radically different process than the “banking” model ubiquitous in other educational settings. [If you are taking this class merely for a grade, you have “missed the boat” on this Ignatian ideal, and hence can rest assured that you will not get the grade you want. Please save yourself a lot of frustration­ by dropping the class now—and let the rest of us focus on learning.]

STRIVING FOR THE MAGIS
"Good enough" is never good enough. Jesuit education prods students (and professors) to strive for what is better, and then for what is best. There is no time to "rest on your laurels." Jesuit education strives for excellence.

SO WHAT? The ramifications of this pedagogical stance are manifold. Here are just a few.

  1. First and foremost, it requires students to be active learners. Of course, no one can coach someone who does not want to learn; but, more importantly, what is most significant in Jesuit education—i.e., the drive for excellence, the compassion for others, the commitment to justice—cannot be “taught” but must be “caught.” Teachers can prod, cajole, encourage, dare, and/or provoke, but the student must rise to the challenge. [More fun, of course, is when the student comes to the class and prods, cajoles, encourages, dares, and/or provokes the professor. Turn-about is fair play.]
  2. Ignatian pedagogy assumes that only God has the fullness of wisdom. Teachers are not divine oracles, but expert learners who guide students in the discovery of knowledge. The best compliment in such a case is to have a student say on a course evaluation, “He/she didn’t teach; I used the textbook/Blackboard/website and learned it all myself.”
  3. Jesuit educators really are “professors”: they are committed to certain values and ideals grounded in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and especially in the teaching and example of Jesus himself. Not all values are created equal; some are better than others. Helping students discern the best, and then to act on it, is an integral part of the pedagogical process.

One could continue, but you get the idea.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
The students who will get the most out of this course are those who want to learn what the Bible “says,” how, and why it conveys different messages to different people. There are different pathways by which this learning can proceed, as illustrated by the “Learning Tracks.” By creating an individual “Learning Contract,” each student can “customize” the course to mesh with her/his specific needs and interests. The “tracks” provide basic models for such an individualize program of study. Many students are not accustomed to being “in charge” of their education in this way, having been acculturated to a “passive learning” model. If you are one of those students, this kind of freedom may be enticing, but likewise the responsibility may seem a bit daunting. Trust yourself, take some risks, keep re-evaluating how your plan is working, and don’t forget that your professor-“coach” can be of tremendous help.

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