Notes on Jesuit Education: From October 26, 1985
Myths. "Jesuit education" is a familiar couplet like "Roman Empire" or "Viennese waltz." Most people associate Jesuits with education, although not all they have heard about this association is so. From time to time, for instance, a journalist or a student writing a term paper will call the switchboard of a Jesuit school to ask what Jesuit source contains the remark that goes something like this: "Let us have the education of children until they are seven, and you may have them thereafter."
No reference can be given, however, because that legendary saying is not just spurious but is the exact opposite of what actually was said in the first draft of the famous Jesuit plan for schools, the Ratio Studiorum. The six veteran teachers who in 1586 wrote the Latin essays making up that draft recommended that no boy be admitted to a Jesuit school before he is seven. Children less than that age, it explained, are troublesome and need nannies, not schoolmasters: "Molestissimi et nutricibus potius indigent quam ludimagistris."
The second draft of the Ratio in 1591 was equally cool toward the kindergarten bunch. Beginning students, it said, must not be so young that they fuss about trifles (nor so old that they upset class discipline), and they must have learned to read and write correctly. Otherwise, the sight of their compositions will turn their teacher's stomach. Nevertheless, besides the myths, there is also a reality.
Origins. The third and final draft of the Ratio Studiorum was promulgated in 1599 by Claudio Acquaviva, who in 1581 had been elected the fifth General of the Society of Jesus, an office he held until his death 34 years later.
This definitive version was really a collection of 30 sets of practical regulations for the administrators, teachers and students of a Jesuit school. It had mostly in mind what we would call secondary education, and in the United States today it is easier to find traces of the Ratio in Jesuit high schools than in Jesuit universities.
The various commissions that produced those three drafts did not work off the top of their birettas. The first Jesuit school for boys had been opened in Messina, Sicily, in 1548, so the Ratio was distilled from a half-century of corporate experience. Moreover, the drafts of 1586 and 1591 were reviewed not only by Father Acquaviva and his advisers, but also out in the field, so to speak, by committees in each of those Jesuit administrative units that are organized along geographical lines and called provinces.
That 1599 document remained in effect until Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1773. After Pope Pius VII restored the order in 1814, there was talk of redoing the Ratio. An experimental revision that paid more attention to science and vernacular literature did appear in 1832 but was never officially decreed. By the 19th century, only a few airborne generalizations could have been applied to widely different schools in widely different nations around the world.
The Ratio of 1599, however, is steadily specific. It is not in the least a treatise on the philosophy of education and does not belong to the same company as Plato's Republic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile and John Dewey's Democracy and Education. It is simply a manual prescribing exact ways of organizing schools and teaching classes. J.B. Herman, a Belgian Jesuit who shortly before the First World War wrote one of the best books on the origins of Jesuit education, remarked that the only theoretical principle in the Ratio is one that says variety in pedagogical methods is good, because satiety is bad.
Of course, a full-bodied theory of Jesuit education can be worked up. Its major themes, however, would be those required for any adequate Catholic philosophy of education. The characteristic Jesuit emphases flavoring this philosophy would be inspired not so much by the Ratio as by two documents from the founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556): his book of the Spiritual Exercises and the Society's Constitutions.
Past and Present. Next year will mark the fourth centenary of the 1586 Ratio, a circumstance that prompts these notes. As school ventures go, four centuries are a long time and make one deduction certain. Jesuit education must have continually evolved and adapted itself to new situations, for otherwise it would not have survived. Schools exist to help pass on a people's way of life, and since ways of life are continually and sometimes rapidly changing, schools must also change or disappear. They must conserve what is valuable without becoming stuck in the past. Newman's celebrated sentence in Development of Christian Doctrine fits education as well as everything else: "In a higher world it is otherwise; but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." Of course, the inverse is not equally true; to have changed often is not necessarily to be perfect.
After 400 years of changes that sometimes inched and sometimes swept along, it would seem unlikely that any event at this point in the history of Jesuit education could literally be unprecedented. But in December 1980, a true first was recorded when a woman who had graduated from a Jesuit high school won a Rhodes scholarship.
Neither Claudio Acquaviva nor Cecil Rhodes could have imagined that accomplishment because until recently both American Jesuit high schools and the Rhodes scholarship program were male preserves. In 1977, however, women became eligible for Rhodes grants. That was also the year in which Mary Murphy, whose parents were a New York City fire lieutenant and a nurse, was one of the first group of young women to complete the full four-year course at Loyola School in Manhattan. She went on to become an American studies major at Yale as well as a member of the student government, an intramural basketball player and one of the 32 Rhodes scholars chosen from the United States during her senior year.
No Better Work. When St. Ignatius died in 1556, the Society of Jesus was already conducting 33 institutions that were called "colleges" and occupied a position midway between the primary schools below them and the university above. In a commentary on the Society's rules, Pedro Ribadeneira, one of the most distinguished of the second generation of Jesuits, observed that it is doubtful if any other work gives so much glory to God as the education of youth. It certainly became a major, although not the only, Jesuit business; and in 1947 the 27th General of the Society, John Baptist Janssens, a Belgian, described education as the work that the Society "has esteemed beyond others and cultivated with the greatest zeal."
There was some questioning of that preeminence in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council. The Mexican Jesuits, for instance, announced in 1971 that they would close a school enrolling more than 2,000 upper-class boys. "Most of our students have come to us in search of an education that will assure their future within the present social order," said a Jesuit spokesman. "In most cases we have implicitly furthered individualistic goals and class prejudices. Mexico's social structure is unjust and unacceptable. In order to place ourselves at the service of the poor we must sever our link with the power structure."
Still, it appeared that serving the poor would involve the Mexican Jesuits in some teaching. For it is truer today than it was in the 16th century that, if you want to work for the good of your neighbor, there is no better place, no more sensitive and difficult area, than the school. So it is really not surprising that the present Father General, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, should have said, at a meeting in Rome on Nov. 18,1983, that education "in spite of its difficulties remains one of the principal apostolates of the Society."
Numbers. In the United States, which has a greater number of Jesuits than any other country, education is easily the largest Jesuit ministry. In 1984-85, the 5,218 American Jesuits, who were organized into 10 provinces, sponsored 28 colleges and universities with a total enrollment of 169,806 (of whom 106,174 were undergraduates) and 46 high schools with a total enrollment of 38,074. All the colleges and universities are coeducational, and so are nine of the high schools.
Report Card. Appraisals of this extensive activity are predictably diverse. Parents are likely to make agreeable comments. Talking once about his many children, John Wayne said: "All I can take credit for, I guess, was my
smart decision to have them educated in Jesuit schools. Other than that, I'm just an average father."
Academic observers and alumni have not always been so complimentary. Writing about Jesuit higher education in Commonweal in March 1967, Martin F. Larre´y said: "In many ways, the Society of Jesus operates the best second- rate colleges and universities in the nation." After graduat- ing in 1948 from Fordham Prep, a Jesuit high school in New York City, Nicholas von Hoffman set out for Chicago's Loyola University. Twenty years later, when he had become a well-known journalist, he recalled that he had lasted only one day at Loyoia: "I looked at what they had to offer and said to myself: They've got to be kidding.'"
An earlier Fordham Prep student, novelist John O'Hara of the class of 1924, claimed that he had actually lost his faith at Fordham, where he spent two years: "The priests ruined it for me." That was not a fair charge, though, since O'Hara admitted that his faith had begun to fade even before he left his home in Pottsville, Pa., to become a boarder at the Prep in the Bronx.
Along with brickbats, there are tributes. Marty Pasetta, a Hollywood director, is a graduate of Santa Clara University in California. While he was preparing for the telecast of the 1980 Academy Awards, he told a reporter from the Catholic weekly, Twin Circle: "I thank God for my Jesuit education. The Jesuits really taught me how to think."
Edward Bennett Williams, the celebrated Washington, D.C., lawyer, is a 1941 graduate of Holy Cross Coiiege in Worcester, Mass., and currently chairman of its board. In an interview for the college newspaper a year ago, he talked about his student days: "They taught me to work hard here....No matter what I did, the indispensable condition was to tax my mind and body to the ultimate...."
In The Chief: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons, published last year, Lance Morrow, a Time magazine writer, remembers Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., as it was when he graduated from it in 1958: "The boys were tough. The Jesuits were also tough....Gonzaga had the Jesuit virtues, a mental toughness and energy."
Among older alumni, sentiments of this sort are common, but they can also be somewhat embarrassing. In his 1980 autobiography, bluntly entitled Will, G. Gordon Liddy, the unrepentant foreman of the Watergate break-in, writes about his undergraduate years, 1948-52, at Fordham University, where his father had preceded him: "The most valuable course I took at Fordham was logic, a part of the required program. It honed the mind and thinking process along mathematical lines and prepared us for the study of Aristotle and Aquinas." There is the whiff of the myth in that last phrase. A reader who can believe that Mr. Liddy spent much time on Aristotle and St. Thomas can probably believe anything.
Caution. These trickles of opinion prove nothing but they do serve to introduce a caution. Generalizations about Jesuit education are worse than useless if they do not take accurate account of differences in time and place. When Lance Morrow revisited Gonzaga after 20 years, he found the building looked much the same, but the school's atmosphere had changed. There was less regimentation, he said, and surprising informality between students and Jesuit administrators.
Robert Hughes, the Time magazine art critic who wrote and narrated the 1981 television series "The Shock of the New," told an interviewer that the Jesuit boarding school he attended in his native Australia in the 195O's had been "tremendously authoritarian." But in New Orleans a few years earlier, Dominique Lapierre, future coauthor with Larry Collins of best-selling suspense novels, found that city's Jesuit High wonderfully liberating. He enrolled there when his father was assigned to New Orleans as French consul general at the close of Worid War II, and he remembered Jesuit High as "a marvelous school without overseers or censors, where we played football, had the weekends free and each Saturday night danced the swing with giris who seemed to have stepped from a scene in Gone With the Wind. It was two years of perfect happiness that awakened in me an intense desire to know the rest of the vast world."
The truth is that not only do the Jesuit schools of one country differ greatly from those of another, but nowadays any given school is likely to change considerably from one decade to another, thereby discontenting those alumni who like the old way better.
Definition. Twenty years ago, all the trustees of American Jesuit universities and colleges were themselves Jesuits who met infrequently and then only to rubber-stamp the plans of the Jesuit president. Today these institutions are really governed by their boards of trustees, most of whose members are laymen and laywomen. These directors are regularly occupied with scrutinizing budgets, building plans and long-range policies. On occasion, however, they may refresh themselves by raising the question of just how Jesuit education is to be defined. This is easier to ask than answer. Many people who have thought about it are likely to agree with the conclusion reached, after exceptional experience, by Robert J. Henle, S.J. As a young Jesuit, Father Henle wrote a five-volume series of high school Latin textbooks that sold more than one million copies. Later on, he became an influential professor of philosophy as well as an administrator—president of the national Philosophy of Education Society in 1958 and president of Georgetown University from 1969 to 1976.
"There is no way," Father Henle wrote in 1967, "in which Jesuit education can be defined as a set of specific traits. I myself have made various attempts so to define it, but I finally became convinced that the effort was futile. I think we must say that Jesuit education is education given by Jesuits. Jesuit education cannot be described in a set of specific educational traits, specific subjects, procedures or methods; it can be described in terms of Jesuits, in terms of Jesuit character."
Certainly Jesuit education cannot be defined in terms of the Ratio. That was only one of many Renaissance school plans, Protestant as well as Catholic, all of which looked alike on paper. They were all inspired by the ideal of perfect Latin eloquence that Cicero had exemplified and Quintilian, the first-century teacher of rhetoric whom some 16th-century Jesuits called "our Quintilian," had codified. In any case, the Ratio bears as much relationship to contemporary Jesuit education as Harvey on the circulation of blood bears to contemporary medical practice.
If Father Henle is right, however, another and even more formidable question surfaces at once.
Question. In The New York Times last March, Gene I. Maeroff, a journalist whose special beat is school news, reported that in the 1984-85 academic year, there were only 950 Jesuits among the 15,408 teachers and administrators in the 28 Jesuit universities and colleges in the United States. To underline the obvious question raised for Jesuit schools that are "running out of Jesuits," Mr. Maeroff quoted a first-class authority, Paul A. FitzGerald, S.J., the author of a definitive study, The Governance of Jesuit Colleges in the United States: 1920-1970. Father FitzGerald, who is currently the archivist and was once the graduate dean at Boston College, said: "If we get down to a very minimal number of Jesuits at these institutions, there is a chance of their losing some of their Jesuit identity. I don't know how you can run an authentic Jesuit university without Jesuits."
Or a high school either. Last year there were 677 Jesuits among the 2,699 full-time teachers and administrators of the 46 American Jesuit secondary schools. Moreover, changes brought about by declining numbers of Jesuits are not limited to the United States. The English Jesuits once conducted two distinguished boarding schools—Stonyhurst, founded in 1704, and Beaumont, founded in 1861. Four years after Beaumont celebrated its centenary with festivities that included a ceremonial visit by Queen Elizabeth II, the school was closed—or, as it was discreetly said, "amalgamated" with Stonyhurst, much to the outrage not only of its alumni but also of the (London) Times Educational Supplement.
Stonyhurst itself does not exactly match the memories of the oldest of its Old Boys. Next year it is to have the first lay headmaster in its history. In the British Catholic weekly. The Universe, Hugh Kay, managing editor of the Jesuit magazine, The Month, commented on that projected change: "This is an extension of the fast-growing collaboration between Jesuits and lay people that has been such a feature of Stonyhurst in recent decades. What is important at Stonyhurst is its Jesuit style; what is so interesting is that that is achieved by Jesuits and lay people working together."
An Answer. What Mr. Kay said of Stonyhurst is equally true of Jesuit high schools and colleges in the United States. In 1974, groups of Jesuit teachers and administra- tors at both Creighton University in Omaha, and Boston College issued statements summarizing the ideals of Jesuit higher education and anticipating, along the way, the question asked by The Times's Mr. Maeroff: "How to preserve the character of a Jesuit education when there are fewer Jesuits?" It can be done, the statements said in effect, if on the faculty and in the administration there are enough Jesuits to constitute a significant corporate presence, and if these Jesuits collaborate with their non-Jesuit colleagues to conserve that Jesuit character.
Precisely how many are enough, they did not say. Four years earlier, however, the American Jesuit high schools had formed the Jesuit Secondary Education Association and the preamble to this organization's constitution observes: "If the faculty at a Jesuit school are men and women whose lives are inspired by the Ignatian vision, then the question about the percentage of Jesuits on the faculty is not an overriding issue." In other words, Father Henle's descriptive definition can be expanded. What is called the Jesuit style, or more ponderously but more accurately, the Ignatian spirit in education, need not be limited to Jesuits.
Plenty has been written about that Ignatian spirit, but these long-winded notes will wind up by circling the topic once again, although in very general terms.
Envoi: The Ignatian Spirit. At the Rancho del Cielo, in Santa Barbara, Calif., on August 24, President Reagan talked about education in his weekly radio address to the nation. "A recent Gallup poll," he said, "found that an overwhelming majority of Americans want their schools to do two things above all else: to teach students how to speak and write correctly and, just as important, to teach them a standard of right and wrong."
Whether they knew it or not, that majority reaffirmed the oldest theme in Western humanism. The conviction that schooling's first business is to cultivate power with words, along with moral virtue, has its roots in fourth-century B.C. Greece. It was upheld by what H. I. Marrou in his great book, Education in Antiquity, called the two columns of the temple. It combines Plato's ideal of goodness achieved through wisdom with the ideal of literary culture advocated by Isocrates, the most infiuential of Athenian teachers, whose slogan was: "The right word is a sure sign of good thinking."
All the 16th-century schoolmasters, including the Jesuits, subscribed to those ideals. If students in the early Jesuit schools had enough stamina to stay with the program all the way, they followed the sort of orderly curriculum that St. Ignatius had experienced and admired at the University of Paris. The study of grammar, literature and rhetoric pre- ceded three years of philosophy and science. "In this school," said Julius Negrone, S. J., advertising a new Jesuit
establishment in Brescia in 1574, "philosophy and elo- quence collaborate in most friendly fashion."
Isocrates taught Athenian young men to be eloquent in the language they spoke at home. For centuries, however, Jesuit schools, like all respectable secondary schools in Europe and the Americas, proposed to cultivate eloquence by the indirect method of studying Latin and classical Greek, languages that almost no one spoke even in the 16th century. Today, Greek has all but disappeared, and Latin is fast losing altitude. Nevertheless, a tradition of literary humanism remains the vertebrae of the secondary school curriculum not just in Jesuit institutions but in the college preparatory programs of all high schools. That is because people who acquire language skills have the keys to further learning and can keep on educating themselves for the rest of their lives.
A century ago, philosophy was the core of the liberal arts curriculum in most American colleges. It was still so in Jesuit colleges as recently as the 195O's. By now, it is a much shrunken core surrounded by an immense variety of other disciplines: science and mathematics, history and social studies, religion and fine arts, vocational and professional subjects. This complexity is constantly expanding. In the 198O's, we are told, anyone who lacks computer literacy cannot be considered educated.
Because of these changes, some cranky professors of the humanities accuse Jesuits of having abandoned the spirit of the Ratio. But Jesuit educators have never found it hard to modify and enlarge a curriculum because they have never considered even those indispensable studies of letters and philosophy to be final ends in themselves. As Christians, they must regard all human culture as ultimately instrumental, a means rather than a term. St. Ignatius made this point firmly not only in his Spiritual Exercises but even in polite letters to aristocratic correspondents. He advised Asconius Colonna, a rich Italian duke: "In this life a thing is good for us only insofar as it is a help toward life eternal and evil insofar as it is an obstacle to it."
This is not to deny that intellectual and aesthetic values are intrinsically precious and are not merely useful tools for reaching something else. Much less is it to say that the prime aim of schooling is to be equipped to make money. It is only to say that in the final reckoning, all things human, including civilizations and the schools that conserve and transmit them, are ordered as means to union with God in life-without-end.
Since the exact curriculum that served this purpose in 17th-century Europe could not do so indefinitely and everywhere, Jesuit schools zestfully adjusted to changes in climate. In the United States, for example, the 1832-33 catalogue of St. Louis University informed the citizens of a bustling river town that the course of studies in this Jesuit institution "embraces both a mercantile and classical education"—bookkeeping as well as Latin, Greek "and the higher branches of the mathematics. " In Micronesia today, American Jesuits run both an academic high school and the Ponape Agriculture and Trade School, And on the U.S. mainland, students arrive early at Jesuit high schools to do their homework on computers.
Education in the widest sense has two great purposes: the development of intelligence and the development of character. Since, as Pope John XXIII once said, "The only way to be a Christian is by being good," it is no surprise that Christian teachers, including Jesuits, give moral education primacy. In fact, so do most people, celebrated or anonymous. "The older I get," said Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Andre Malraux, "the more I judge people by their character, not by their ideas." When parents are asked what they want for their children, they usually say they want them to become good men and women. Indeed, every great philosopher of education not only has said that virtue must be joined to learning but has put virtue first.
Of course, character is not the principal concern of every particular educational agency. Just as gymnasiums train the body and conservatories train musicians, so high schools and colleges have a primarily academic function. But if they take moral education seriously, these schools can make two contributions. They can, as Mr. Reagan said, teach a standard of right and wrong, and they can create an environment that offers young people some chance to put their ethical convictions into practice.
Although it is possible to teach a purely secular moral code, church-related schools, like parents who are believers, teach a morality linked with faith. For a Christian school, that means an effort to nourish both a knowledge of the Gospel and fidelity to its word.
Occasionally this effort attracts the sort of favorable publicity that money cannot buy. In June of this year, the Gonzaga College High School that Lance Morrow attended was the subject of a series of three full-page articles in The Washington Post. Although Gonzaga's curriculum is heavily weighted with the academic subjects so often praised by another of its alumni, Education Secretary William J. Bennett, the Post was mainly interested in what it called the school's ways of teaching values.
Post reporter Elsa Walsh gave a detailed account of a senior theology class's discussion of the morality of nuclear weaponry. She noted that in order to graduate, every Gonzaga student must serve for a semester as a volunteer worker in one of five neighborhood poverty centers. Her third article was devoted to a privileged form of this community service, a project in which eight students accompanied by two teachers spent four weeks working in a Mexican orphanage during the summer before their senior year.
It is not news if a good private school prepares students for Harvard, where Lance Morrow went, or Williams College, where Secretary Bennett went. What Miss Walsh found significant about Gonzaga was, as she put it, the way "the Jesuits and lay teachers force students to explore their moral values and the social consequences of their decisions." It is only fair to add that she would have encountered similar programs in all the American Jesuit high schools as well as in many other church-affiliated schools and colleges here and abroad.
In a 1909 essay called Moral Principles in Education, John Dewey argued that the chief business of a teacher is to see to it that the greatest possible number of ideas acquired by students are so acquired as to become true motivating forces of conduct. Jesuits have always tried to make that their business, although the results have sometimes been ambiguous. In his autobiographical Fragments of the Century (1973), Michael Harrington, who wrote the enormously influential study of poverty in the United States, The Other America (1963), describes himself as "a pious apostate, an atheist shocked by the faithlessness of the believers, a fellow traveler of moderate Catholicism who has been out of the church for more than 20 years."
In the 194O's, however, Mr. Harrington was a student at Saint Louis University High School where, he recalls, "Our knowledge was not free floating; it was always consciously related to ethical and religious values." One of his classmates was a carefree young man who was to become the famous Dr. Tom Dooley, physician to the Vietnamese war victims in the 1950's. "I never saw Tom Dooley after the mid-1940's," Mr. Harrington writes, "but it is clear that we had developed profound political differences. And yet, I suspect, each of us was motivated, in part at least, by the Jesuit inspiration of our adolescence that insisted so strenuously that a man must live his philosophy."
St. Ignatius would have mourned Michael Harrington's loss of faith, but he might also have been gratified by that testimony.