JECSE Education Delegates Meeting 2020
Green spaces and learning journeys
Not face to face in Lyon as intended, but nevertheless in an atmosphere of friendship, our JECSE Education Delegates met online for three days last November on behalf of our annual mee<ng. How to make the awareness of our mission grow amidst our current European challenges, was the key question we started from. Together we explored more in-depth the challenges we are facing in our European context and how it affects the way we can currently shape our Ignatian paradigm. Complex as our European context is by nature, tendencies like the economization of education in general, growing state interference with confessional education more specifically, and the need to creatively address the field of interiority, spirituality and faith in a secularized and multiconvictional environment, makes our mission quite demanding.
A key mission of reconcilia7on
As for this mission itself, there is a strong need to paint a more coherent horizon. During the last decade, Jesuit Educa<on received a strong and inspiring, but some<mes overwhelming, new input at the global level, star<ng with the ﬁrst cycle of global conferences between 2012 and 2017. A new awareness arose of being part of a large Igna<an family, sharing the same paradigm in our schools, although crea<vely shaping it according to local needs and possibili<es. Collabora<on and networking became the way forwards and Educate Magis was developed as an online community of schools in our Jesuit network, to share stories and best prac<ces, to inspire and support each other.
The link between the Igna<an spirituality and pedagogy was deepened, and in that the meaning of our so-called ‘four C’s’ which describe the development of human next to academic excellence. During the global mee<ng of the educa<on delegates in 2017 a new ac<on statement was formulated. And only last year ‘The Living Tradi<on’ was published, as a reference point for ongoing discernment for our Jesuit schools in the 21st century, combining a summary of founda<onal documents with an explora<on of the global 21st context, and 10 iden<ﬁers pain<ng the picture of what a Jesuit school ideally looks like or strives to more and more become.
Just recently an Educate Magis- and Secretariat of Jesuit Educa<on-team developed an interac<ve infographic integra<ng all these new perspec<ves, including the new Universal Apostolic Preferences now guiding all diﬀerent apostolates.
In the very midst of this integrated infographic, we ﬁnd a unifying horizon in our key mission of reconcilia<on: reconcilia<on with each other as fellow human beings, with God and with crea<on. This is a step-by-step process, star<ng with fostering an aWtude of hearXelt empathy in our school communi<es through crea<ng spaces for contempla<on and in-depth dialogue, to become more sensi<ve to each other, to nature and to the inner voice of the Spirit.
A process of discernment
It is through prac<cing this greater aYen<veness in our (personal and professional) lives and in our dialogue with others, that as a school community we can learn to discern our way forward with greater sensi<vity to needs and possibili<es, and to accompany each other on our ‘learning journeys for the greater good’. It is this appeal Father General Sosa sj currently makes to us in all our apostolates: to go on a journey as a community, to start this process of discernment, and to accompany each other in this process.
And this was exactly the dynamic we explored during our delegates mee<ng, guided by
MaYhieu Daum, a consultant from France, experienced in working with diﬀerent religious
orders on processes of renewal, who facilitated part of a Leadership Conference on renewal in the Society of Jesus in Rome last year. MaYhieu took us along in Theory-U, a model for awareness-based change and co-crea<ve leadership. Through deep listening and inten<onal speaking (an interior aWtude close to our well-know Igna<an spiritual conversa<on) the U- model encourages a deep sensing of our current context, and of what wants to be born anew. Not just by jumping the gap but by deeply exploring what we need to let go of (in ourselves and in our current systems); exploring with an open mind, heart and will, suspending our judgment, cynicism and fear. In this regard the ‘boYom of the U’ looks like ‘the eye of the needle’, the old narrow gate in Jerusalem in the days of Jesus, that a camel could only go through by unloading all its packages; only by leWng go of everything old geWng in the way, can we open up to receive the new, to bring new life.
Even online it was an intense experience to share this process as a delegates group. We learned it is cri<cal to well deﬁne the star<ng ques<on and also to allow the ques<on to evolve. And we found the process cannot be hurried and eﬃciently controlled; we would need more <me to let it enroll. If anything, these were our key discoveries: that it is the process itself that maYers, and that we would need to regularly facilitate <me and gentle spaces to reﬂect, meet and share – ‘green spaces’, as our Spanish colleagues name them – for the diﬀerent stakeholders in our schools to make our learning journey together.
As for JECSE, this dynamic is what we are actually aiming to oﬀer at the European level in our conferences as well as our new key programs, like the Igna<an Leadership Program, the new Igna<an Pedagogy program, and our coming European pilot of the Educate Magis online Igna<an Spirituality Course.
Open sharing around our schools in covid crisis 7mes
Finally, on the last morning, we spoke about our experiences in our schools during these covid crisis <mes, which has clearly deeply aﬀected us. In educa<on we ini<ally had liYle
<me for reﬂec<on around this; most of our <me and energy were in dealing with the everyday challenges. Yet a crisis is a <me for discernment by deﬁni<on: what is it that this crisis tells us about our current society which our educa<on is embedded in; and how are we to respond on this longer term?
As I personally feel it, in my role as JECSE director, we should be aware that the new normal can easily become a sliding scale and, in all fear and confusion, we may lose our hearXelt connec<on and cross human and ethical lines in a way that would otherwise have been unthinkable; so we should try to stay in touch with the human needs in our communi<es and serve them as well as we can.
I also hope we will cherish ourselves the principle we preach in our educa<on of cri<cal thinking, and allow cri<cal ques<ons being asked around what would be a balanced response. The covid crisis is revealing the inequali<es and injus<ces in our current structures even clearer, and Fr Pedro Arrupe’s pledge for faith and jus<ce calls us not just to respect all people but also to work together toward dismantling unjust social structures. This, he said, was ‘following Jesus’; through humanizing the world, striving to overcome the egoism that dehumanizes both persons and ins<tu<ons.
And ﬁnally, however much we may disagree with each other, it would be essen<al not to fall into the trap of being polarized. To me, in this other huge human crisis, back in 2001, one of the most miraculous signs of hope was the decision of so many – though deeply hurt and shocked – people not to let themselves be polarized. To me this wisdom in such a <me of disrup<on seemed a milestone for human consciousness.
It was for this reason that I asked Fr Klaus Mertes sj (former German delegate with a long history in Jesuit educa<on) to speak during our mee<ng about his experience during his last year as a Principal in the College of St Blasien in the rather tough German climate around the
covid crisis. He told us with wisdom and integrity about how he managed to maintain the care for the school community, what tensions he encountered and how he preserved unity in the school community.
He pointed out how Corona exposes strengths and weaknesses in the system, and also exposes diﬀerent characters; and how the college management faced the diﬃcult task of maintaining unity in the school community.
Like many of us he discovered that digital teaching does not replace face-to-face teaching, and how the good students from good family backgrounds tend to win, leaving the others behind.
And how students like to go to school; how school is also a shelter for many pupils. So how he was shocked by the serenity with which poli<cs and society allowed the violence in families to increase parallel to the shutdown of child-centres and schools.
And in line with that: how Corona challenges the self-image of the teaching profession. And raises ques<ons that aﬀect our understanding of educa<on and our values as a whole. Issues which are discussed among the young people, too, which is why we cannot remain silent about it in our schools. These are all ques<ons that also aﬀect our Igna<an proﬁle.
Pedagogical core areas, like the meaning of rules, are aﬀected. Where, in our understanding of cri<cal-thinking-educa<on, is the place where the sense or nonsense of rules can be discussed? This is also a key ques<on for the gospel: Jesus healed on the Sabbath – not because he thought the Sabbath-rules were wrong, but because he applied the rule to the welfare of people, not the other way around. But this ques<on needs constant discussion. It is never ﬁnally answered. Corona makes this problem par<cularly clear.
Klaus’ valuable story then invited us to share our own experiences and concerns in the same
respecXul way as we’d prac<ced during the ﬁrst days.