Learned and Wise
The first Jesuit educators saw education as a way of becoming more human. Their curriculum and teaching method was a Christian version of renaissance humanism, which set out to find God in all things. They believed that by studying the writings of the classical authors you became both a learned and a good person and, importantly, a good citizen. They pioneered science in their schools and universities, seeking to share with their students their own research into how the universe, the earth, life and human beings worked.
Classical and contemporary languages were important too, as they were key to understanding different cultures and sharing the best from each. The aim of Jesuit education was the learned and eloquent person, the ‘Renaissance Man’, able to make a difference in society for the common good. Still today, in Jesuit education ‘knowledge is joined to virtue.’ (Characteristics of Jesuit Education 51)
Jesuit schools continue the tradition of excellence in learning – making sure that each pupil is engaged, stretched and inspired to excel by outstanding teaching and by offering the broadest possible curriculum, supplemented by a wide range of extra-curricular activities. Academic excellence in a Jesuit school is understood ‘within the larger context of human excellence.’ (CJE 113) Jesuit education develops ‘the qualities of mind and heart that will enable pupils to work with others for the good of all in the service of the Kingdom of God.’ (CJE 110)
The traditional method of Jesuit teaching, rooted in Ignatius’ own experience, begins by being attentive to the experience a pupil already has of whatever is to be learned. Reflection then builds on that experience, extending and deepening it by what is taught and learned. Out of this learning comes action. Education in the Jesuit tradition always has a purpose which is about the common good – doing something here and now which, little by little, transforms the world.
However, for knowledge and learning to be put to best effect, it is necessary also to be wise. Wisdom is the gift of knowing when and how to apply one’s learning; it is the ability ‘to evaluate relative goods and competing values.’ (CJE 55); it is to be able to discern what is important and what is not.
In the ancient world, those who sought wisdom from the Oracle at Delphi were met with an inscription above the door: ‘Know yourself’ (Gk. γνῶθι σεαυτόν, gnothi seauton). Wisdom is founded in the idea of knowing yourself well – your weaknesses, prejudices and blindspots as well as your strengths, talents, and enthusiasms.
Jesuit schools constantly encourage pupils to know themselves better. This self-knowledge includes the intellectual, the emotional and social, the aesthetic and creative, the spiritual and physical. By ‘the fullest possible development of each person’s individual capacities’ our pupils become learned and wise so they can ‘use those developed gifts for others.’ (CJE 109)