13 May 2003

the risk of education

In April I was involved in two events that involved Liugi Giussani's book The Risk of Education. Giussani is the founder of the Roman Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation, a movement that began in Italy in the 1950s and with which I have been tangentially involved over the past several years.

I understand Fr. Giussani to be making four central claims in his book. First, he proposes that education must be oriented toward what Giussani describes as an experience with total reality in which Christ can come to be seen as fulfilling what it is for us to be authentically human.

Second, Giussani posits a respect for tradition as a necessary precondition for the possibility of education, since it is only from within the concrete specificity of a person's location in a family, culture, and society that one can face the question of reality and engage it in a truly critical way.

Third, he suggests that the Christian community must play an important and intentional role in education by providing an ecclesial environment in which Christ is made known in our relationships and actions.

Finally, Fr. Giussani sees the teacher as embodying the experience of reality in a particular way, with a coherence that carries with it a certain kind of authority, though not one that is perceived as external or imposed.

All of these claims constitute education as something inherently risky since it values and nourishes the freedom of the student, calling upon the student to verify the content of teaching through his encounter with and experience of reality.

The first event that discussed the book was a conference at Georgetown that centered on the topic of Christian education, with a focus on the university level. The three main speakers were Stanley Hauerwas (Duke Divinity School), Bp. Antony Schola (the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Venice), and Mary Katherine Tillman (University of Notre Dame). Though the majority of the participants were Roman Catholic, most of them would place themselves within the de Lubac/Balthasar tradition of Catholic theology, and thus were thoroughly orthodox, though ecumenically-minded.

The talks were all really good and for each of the three 45 minute talks they had scheduled in 90 minutes of very lively audience discussion (the conference was by invitation and only had around 50 participants), which allowed for very extensive interaction.

Hauerwas (erudite, funny, and abrasive as usual) spoke on the necessity of being distinctively Christian in education, rooting it in the ecclesial community, and situating education within the Christian narrative. Bp. Schola placed education in the context of a wider Christian philosophy of the human person and the revelation of God, so that all areas of study be considered in relation to the meaning of reality as a whole. Tillman made a comparison between the writings on education by John Henry Newman and those of Luigi Guissani.

Later in April, I was a panelist on a book discussion of The Risk of Education at the International Institute for Culture here in Philadelphia. Other panelists were Msgr Lorenzo Albacete and Mark Henrie. Albacete has taught at the John Paul II Institute in DC and at St Joseph's Seminary in NYC, as well as writing for things like the New York Times Magazine. Mark Henrie is an editor for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and also edited Doomed Bourgeois in Love, a recent set of essays on the films of Whit Stillman.

I hope to post some of my reflections on Giussani's book here soon.