Trace N.5, May 2003

The “Weapon” for Rebuilding the Human

“Not only am I interested in education, but also, in particular, in the type of innovative suggestions Fr Giussani proposes in recovering education as a Christian activity. I would have much to say about the book The Risk of Education. But, alas, I am in such complete harmony with Giussani that it seems I can only say, ‘I would like to have said it myself.’” These are the words of Stanley Hauerwas, the “best theologian in America” in 2001, according to Time magazine. Along with some fifty university professors, philosophers, and pedagogues, he recently took part in a conference at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The theme was The Risk of Education, Fr Giussani’s book that has recently appeared in the United States. It was a small but meaningful event, which took place a short distance away from the buildings in which the geopolitical rearrangement of the world was being decided at the same time. This is a coincidence that–more than many speeches–helps us to look at the confusion of this period with discernment.
About thirty years ago, the poet Pier Paolo Pasolini took an interest in the young people who in the 1970s were parading through the streets with chants and slogans, wanting to change the world. He perceived a weakness in that impulse: they put their trust in good feelings and extolled organization as the solutions to problems. But that “unlucky generation,” Pasolini said, had not found the time to be moved in front of the tabernacles of the ancients or a sixteenth-century painter. And by refusing tradition, they found themselves without roots for approaching the present.
Today, in this confused time marked by violence, terror, and war, many think once again that they can make it by appealing to good feelings and by extolling the strength of organizations. Thus, it seems that the entire field of human action is occupied by just two possibilities: sentimental slogans in favor of peace and tolerance, or the refined and powerful strategy of nations. In the final analysis, in both cases the construction of a better future is devolved to the functioning of good organizations. But then they will find out that no good organization (neither on the family level nor the world level) guarantees peace and freedom by itself. Something other is needed.
Almost no one seems to consider that this time of tensions and drama asks man to question himself about what the real resources for facing it are.
Therefore, while everyone seems to settle into positions in which they feel they are right, and thus on all levels–personal, national, and international–the conditions for greater division and conflict are generated, someone takes the bull by the horns and asks: How are we educating our lives and our children? How do we reinforce in young people and in ourselves that which make a man free, ie, capable of pursuing the true, the good, and the just, capable of hoping even in the midst of contradictions? How does a truly free man arise in history? The fifty people at the conference in Washington, DC, asked themselves this question for two days with a seriousness that is even more exemplary because it is hard to find these days. In the dialogues of Drs Schindler, Hauerwas, Tillman, and their colleagues, there was nothing of the artificial and abstract. All their human and intellectual experience was at stake, so greatly was the problem of education felt to be the number one emergency in America (and thus in the rest of the world), and this right in the very days of the war.
Yet once more, in the midst of the agitated stage of contemporary history, while ideologies of every sort vie hard for the field, Christians take their announcement to the real life of people, fixing points of renewal and hope. And they offer the experience of a present education as the “weapon” for rebuilding the human, for sustaining “the greatness and depth of the struggle between men.” This also happened in Rimini, Italy, on the eve of Easter, when Fr Giussani spoke to 7,000 middle school students: “Man seeks happiness, says the Bible. What is the method? From the moment when the Lord takes us by the shoulders and pushes us forward, from that moment, there is nothing that can take the place of God’s gift in life.”
Education is freedom.