The Pedagogy of the Event

Comments from teachers of four continents about their educational work, their task: through teaching, they communicate what makes life happy, and counter nihilism

edited by Renato Farina

Fr. Giussani wrote, “The principal topic for us, for all our discussions, is education.” At the International Assembly of Responsibles in La Thuile one morning, teachers from four continents and I sat in a circle, and I asked, “What is your educational work? What do you truly teach?”
María Carmen Carrón, 46 years old, Madrid, Spain: Nihilism dominates, even among the teachers. The domination of this lived and theorized nothingness would make the educative fact impossible, if it were not for the fact that the event is stronger, reality is stronger. I’ll explain. What do we teach students, if there is no meaning? Only rules for shared living. But I have encountered this meaning as event. So, in my high school, and in my family, I practice what I call “pedagogy of the event.” Putting students before reality, this is my educative task. There is something beyond the appearance, of which the appearance is a sign. With the young people, I do the work of openness to reality. This awakens the quest for happiness and meaning.

Does everything go smoothly?
María Carmen: I don’t know if it’s because I teach in a public school… Certainly, here, the first obstacle in education is the parents. If I say that I want the happiness of their children, I run into skepticism. Impossible, they say. I respond: If you give up on this, you give up on everything. Nihilism is in the fathers and mothers. The students perceive this and rebel, sometimes violently.

How do you respond?
María Carmen: I bring them in front of reality. I do it in the memory of who I am, of the event that happened to me and constitutes me. The challenge is before reality. I bring the kids on outings; looking at the mountains, I provoke them to go beyond the horizon, and so in every gesture.

Ramzia Saleyeva, 25 years old, Astanà, Kazakhistan: The university students are well-off. At times they settle for less; they don’t ask themselves anything at all. Very often, I too slip into this nihilism of routine. Grades, laziness, settling for just a degree. I myself was this way. However, something happened to me. Fr. Edo, who teaches with me, reminds me of this. There is something in those faces that not even they see. We invited them on outings, to read The Religious Sense. Life changes. It isn’t that Edo and I are so good. It’s our desire to live this experience of Christ–so human, and that makes us happy–more profoundly; it’s our desire to let it overflow to them. So I want to shout it to our students. The first way to be against nihilism is simply to look at the young people, in the certainty that they are full of meaning…
Semea Assaf, 42 years old, Brasilia, Brazil: In my students, I see the absence of desire. What provokes them is only someone who possesses meaning. The question they ask me most often is, “You’re as old as my parents, so why are you happy instead?” “Because my life has meaning!” They ask, “But what is it?” I: “Come to meet my friends!” I work in a school among the poor. In my companionship and ours, they discover what they desire: something that is greater than social success. We direct them to the university, and they learn to listen to their aptitudes. In synthesis, my work as educator is to help them discover the meaning, being happy. They say that I torment them, that I’m tough, but at the end of the year, they stay with me; they don’t give up on me.
Gloria Cuccato, 46 years old, Milan, Italy: The students don’t ask questions because they don’t recognize the dignity of their uneasiness. The greatest need is to find someone willing to be a home, a dwelling place, who gives of her time freely and shares their life! The hours of lessons can be like an introduction to the whole, but they’re not credible until the students realize that my very life is a dwelling place for them. When I give of myself without any ulterior motive in mind, beyond school and academic results, and I spend my free time with them, in those moments, the true questions emerge. Someone who shares: this is what they ask for.
María Carmen: Einstein was the one who was amazed that the current educational systems had not succeeded in removing the students’ curiosity! Instead, to all appearances, they’ve succeeded. What Gloria said is a challenge for the schools as a place of educative work: if we have to have this encounter outside, we must ask whether the school hasn’t abandoned its mission.

If a greater presence than this system enters, curiosity and desire return. And the school no longer is limited in hours, because the young person lasts even after the end of the lessons. Is this so?
María Carmen: We have to acknowledge the newness that comes from our experience. For example, in Spain, in a little town, we have opened a school, named for Maximilian Kolbe. Atheist parents have discovered the pleasure of educating their children through the relationships with the professors. And these relationships have educated them, and made the teachers truer. The nihilism has been broken. Life has been made dramatic. The parents also learn in this school and, together, on Sunday, they rest. School has become a home.
Fr. Silvano Lo Presti, 35 years old, Lisbon, Portugal: The same things are happening in Lisbon. We have taken on the responsibility for running a boarding school. After two years, the educative task is not limited to the students, but also involves the parents. Really, there are two generations to educate. Even for the professors, for that matter, the same question is valid. We need someone who indicates the road and loves us.

The experience of an exceptional companionship communicates its beauty to everyone.
Maite Barea, 50 years old, Madrid, Spain: I teach Economics at the university. I encountered the Movement through the students. If this happened to me, it can happen to anyone in the university. I needed to see a person who was alive, and I saw the young people; they educated me, and I saw that the educative task was for everyone. As Gustave Bardy recounts about the first centuries of Christianity: from experience to experience. I don’t know how to speak in a way that will convince people about meaning. But I see it, from experience to experience; this is human, it can be done. “Why do I come to give a lesson; why am I here?” I live everything in the first person. The questions concern me. Why do I like research? Why am I happy? This is communicated palpably. At Christmas and at Easter I send my colleagues the posters from the Movement. I reduce them to greeting card size and I send them. Now many look forward to receiving them. For the most part, they are ideologized on the left, but they are struck by this very clear belonging of mine. The faculty general administrator told me, “Every day, I wait for your Christmas poster.” In Economics, it’s not easy to give a different judgment, but I do so and I don’t even notice; however, everything is an occasion for it. For example, during a lesson on development, the students asked me, “Why do you say that changing the structures isn’t enough, that you have to change people? How is it possible?” I answer, “I have been changed by Christ; it can happen.” Certainly, there is an immense fragility. You set up a relationship, and take a step, and they disappear, as if they were afraid, and you feel immense pain. But maybe years later, they return. You hadn’t understood that they had been touched by something, and five years later someone returns and says, “I want to know all of you better!”
Anna Kan, 25 years old, Karaganda, Kazakhstan: I teach German at the state university. The students come with the idea of success, and then, their enthusiasm vanishes. They become skeptical, cynical. This is what nihilism is. It’s not that the difference between me and my students is so great. That invisible abyss attracts everyone, and if I weren’t educated by our friendship, I would succumb as well. But here, I learn to see the Mystery; it is the work of each day, seeing it within German grammar. Educating means building relationships of friendship where there is someone who sees this Mystery.
Joe Morgan, 35 years old, London, United Kingdom: This applies to me. Risking. Just as someone risked for us, so I risk for them. The education of the Movement is continuous; it is always. Someone is always re-educating me, and it is the same way at school, with the students. What is education for me? Someone said, “I am with you forever.” This is Giussani’s method. It’s what we need, and what the young people need.
Oksana Dubnyakova, 31 years old, Moscow, Russia: I teach French in a university for the Humanities. It’s difficult. The old ideology has been destroyed, but there is another. They lack reasons; they don’t even understand what it means to be loved. The system has changed, but they have lost the Russian soul. I understand that the Russian soul also needs to be won back! Here, everything has to do with tests. The girls, with their makeup, their miniskirts, they’re Russian. They want to get married, have children, and have a husband who earns well. I took the risk of declaring who I am. I am a member of Memores Domini. “Why don’t you get married?” “There is a greater purpose,” I said. They didn’t understand, and thought maybe I was in a sect. And yet, day after day, some of them perceive something. They become attached to me. And I am with them.
Gloria: Knowledge is a loving encounter.
Semea: I was thinking again about my recent experience. I am educated by looking at those children. I have learned that I am not superior, that I can be more mature, but that I am there to learn with them about this Mystery.
Francisco Monteiro, 47 years old, Lisbon, Portugal: In our country, education is falsehood. In 200 years, there have been three great persecutions of the Church, with many killings and many arrests. They don’t talk about it in the books and lessons. In this context of deceit, I provoke the young people to a friendship without fear of losing them, without being afraid of their response. Another thing that has marked me and them is charitable work. This gesture with the young people of the school has cemented our friendship. It has also generated courage. The Principal forbade me to lead the Angelus. The young people say it anyway. Their classmates look at them with amazement. They ask, “What happened to them?”