Teaching social justice, injustice, civic duty and civic action is not a recent fad or movement invented by left wing radicals. In fact, the concept has been a cornerstone of America education from the beginning.
In his seminal work, Democracy and Education, John Dewey states “Lives that are only of the mind are not adequate to meet the demands of democracy.” Dewey believes that American citizens must be involved in both thought and action. He also argues that education is the key to civic engagement and that institutions of learning must adequately prepare students for such activity and should be viewed as microcosms of society.
The Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr., turned social justice into a political movement by educating the masses and by teaching the wrongs of discrimination and social and economic inequity to both Black and White citizens. He was one of the first individuals to publicly educate an extremely large audience about hundreds of years of atrocities leading up to the Civil Rights Movement. Without knowing this history, the Civil Rights Movement becomes a story about bringing races together, sharing schools, drinking fountains, restaurants, and sometimes neighborhoods, living happily ever after.
Another group of pioneers that incorporates civic responsibility into American education curriculum are the Jesuits. Their work can be summed up by the Jesuit concept of “Eloquentia Perfecta.”
Based on Ignation pedagogy, Eloquentia Perfecta is aimed at educating the “whole person (mind, body, spirit)” through eloquence, critical thinking and moral insightfulness. Education in the Jesuit tradition, is a call to human excellence through the development of intellect, imagination, emotions and conscience and by exploring connections between facts, insights, problems and solutions.
Jesuit educational institutions call students to be agents of change, inspired by a love for those on the margins. They prepare students to use their voices to address social problems of the current day, such as racism, sexism, economic inequality and environmental abasement.
In the United States, the Jesuit “Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project” researches the enslaved people owned by the Society of Jesus. Yes, the Jesuits themselves owned slaves and feel that the way to learn from the past is to discuss and atone. The project is committed to a transformative process of truth-telling, reconciliation and healing through conversation with the descendants of those enslaved, seeking to address the influence slavery has on racial inequities today.
Fr. Bryan N. Massingale, a professor of theology at Fordham University states, ‘We need equal educational opportunities, changed police practices, equitable access to health care, an end to employment and housing discrimination. Countless believers whose faith has led them to stand up against racism around the world are great examples of what we mean by civic responsibility.” (National Catholic Reporter)
I feel blessed to be teaching at a Jesuit institution that encourages educators and students to freely engage in conversation to examine social injustice, as do most colleges, universities, public and parochial schools around the country. The training involved in becoming a primary or secondary educator includes diversity training, ethics, civic responsibility, and incorporating social issues and current events into their academic subjects.
Let’s remember that education goes far beyond acquiring a vocation or professional career. The very definition and purpose of education to which the top educational institutions around the world subscribe is getting access to other points of view. Once we close out the other point of view, all learning stops, because we can never test or share our ideas with others. Our own individual sense of independence and identity is inextricably connected to our educational journeys and the broadened worldview we attain on the way. Eloquentia Perfecta. The “Whole Person.”