01-01-2006 - Traces, n.1
NewWorld / education: knowledge, relationship, and unity

Teaching: Introduction
to Reality in Its Totality

Here are some summary notes taken by a person present at a conversation Fr. Giussani had with a group of teachers on January 27, 1987, offering an example of the risk of education in action and indications on method for teachers and others

The goal of this meeting is a first attempt to respond to the question: How in our discipline do we teach our students cognition [the intellectual process of gaining knowledge], rather than being content that they think certain things in a certain way?

Thinking and knowing
The terms “think” and “know” are often held to be synonymous. Instead, it’s essential to distinguish them. This distinction is imposed by the fact that thought can fail to come to grips with reality and can constitute itself as ideology.
Knowledge, instead, is the total experience of the object. Only knowledge can constitute itself as culture, since culture is the product of man, who relates with reality.
Precisely in this sense, for the Pope, culture becomes education, that is, the introduction to reality.
This definition of culture resolves the debated problem of the autonomy of culture. Culture is autonomous inasmuch as it disregards ideology (that is, thought not compared with reality), not inasmuch as it disregards the truth or, in other words, reality, the totality of reality.
Culture is not analysis of the particular; it is reflection on the particular in light of the totality. Thus, culture is the expression of the religious sense; it is the religious sense in action, and education is the young person’s recognition of his own religious sense.

Teaching methodology
In terms of teaching methodology, education as a way of teaching our students cognition comes down to two key points about the content you intend to pass on:
1. seriousness in the use of reason and thus adherence to the methods of reality as Aristotle taught long ago: the method, in fact, is the scheme of interpretation that puts me in an authentic relationship with reality, with each reality;
2. constant striving toward the totality, a tension to trace the particular to the totality, to read the particular in light of the totality.

An authentic relationship
But this is not enough. Instruction becomes education if it is translated into an authentic relationship. We must ask ourselves: How do I try, in my subject matter, to help students know and experience the things I say? Does what I teach increase the students’ consciousness of themselves at all? This entails a threefold task:
1. make the students understand well what I say, taking as the point of departure the categorial world of the student;
2. show the connection between what I affirm and the totality;
3. show concretely how what I say matters to them, to their concrete experience. This point is essential because culture is a way of living, not a way of thinking.

Unity among teachers
Such intense teaching certainly cannot be accomplished by an uncoordinated group of teachers. The decisive question is unity among teachers. This unity is difficult to trigger; it remains merely a good intention because of the professional defect that characterizes us: individualism. Now, it seems to me that unity originates in the possibility of verifying a common hypothesis. This hypothesis, without impairing the principle of the teacher’s freedom, must also be didactic. The dialogue among us must even go so far as to have courage to judge the didactics of colleagues, not in the sense of lacking respect, but precisely because of the mutual esteem that must be the foundation of the relationship among teachers.

Catholic school
In particular, for a Catholic school, this is founded on faith in Christ, and from here is born the trust among colleagues that also permits reciprocal comparison on the didactic level as well, with the shared hypothesis, that is, the faith. For that matter, faith can certainly be the ultimate foundation for didactic unity if, as the Pope underlined in his words to scientists, “all sciences are founded on faith, above all because the method of faith is at the foundation of any method.”
Thus, mutual esteem derives from what binds us and has put us together to run a school. True mutual esteem lies in the common belonging to something greater, what in our last meeting we called the “structure” of the school, inasmuch as it is unity among teachers and with the universal Church. In fact, we do not give credence if we do not recognize authority.

Reveal to the student
something of himself

This esteem is existentially expressed in a joy, a passion for teaching, in an acknowledgment that our work is the most beautiful trade in the world, because it forces us to change, and thus can change the student I have in front of me. It seems to me that the decisive problem is to press for this level, that is, to ask ourselves how concretely in our subjects we try to help the student “know,” that is, to reveal to the student something of himself.