The University of St. Tomas in Manila via Wikimedia Commons

Total Experience. Truth at Stake

On April 4th at the University of St. Tomas in Manila, "The Risk of Education" by Luigi Giussani was presented. The re-discovery of the true mission of education.
Malou Samson

The campus was unusually quiet, save for a few students and teachers hurrying here and there, their minds already on the summer break that beckons. But for the over 60 heads of colleges, deans, and professors from the University of St. Tomas and other Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Manila, April 4th’s event would address their curiosity about the invitation to attend the presentation of a book with an intriguing title: The Risk of Education.

This presentation was put together through the endorsement of the newly appointed cardinal, His Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales of the Archdiocese of Manila, who was eager to introduce the CL charism to the Filipino people. Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs of the university, Dr. Armando de Jesus, enthusiastically agreed to host the event.

Dr. De Jesus opened with a wonderful admission that for someone like him, with over three decades of teaching experience, the risk of mistaking the “trees for the forest” is a real dilemma. He reminded everyone, especially those who have been teaching for so long, that “classroom teaching and classroom practices do not make for education.” Ms. Giancarla Vanoli, the cultural attaché of the Italian Embassy in the Philippines, told us the three reasons why she accepted the invitation. First of all, she is Italian and proud of the fact that education is an important aspect of Italian life and culture, and that Giussani and CL have significantly influenced the bigger scheme of social, political, and intellectual debates. Secondly, she is Catholic and was once a student at the Sacred Heart University of Milan when Giussani was becoming a prominent teacher there. But she is proudest of the fact that she is an educator herself, excited to be there that morning to answer, once more, the challenge of reflecting more closely on the true mission of education.

Provoking curiosity
Fr. Ambrogio Pisoni challenged us to look at our ordinary life experiences and to present the past, our culture, and traditions to the students in a reasonable way, as present-day living experiences. He reminded us that “our past is the richness of our present.” This method of education is quite a novelty for many young Filipino teachers who are enamored with the fresh, modern approaches and techniques of education, brought about by the onslaught of modern technology. His message was timely for the teachers, most of whom are young and inexperienced, themselves needy of older mentors who can bring the richness of tradition into the classrooms in a manner that is alive and in touch with the youth.

Educating as parenting
The reaction from the panel began with Dr. Pilar Romero, a petite and lively professor of “Christian Living” courses. As a mother of three, she asserted that educating is like parenting, where the teacher, very much like the parent, is sometimes guilty of influencing the child to the point of forcing personal thoughts and opinions upon the unsuspecting child, thereby eliminating the usefulness of the youth’s own discernment and critical evaluation. A stagnant economy burdened with decades-long vicious politicking and widespread corruption has driven many parents to seek greener pastures abroad, leaving their children behind to the parenting of extended family members and, at best, their teachers and parish priests. Indeed, the teachers of today, now more than ever, have to play the role of pseudo-parents to their wards, who need their constant guidance and companionship. Closer to home, she talked of Giussani’s comment in the book that hospitality, next to love, is a great sacrifice. She went on to exhort everyone to “see what is ethical in what we teach” and she calls for teachers to be more vigilant in instilling ethics, not just scientific discipline, in their courses.

Back to basics
Coming on the heels of a much-applauded Dr. Romero was the eminent educator Msgr. Gerardo Santos, chosen by Cardinal Rosales himself to represent the Archdiocese of Manila. Head of the Executive Council of the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and President of the Manila Archdiocesan and Parochial Schools Association (MAPSA), Fr. Gerry’s brilliant remarks and eloquent reflections about the book left no stone unturned. He began by saying that Giussani mirrors the philosophy of education–that is, to help the human soul reach the reality of truth. With much conviction, he stated that the book should be prescribed as required reading for all who want to be teachers.

He talked repeatedly about how “every human experience, at its depths, can bring us closer to the Divine,” reiterating the importance of the teacher in the human drama that unfolds daily in the classroom. Without missing a beat, he moved on to the topic of the present-day challenges that Philippine educational institutions are facing and how the media has become a potent force that competes with family, church, and schools. He talked of how traditions can come alive as teachers present them to students with the vibrancy of lived experience and not simply theory or mathematical formulae. He ended with fatherly advise: “Go back to the young, speak their language, do not lose them. All our good intentions must be consistently communicated in the voice of love. Be their role models, be their guides and mentors, but, more importantly, be their companions.”