Saturday, March 20, 2010

Educating for justice: How? Where? Why?

Educating for justice: how does it happen?

Not by accident!

It's the intentional focus of educators like the people at Santa Clara University's Casa de la Solidaridad. Their semester-long program involves specially designed courses in sociology, politics, economics, and philosophy. In addition, there are be-weekly "praxis sites," where students "accompany" Salvadorans in their daily lives. Students are cautioned against thinking of these assignments as "service learning," as there is often no service they provide. They listen; they experience; they receive. Nothing more than accompaniment. And nothing less.

Courses then use the stuff of this experience as "text" for the classroom. Mark Ravizza SJ described his "Philosophy of Suffering" course: "When I taught in the States, I never knew where my students were coming from. They came to and left class in their own little bubbles. They arrived texting and they left texting."

Here's it's different. Mark continued: "Because I've visited their 'praxis sites,' I know very concretely where my students are coming from. I know the communities. I know how the experience impacts them. That's where we begin."

In his class, Annie Dillard's "Holy the Firm" prompts a reflection on the stages of the students' encounter with another culture: first, elation and embrace; then, despair; and finally, a hope tempered by realism and fueled by resurrection.

For better and for worse, San Salvador is not a good place to go walking around at night. Students in this "semester abroad" program don't get to know local pub culture. Evenings are spent in reflection, processing the events of the day. Or doing homework. "That's my chief problem with the program," a student confided. "There so much going on, I can't turn in the caliber of work I'm used to at home." She's learning how to complete the "good-enough" assignment. Not the perfect one.

By deliberate intention, though, a lot of homework is interior. How does this experience in a third world country impact the whole sense of work and calling?

That question is at the core of this experience. Spiritual direction -- even for the "spiritual, but not religious" -- is readily available. "I learned here that I am loved. Unconditionally. And for who I am," said one alumna of the program. "It's enabled me to love others." She's back in El Salvador leading a delegation from Seattle University.

How does all this relate to pilgrimage?

Like pilgrimage, this program educates citizens of the world, an allegiance it sorely needs. Maybe Hugo of St. Victor's insight applies to both students and pilgrims:

"The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land."

If foreign, the world needs to be explored, known -- and loved.

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