International Congress on Education
Castel Gandolfo, March 31 – April 2, 2006
At the School of….
In a “society without father figures” like the one we have today, especially in the West, the title of this paper could almost appear to be provocative: “At the School of….”
But if with Freire and others, we look at education as “a way to impact the world,” we will note that the history of civilization can be re-read precisely according to the teachers who have enlightened its different eras, up to our present day.
It is a history that crosses cultures and epochs; that presents us with teachers who differed greatly, although they had the same passion; who gradually led us to discover civilizations and contexts that have influenced the educational process and, at the same time, have benefited from it.
In underscoring the relationship between environment and the actions of the educator and learner, the different educational theories have preferred one or the other of the three “subjects” which in Chiara Lubich’s text on “Jesus the Teacher” are closely interrelated, enabling us to glimpse a new interpretive category of pedagogical research and experimentation.
Polis and school
With regard to the environment, we notice that in ancient times the “social group” was the privileged place for education, where young people learned from the elders. In many civilizations the teacher lived with the students and when their number grew, their living together often assumed the form of a little city.
Significantly, it was precisely the establishment of the polis in Greece that gave life to real and true education which, starting from physical education, gradually accompanied the growth of a citizen, developing a pedagogical theory closely connected to the civil good: from the “group of followers” of Pythagoras (6th century BC) which envisioned life in common, to the “Academy” of Plato where the teacher and the disciples lived together and every activity assumed an educational role, from the “Garden” of Epicurus to the “Painted Porch” of Zeno.
Christianity in its first centuries, with its strong communitarian component, saw in the group that gathered around the elder (presbyteros) the privileged “place” for education. At the same time, it underlined the indispensable value of family education. Real and true little cities grew up around the abbeys which served as cultural and educational centers for centuries.
During the Renaissance the school model that emerged was that of the college (linked both to the figure of great teachers and to religious orders) where life in common included a wide variety of activities.
But it was above all in the modern age that education was opened up to everyone and dealt with the formation of the person who must become an active subject in society. In pedagogical activism, the living together of educator and students “from morning to night” was seen not as a means of control, but “in order to educate them.” The privileged place of education, emphasized Ferriére, is really within everyday living, in society where one works and acts.
At the school of teachers
Looking at the educator, we can observe how the term teacher, from the Latin magister (magis = more, the one who helps to be more), which initially indicated a commander, had taken on the meaning of gentleman and then crafts or music teacher.
Today this term usually indicates two aspects which are often overlapping or conflicting: teacher as guide (the one who responds to a “vocation” and carries out a selfless, gratuitous work motivated by love for what is good) and teacher as instructor (who develops a “profession” demonstrating specific competency and the capacity to make others participate).
We can find the figure of such teachers as far back as in ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs, in the China of Confucius, in the religion of the Hebrew people and then through the centuries in the Sophists, in Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, up to Augustine, Thomas….
Freely giving up the pleasure associated with the power of knowledge in order to help others, is a reflection of divine benevolence (from that of the mythological gods who give man the knowledge of fire… to that of the Love of the Father). And “saviors” (Jesus, Buddha…) and “spokespeople” (prophets, Jews, Muslims…) are highlighted as teachers par excellence who are also “witnesses” of what they affirm. A circle of followers is formed around them, attracted not only by their gestures but also by the beauty and sublimity of their ideals of life.
We could recall here all the pre-medieval Christian pedagogical tradition which makes reference to a divine Pedagogy in which the divine level is engrafted on and animates the human one: the “teacher” par excellence is God who shows the way towards the Truth.
The figure of the witness-teacher clearly shows the need for a transcendental pedagogical model in which the educator does not put him or herself above the others in order to teach, in the sense of indoctrinating, but in order to provide his or her “version.” The gift of one’s own point of view is aimed not at uniformity, but at stimulating and appreciating the different viewpoints and, therefore, at calling forth the potential and the active creative participation of the students.
At the school of the Teacher
Chiara Lubich enters into this current of life and thought. We feel it is possible to affirm that if on the one hand this text on “Jesus the Teacher” can be analyzed under the profile of a theological and experiential model, on the other hand, it can open the way to new and stimulating hypotheses of pedagogical research towards the formation of a theory.
One reading is enough to realize that this text is aimed directly at the figure of Jesus-Teacher-Model. Therefore, it is not an abstract adherence to a handed-down model, but the personal experience of an authentic, vivifying encounter, in history, with the Person of Jesus.
He is the Teacher because through his teachings he leads, supports and directs; and he is the Model because on the phenomenological and experiential basis of Chiara’s life, and that of the people who have followed this lifestyle, she and her first companions can testify to its extraordinary “salvific” effects for humanity.
Jesus’ characteristics as educator are fascinating: “he himself incarnated his doctrine;” “he concretely helped his friends;” “he instilled confidence, he believed in the possibilities of others;” “he left each person free and responsible to make his or her own decisions;” “he did not hesitate to correct… when necessary;” but he always showed “the mercy of the Father;” “he used a language that was lively, filled with images, concrete, brief and precise;” and he made room “for dialogue;” “he was not afraid to overturn the traditional scale of values.”
Such strong Christ-centered statements, which place the pedagogy of the charism of unity on the track of Christian pedagogy rooted in the Patristic tradition, immediately present something new: Christ – the Teacher, the risen Lord, is the one who “lives among the inhabitants of the little city.”
The centrality of Jesus the Teacher is coupled here with the dimension of relationship, a focal dimension in the pedagogical experience and reflection of modernity, thus shedding light on many key topics of modern and contemporary pedagogy: the relationship between child-centered and adult-centered, between autonomy and heteronomy, between freedom and guidance in teaching.
This centrality of the relational dimension is an innovation that will require in-depth studies, but which already appears to be a real and true “Copernican revolution” that explains a new educational paradigm rooted in tradition, but also strongly innovative and capable of interpreting the issues and challenges of the present and future.
We could say that Chiara Lubich introduces a kind of systematic model of research, recognizing the ontological priority of relationship that is fulfilled according to the twofold dimension of the relationship with God and with neighbor. According to this principle, the essence of each entity is defined by its relationships.
Furthermore, in Chiara Lubich’s text, relationship is not presented only in its dimension of relationship between, but as a “third element” (Jesus present and alive in the midst of those who love one another), who becomes the true Teacher.
The educational relationship
We have proof of this truth in God’s closeness to us, his presence in every neighbor. In this sense, the countenance of the other person attests to the infinite that dwells in every human being, and therefore, to the more or less conscious relationship that each person has with God, one that is accomplished, as we said, through concrete relationships with others.
“Experience, the idea of the infinite,” says Levinas, takes place in relationship with others.” And Buber underscores that the goal of relationship is contact with the You and that in this encounter we perceive a breath of eternal life.
Mounier, in speaking about the three dimensions relative to a person, after that of “vocation” (which makes the person strive for unity) and of “incarnation” (which roots him or her in time and space), indicates “communication” which represents the essential connection between persons who, through the bond of love, allow the decentralization of the I into the you.
Freire presents education itself as a “dialogical act” There are numerous contemporary theories which in placing “relationship” at the core of their vision of education, present a new dialectic between the educator and the learner.
Tommaso Sorgi points out that this produces a new situation: “The social reality we face now is no longer twofold as in the past, but triadic. There is a third element: the relationship that proceeds from the two subjects. It has reached a certain degree of consistency: in some measure it has become a psychological and social entity (subjective and objective) (…) It penetrates the first two Realities (personal) and gives meaning to their being together. Certainly, it is not a third person, but it is a real tertium, a psychosocial reality that is placed in the midst of the two and acts on the two (tertium agens). It becomes a Reality between the two, which, born and nurtured by their acting-with, in its turn nurtures their action, it helps them to grow as individuals and as a group, to fulfill themselves in a given manner and with growing depth of life. In some measure this Reality between the two also envelops them, contains them, transforms them, conditioning them from the outside and stimulating them from the inside. Without annulling the two identities, it favors their progressive partial interpenetration (…), to the point of making them a “We,” one vital block, even though not absolutely one, which is not simply a sum or a mere relating to one another, but a communion of persons.”
It follows then that in the pedagogy of unity, education not only needs relationship, but it is relationship, it is accomplished in relationship, and all the subjects of education – educators, learners and environment – exist and are transformed in relationship.
This opens many fascinating and stimulating avenues of research perspectives:
- we will have to rediscover the identity, the vocation of the educator, giving back to this “fatherless” society not the figure of an authoritarian father, but one who is capable of stirring up new life in others and giving valid answers to the disorientation that blocks many. This would connect then with the formation of educators, with educational ethics….
- we will have to explain the essential elements of relationship in which both educators and learners are not only subjects and objects of the educational process, but they will also be channels for one another of the gift of the one Teacher. All educators, in fact, given the responsibility they have, will be subjects of education in a dynamically asymmetrical position with respect to learners, but at the same time they will discover themselves as objects of education in relation to the true Educator and to the learners themselves.
- If for Christians such a relationship is based on the ethics that Jesus brought on earth and summed up in his commandment “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you,” we will have to explore assimilable ethical principles present in different cultures.
- We will also have to examine how we can base each phase of the educational relationship on the true one (mutual love): from the planning stage (which must derive from an authentic relationship among educators), to that of achievement (which develops thanks to living interpersonal relations both among individual subjects and collectivities), to the evaluation. This basic tenet will lead to postponing everything until such relationship is possible. Relationship, that is, the living presence of the Teacher among us, comes before capabilities, knowledge, the teacher’s authority; and it comes before the freshness, receptivity and innovation typical of the young. It comes before planning, which should be done in every case and be continually renewed; it comes before the desire to reach certain objectives.
This is the challenge we have before us: in order to promote the development of each person as an integrated unity in harmony with his or her various faculties or dimensions; we need to bring about an education founded on this model of relationship. This will be the answer to the thrust towards unity which is the profound essence of every human being.