Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Pedagogy of the Soul, New Curriculum & Catholic Schools

Given my context here in British Columbia and the imminent changes to curriculum, I have been thinking about how these changes align (or not) with the stated mission, vision and values of our Catholic Schools. 

Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church has much to say about education at all levels.  

For example, Catholic Schools around the world talk about educating the "whole child". 

In 1965,  Pope Paul VI wrote his Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis) where he states
.... children and young people must be helped, with the aid of the latest advances in psychology and the arts and science of teaching, to develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual endowments so that they may gradually acquire a mature sense of responsibility in striving endlessly to form their own lives properly and in pursuing true freedom as they surmount the vicissitudes of life with courage and constancy. ......Moreover they (students) should be so trained to take their part in social life that properly instructed in the necessary and opportune skills they can become actively involved in various community organizations, open to discourse with others and willing to do their best to promote the common good.
The Holy Father goes on to write:
Among all educational instruments the school has a special importance.(19) It is designed not only to develop with special care the intellectual faculties but also to form the ability to judge rightly, to hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations, to foster a sense of values, to prepare for professional life. Between pupils of different talents and backgrounds it promotes friendly relations and fosters a spirit of mutual understanding; and it establishes as it were a center whose work and progress must be shared together by families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic, and religious life, as well as by civil society and the entire human community.
Archbishop of Vancouver, Michael Miller, when writing  on this topic states:
The enduring foundation on which the Church builds her educational philosophy is the conviction that it is a process which forms the whole child, especially with his or her eyes fixed on the vision of God. The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come. Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbor and thus fulfill their destiny of becoming saints.

However, as I reflect on the above quotes and a host of articles related to this topic, a couple of thoughts stand out for me.

Curriculum & Pedagogy
Firstly, as members of the Catholic School community it is important to keep these thoughts in mind as we move forward with new curricula in British Columbia.  From my perspective, the new curriculum should be seen as an opportunity to review and reflect on our values as schools and  renew our effort to educate the whole child within the context and culture our times.

To this point, I would argue that we as Catholic educators must take the time to reflect on own pedagogy as is relates to educating the whole child.   

For example:
  • Are we, like Pope Paul references, aiding  our students by "adopting the latest advances in psychology and the arts and science of teaching?"  
  • How do we define "success" in our schools?  
  • How are we engaging students in their learning?
  • What role does technology play in pedagogy?
  • What is the role of the teacher in today's information saturated world?
  • Are we having discussions at the exact point where faith and reason intersect? 
  • How are we teaching our students to faith filled, critical thinking men and women of goodness and service? 
  • How has our educational program "adopted to the latest advances....?"
In short, if we see the new curriculum as an opportunity to renew our values in educating the whole child, we must, with equal fervor, be committed to reflecting on our own pedagogy as we look to meet the needs of all our students - as they are today.

School & Community
As we look to advances in information technology and the increasingly ubiquitous manner in which  information can be accessed, curated and published - many in education are questioning the need for the "institution of school" as a place of learning.  We can look to the proliferation of on-line/virtual schools and the recent growth of MOOC's at the post secondary level .   I have noticed more and more jurisdictions seriously  looking at "Blended Learning"  environments as alternatives to "traditional" "brick and mortar" schooling.

Again, as Catholic schools we need to pay attention and reflect on the these potential pressure points in our understanding of "school community".  Archbishop Miller succinctly summarizes the Church's teaching on this issue when he writes:
(The Church's) emphasis on the community aspect of the Catholic school, a dimension rooted both in the social nature of the human person and the reality the Church as "the home and the school of communion."...That the Catholic school is an educational community "is one of the most enriching developments for the contemporary school." 
...a Catholic school is thought of in the transition from the school as an institution to the school as a community...... the community dimension is primarily a theological concept rather than a sociological category....Vatican statements emphasize that the school is a community of persons and, even more to the point, "a genuine community of faith."
He goes on to summarize that the Church requires Catholic schools to develop community specifically related to "the teamwork or collaboration among all those involved; the interaction of students with teachers and the school's physical environment."
In the article Pedagogy of the Golden Dome, the author, Matt Emerson, attempts to address the issue of school community in the Catholic school context and ultimately asks whether, e-based, virtual post secondary learning environments are equal alternatives to classic school environments.  

The author argues that the alternatives should not be treated as equal and writes: 
I don't believe they should be, and the reason begins with a truth nicely captured in Gaudium et Spes: "For by their innermost nature men and women are social beings; and if they do not enter into relationships with others they can neither live nor develop their gifts" (para. 12). This social nature should, and will, continue to draw people back to campuses, back into community. There is no substitute for an immediate give-and-take, for the chance to see blank faces and quizzical looks and the enthusiasms of an "aha" moment. A non-virtual classroom allows immediate feedback and possibilities for activities and discussions that aren't available through satellites and screens. 
The author goes on to describe his own experience studying law at the University of Notre Dame:
Moreover, as humans, and especially as Catholics, we know the importance of physical space. Where we learn can be just as important as what we learn; even more, the former can influence the latter. I could have studied law online or in a plain urban area, but I would have missed out on something that became essential to me as a lawyer and educator, and most fundamentally as a person seeking truth. Studying law on the gorgeous inspiring grounds of Notre Dame shaped my heart and soul. When I walked across South Quad, past Mary and the Golden Dome, I sensed the ultimate horizon of my learning, that I was participating in something much more significant than ensuring a nice career. When I walked out of the law school and heard the bells from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart tolling for a funeral, I felt the urgency of human frailty and the gift of every breath. When I walked by the bust of St. Thomas More and into the regal space of the law library, I never failed to register what More's example had to mean for me. Soul transcends career. Faith trumps security. 
On a personal level I can attest to the power of connecting to a virtual Professional Learning Network.  However it has been when I have met those people face to face that the relationships have become more meaningful and my learning more challenged.

A few questions and thoughts for Catholic schools to consider:
  • Moving forward, our schools will need to come to terms with such ideas as "blended learning" and how such ideas can co-exist with the idea of "faith community". 
  • How do can we create real collaborative structures in our schools for both teachers and students to engage in their learning? 
  • Does our understanding of "community" need to change given the growth in collaborative and social technologies?
  • What does it mean to "come together in faith"?
  • What impact does our call to sacramental life shape our understanding of community? 
Pedagogy of the Soul
Which gets me to my final point. I have come to see that what defines us, as Catholic schools, in our quest to "educate the whole child" is our ability engage and nurturing the souls of our staff and students.

I will call this the "pedagogy of the soul" and it exists when:
  • Staff and students know and understand that they are loved unconditionally by God and are rooted in this love- without exception.
  • Staff and students are socially engaged in the world - to be advocates for those less fortunate
  • Staff and students engage with matters of faith - first with their hearts followed closely with their minds. 
  • We invite healthy and respectful questioning  - being vulnerable and rooted in love and where the principles of the Catholic Intellectual tradition permeate the conversation.
  • We measure our successes  as schools beyond utilitarian ends.
  • Staff and students are full of joy and happiness knowing that they are rooted in Jesus and his teachings.  Like Aristotle states: "Happiness is the setting of the soul into its most appropriate spot"
I welcome any other thoughts.  As usual, I am still figuring it out............