REINTERPRETATION OF THE PRESENCES
IN THE FORMATION AND EDUCATION OF TODAY
Br Ramón Benseny fms
“The model we have inherited is not the whole model”
Not long ago, reading a report from UNESCO called “Education: a hidden treasure” (Ed. Odile Jacob, 1996) I was struck by the words of M. Jacques Delors, then President of the European Commission, who defined our modern culture as “a culture lacking in soul”.
The man of today goes through many experiences. In the First World, he is eaten up by consumerism, by “progress”, and so on. In the Third and Fourth Worlds, it is by striving to better himself, by anxiety, by the need to survive. And in the midst of all this, among the youth of today, the adults of tomorrow, there is a growing indifference to fundamental verities.We find this even in not a few of our Catholic educational establishments, in which the mission of the school is not fully supported by the underlying culture.
The social framework in which many of our educational projects are carried out is a new one, which is taking over rapidly – an ambience which is multiethnic, multicultural, secularized, and multi-religious. It is my opinion that we must rethink the various “presences” in the light of the will to resolve the needs of the young people of today, immersed as they are in social realities that are for the most part highly conflicting both for their personal balance and their social balance.
When we look at the cultural situations and the challenges they bring, together with new possibilities for evangelical and charismatic witness, we have to have the AUDACITY not only to analyse the new realities and to take an “evangelical consciousness” of them, but also and primarily to PROCLAIM with creative fidelity new presences, new values and projects, new institutional language. Fidelity to our charisma demands of us both at personal and institutional levels, that we live “prepared for and attentive to” the social and cultural tendencies that have so much influence on the formation, awareness, values, and development of the personality of the young. We must be aware of all this preparedness and attention in order to re-interpret and re-situate our educational establishments. They exist for the young people, not for us.
Many times, torn between the desire for the almost impossible and the confident yearning for the possible, I have asked myself: “Is it possible nowadays in our educational establishments, to give “new responses” to “new challenges”, without putting at risk the system in which we live, a system which is largely the fruit of “old responses” to “old challenges?”
The confidence our Founders had in the evangelical vitality of the RELIGIOUS LIFE and in their deeply evangelical “intuition”, is something that pulls us strongly to a “creative refounding” of our life, our works, our institutions. Personally I have a strong belief in the impelling force of the charisma, in its unrenounceable place in the deepest heart of the mission, but so often swamped in a multitude of structures which accommodate themselves to the times.
A “re-founding” will be “prophetic and creative” if it is concerned to be RECOGNIZED in a NEW WAY OF LOOKING AT INSTITUTIONAL LIFE, and in PRESENCES which, coming to life like a tree, including starting from lowly beginnings, are capable of hearing the new cries of the people and of coming to life in the new needs. This is what we mean when we talk so forcefully about “displacement”, “exodus”, “frontier”.
TOWARDS A NEW INTERPRETATION
With your permission I will present a simple scheme for an “itinerary of displacement”, to be understood in more than a geographical sense. I will be commenting on this throughout my intervention.
It is clear that every model of formation or of education implies an ideology or a mentality (standard or point of reference) which gives a concrete image of the educator, the work, and those who are educated. Faced with this and with the scheme which follows, certain questions arise, for example:
- What should our formative/educational presence be for the man of today, starting with a creative faithfulness to our charism?
- Is there not an urgent need to “rethink” our heritage, or to “re-situate” our patrimony?
- How close are we to the young people who, in many situations, both geographical and social, are placing themselves on the edges of the Church, or are in situations of risk?
- Is the culture, the “pedagogical/ administrative” functioning, of our schools, clearly open to the Gospel, to the dignity of the person…, or is it a culture aimed at power and competence?
- What are the social groups or the forces to whose service we have put our schools?
- What kind of men and women do we want to form, and what kind of society, what kind of men, what kind of women, are we actually forming?
Our charism is not an unchangeable myth. I see it as the strong light of a lighthouse, which, although it has one fixed centre, also has moveable reflectors which spread light and signals, “changing the dimensions of the horizon”, and the further they cast their light, the better they carry out their function.
TOWARDS A REINTERPRETATION OF OUR EDUCATIONAL MODELS
(It must be noted that these points are not mutually exclusive, but run into one another quite often.)
The following schema will explain what I am doing:
B: Reinterpretation (“displacement” and its various levels.)
1. Everything centred on the work: improve and develop it. Build it up. Personal efficiency. Order, success, studies, prestige. Preserve and maintain the traditions of “the class”, of “competitiveness”.
Follow the concerns and interests of the people, above all in our neoliberal society, so as to ensure that our “clients” are satisfied. A certain apostolic concern, mainly in the form of “religious acts” which do not threaten the system.
2. Everything centred on the work:
Constructions, improvements, educational innovations.
Modernization. New resources and courses etc. offered.
Success, studies, efficiency.
A School which is “well organized”, “successful”.
Educational project for the “successful”.
Teachers chosen for the “prestige” of their courses.
B. REINTERPRETATION – DISPLACEMENTS
I. Community awareness: an educating community.
Participation of parents and other lay people.: co-responsibility. Animation in the values of the Educational Project. Witness of the teaching staff, their energies not swamped by the structure, nor dissipated in a merely professional activism.
Creativity, innovation, dynamism – desire to improve and to grow..
Importance of programming and of educative accompanying. The mission shared with lay people: integrating them, forming, promoting, accompanying, sharing our Christian life and our spirituality.
Social and Christian awareness: to form the pupil as a person and as a son of God. the “subject” of his own development;
As part of the great majority, the poor: an itinerary of “exodus”, from the centre out to the margins.
Formation for change as a commitment of our faith and our charism.
Confrontation with human and social “anti-values”.
Education for justice, peace, and solidarity.
Inculturation into the culture of the people.
Committed faith: development of “criticism” of the faith.
Putting technical skills, images, etc in their proper place. Evaluation and revision of the educative project as a function of service of the most needy section of society, increasing our presence and our educative projects by “getting down” to the level of the poor and being a “re-founding nucleus” in our educational establishments.
3. Awareness of spreading the Good News.
Individually and collectively evangelical: to be witnesses more than masters.
A community educational in its mission.
Setting proper values in education in the faith, and getting it across at a personal level.
Commitment to the young and their families.
Ecclesial awareness: educational establishments more immersed in the “People of God”, sharing in an ecclesial way our projects with the poor and the ordinary people.
Attention to the signs of the times: young people, culture, society, Church.
A journey in faith shared with the educating community. Determining the educational priorities by their evangelical function, seeing ourselves as pushed on by what the world and society ignores or pretends to forget: so many forms of degradation of the person, particularly of children, women and young people.
II. CHALLENGES AND COMMITMENTS
The challenges which we must face up to in our fidelity to “re-founding” do not come from our “works” so much as from PERSONS. They are the challenges which implicate the present and the future of the children and the adolescents. In order to “re-found”, we must be prepared to listen, to question, to investigate, to pray…. and to look at our world through the eyes of the young, in their lives, their cries and their silences, more concerned about what they are “telling us” than about what we “should tell them”.
If we want to “found anew” we have to choose not to remain quiet in the face of the reality of the social and cultural inequality which characterizes all societies, and which wounds us even more when we see it as a whole and face it with our own charisma.
All of this makes up a call to “re-interpret”, to “relocate”, to “transform” our educational establishments:
- by starting new projects in the primacy of the charism on structure;
- by uniting ourselves in universal solidarity;
- by educating for justice, peace, solidarity
- by going from equality of opportunity to a “positive discrimination” in favour of the more disadvantaged.
- by spreading the Gospel through education;
- by going from a purely academic education to a society which educates in the full sense of the term;
- by going from individualism to a community existence, which implies both critical attitudes and readiness to take part in things.
I believe that in the light of the present reality which is crying for help, both from our charism and for our places of mission, we have to make a “re-founding analysis” of what is needed in the educational and pastoral fields. We have to face up to a common deposit of values which are the foundation of our new educational establishments and projects, and, of course, its place in practice as regards the dignity of the person, solidarity, the feeling of transcendence….to quote just a few of those things most menaced by the “culture without a soul”.
In the aspect of those “values for a new foundation” which are crying
out most of all, not so much in their scientific content, but so that from our schools there come forth more than those who are technically and professionally competent, but people who are capable and free to integrate themselves in society, I believe that we must engage ourselves in CHANGING OUR PRESENCE, OUR EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES AND VALUES, in order to arrive at a more evangelical way, nearer to the young people and to the children who are truly vulnerable and who are marginalized by so many circumstances – family, social, religious, cultural, economical, etc.
This “educational re-founding” of our establishments, born of fidelity to our charism in the HERE AND NOW, brings us to “risk” some, or a lot of, our “old ideas and arrangements”, because this new birth brings us where few go, immersed as they are in the culture of success, of prestige and competitiveness, to the “frontier” of the child and the youth in a condition of inequality.
Our charism, “incarnate” in our education and our educational mission, matured in the “tension” of creative fidelity, is a call to LIVE PROPHETICALLY in the world of today; particularly in the world of the “little ones” who find themselves so often “outside” society…. to be a light which will free them and guide them to the LIGHT, the Lord Jesus.
I ask that you will all understand what I am saying, but meantime, I cannot resist quoting a few short paragraphs from a Circular Letter to the Marist Institute written by Rev. Br Basilio Rueda during his term as Superior General:
These ideas, inspiringly prophetic, and read in the perspective of what we are studying, I call “seeds of re-founding”:
“I believe that we should avoid at all cost a type of pedagogy which produces a bourgeois formation, that is, individualistic, lacking in solidarity, egoistic, conformist. Closely allied to this is a mentality which animates many young people, and which consists of studying in order to pass their exams with high success, to obtain a career, and if possible, to assure their personal and family future. Basically, in itself this is not immoral, but is not enough to reach the fulfilment of the ideals of the Christian life. We must go beyond certain educational structures which de facto lead to a pedagogy which helps to foment those bourgeois attitudes which lead progressively to a lack of solidarity….” (Circ. XXIV pp 264-265, – 02.01.1968))
Many thanks to all for your kind attention.