Context in Ignatian Education

In my last post I mentioned I would be returning to some key movements in the foundations of Ignatian education in the hopes of re-animating our mission and purpose as educators faithful to the Jesuit tradition. I invited readers to consider an institutional examen, to bring the tools and resources of the discernment of spirits to bear upon instiutional evaluation. To begin, I drew attention to the roots of Ignatian spirituality—to the Spiritual Exercises and to the First Principle and Foundation.

Today, thinking about all that's in the news, I was reminded of a passage from "Ignatian Pedagogy: A Practical Approach." I want to focus on this part:

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Similarly, personal care and concern for the individual, which is a hallmark of Jesuit education, requires that the teacher become as conversant as possible with the life experience of the learner. Since human experience, always the starting point in an Ignatian pedagogy, never occurs in a vacuum, we must know as much as we can about the actual context within which teaching and learning take place. As teachers, therefore, we need to understand the world of the student, including the ways in which family, friends, peers, youth culture and mores as well as social pressures, school life, politics, economics, religion, media, art, music, and other realities impact that world and affect the student for better or worse. Indeed, from time to time we should work seriously with students to reflect on the contextual realities of both our worlds. What are forces at work in them? How do they experience those forces influencing their attitudes, values and beliefs, and shaping our perceptions, judgments and choices? How do world experiences affect the very way in which students learn, helping to mold their habitual patterns of thinking and acting?
 

Context. Context is crucial for an Ignatian educator. We must know the world that shapes our students, the forces and factors that shape their judgments and preoccupations. We must be familiar with their milieu.

Last year I spoke about this in terms of the "teacher as cartographer." Questions we might consider are: What do we look to—what data, what media, what evidence—to understand our students' context? And how do we understand this context knowing that we, too, are coming from a specific place, knowing that no one is truly a fully impartial, objective observer? How do we approach teaching and learning when we consider that it's a meeting of minds always in need of refinement and purification?

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