Teacher with her Students. Flickr

Educating is a Risk

In 1983, the parents and teachers of the Milanese school San Tommaso Moro had a conversation with Fr. Giussani. Here we offer notes from that encounter. Out of a man's experience of faith come realism and creativity.
Luigi Giussani

Our school is a civilian and Catholic operation. It is marked, therefore, by an urge to witness to the faith. In this sense we are living a division-and we feel it deeply-in the effort to find a balance between our witness and the educational content that we pass on to the students. What are the conditions for effecting a cultural synthesis? Where does the educator's heart lie?
Luigi Giussani: The word "culture" by its very nature implies the ability to communicate inherent in every fulfilled human reality: the heart and the mind. Culture can only indicate the dynamism lived by a real person. The possibility of culture exists as a "mandate" of one's humanity that one obeys. Anyone who does not feel teaching is a mission should not teach.

The word "synthesis" is an eminently biological term, a word that has to do with life, an organic term; it can only come about in someone who is alive and who feels that what they contain can be communicated. It is not yet a moral question, it is a question of humanity. The transmission of content becomes one with the experience that an individual, a person, lives. How does this synthesis come about? As human normality; it is a normal human situation. In the transmission (trans-mission) the first condition is that the synthesis have already happened within oneself, in one's own personality. It is the concept of generation: someone generates something whose synthesis is already in oneself. The missionary urge is something that belongs to a real human subject; whoever does not have a missionary urge is not a real human subject.

With this as a premise, there is still the whole matter of the attention to be paid to the method of transmission. It must be aimed completely at evaluating the condition of the question that is in the students and in their history, which is to say their parents.

Now, the a priori factor that guides this school is faith. As this is the case, the "cultural synthesis" can be made not by an intellectual effort, but as a deepening of one's connection with the event of Christ: If Jesus Christ has nothing to say to your life, then you cannot achieve a cultural synthesis from the viewpoint of the Christian event.

Schooling cannot but coincide with one's sense of personal responsibility with regard to one's faith, with the personal commitment to deepen one's faith. This is what ensures the possibility of an action. Teaching any subject (and this implies a global vision), transmitting a culture cannot happen except in the measure in which faith involves one's own person, first of all, above and beyond what one teaches. In teaching anything, one effects a transmission of a point of view onto the whole world: "A faith which does not become culture (that is to say, does not determine the expressiveness of my 'I') is a faith that has not been fully accepted, not completely thought out, not faithfully lived." (John Paul II, January 16, 1982)

In order to carry out one's mission in school, the real concern is to deepen one's own faith, not to find some special mechanism for teaching.

The word "synthesis" coincides with the word "judgment," a judgment that must be made on the basis of a criterion that has been assimilated.

To be sure, the problem of pedagogy, or the art of teaching, exists. In the method of transmitting one must keep in mind the situation, the tone of the class, the point in history where one is at that moment, whether in the student's or the parents' (who represent tradition to the students) history. Respecting the parents' history, the tone of the class, and the individual is a pedagogical problem; it can never provide an obstacle for the urge toward a mission.

In middle school the students are at an age in which intuition and original tradition must become conviction, so that they not get started down the path toward indifference or traditionalism. How can we help them in this?
Giussani: The method of God and the Church is expressed in the word "patience." The time it takes for results to happen is absolutely not determined by us. In fact, we cannot elude the most mysterious value that resides in man, his freedom (which is the connection between self-awareness and one's destiny). The method by which a person adheres to his fate is truly a mystery between him and God. We must trust in the future (this is called hope) that the good seeds, once scattered, will sooner or later bear fruit.
Patience means respecting freedom, respecting times that are not ours.

The first and basic rule is that one must give a reason for what one says. If we see that the reason is not grasped, then we have to find a better way to communicate it. We must know how to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and this will be useful to ourselves first of all.

The second rule is the example that must be set by parents and educators. What does it mean to set an example? First of all, it is not a question of moral consistency. Young people, especially preteens, are uncompromising with regard to their educators' consistency in their ideals. If the young people see that faith never has anything to do with the things we say, with the criteria of our choices, if it never comes into play in judging the things that happen in life, this works destructively within the students' awareness. The humanity that the teacher shows in his or her relationship with the students and the moral weight of faith on what he or she says are extremely important. Forgiveness, mercy, loyalty are part of this humanity.

Another crucial directive is companionship: The first instance of companionship is that between parents and teachers, a companionship understood as ideas to be exchanged and the suggestion of attitudes to be taken. Then there is companionship as an instrument; it is important to encourage companionship among the students. This has to be delicately suggested and instigated by adults, but then the young people have to take over and do it themselves, albeit under guidance. For example, if there is a problem that seems to be causing dissension among the students, then they have to be encouraged to discuss it with each other.

A school like this must astutely favor the use of their free time, not only for after-school activities, but also to pursue their own interests.

It is necessary to encourage the students to spend their energy in giving, in charity. A Catholic school must favor the engagement of the heart and strength in giving, it must use togetherness as fun, as festivity, and to multiply the multiplicity of interests: theater, cinema, guided tours, music….

The companionship as such does not necessarily have to organize all these activities, but favor them to the point where a level is reached in which the life of the companionship is self-generating: that is, it is self-generated by the young people themselves.

A companionship must be lived also among the adults who give life to this project.

Nonetheless, if all these criteria are combined with incompetence in the subject one teaches, this is a serious matter; one has to be faithful to one's work.

Thus, if one is to teach, he or she must be prepared!

One must not be afraid to make the students work, because nothing is learned without working at it. Otherwise, people grow up "soft," without any ethical substance. This is a problem of method, to be adopted child by child. Everyone has to do his own job; with those who don't want to do it, it is necessary to be rough, but with intransigence and affection; this is another aspect of cultural synthesis.

There are initiatives that the school can take, and others that have to be taken by the students. The important thing is that the activity of the adults not intrude on the students' capacity for initiative; it is necessary to suggest and encourage, but with respect. The most incisive initiatives are those that rise up from the bottom.

There is a very simple way to destroy an education: by putting two values in opposition to each other. This generates cynicism and skepticism.