Ignatian ideas in the classroom


Interdisciplinary forum on Jesuit teaching, scholarship

The A&S Interdisciplinary Forum hosted a panel on Tuesday evening, Feb. 8, in the BSC Senate Chamber titled, “How Does SLU’s Ignatian Heritage Impact Our Academic Work?” David Meconi, SJ from Catholic Studies started the panel and referenced two assignments he regularly uses in his course. One has students identify which of C.S. Lewis’ letters in “The Screwtape Letters” was written about them. The second has students write a paper in the form of a chapter from Augustine’s “Confessions.” Meconi mentioned the importance of growing in self-awareness, both in Ignatian spirituality and in successfully completing either assignment.

Jack Fishman from Earth and Atmospheric Science shared how he uses “Laudato Si” in his course. Fishman was surprised to find that of 10 possible passages that students could select from the encyclical for their final exam, the great majority chose the passage that speaks to how the climate affects the poor. The climate, Fishman teaches, is both a moral and a spiritual issue.

Drawing from the address he gave as the 2010 commencement speaker at Loyola University, Chicago, Leonard McKinnis from Theological Studies sought to describe a compassionate intellectual. McKinnis stresses the importance of being both committed to justice and a contemplative in action, meaning that rather than just reading and writing, a Jesuit education teaches to act, rather than encourage students to be just theorists. Initially “shocked” at how students were not engaged with the social issues of the local St. Louis community, McKinnis lamented how the solely intellectual or academic pursuit on a college campus can actually “rob” a student of the development of his or her heart and soul. McKinnis also stressed how the “other” in “Men and Women for Others” is not just limited to people, but can include the earth, too.

With two sections of 140 students, Laurie Russel from Biology explained how some of her best days come when she has to adapt her teaching plans to meet students where they are, and to give them what they need. With great respect for students and the learning process, Russel shared how her use of “learner-centered teaching” is actually well-aligned with Ignatian pedagogy, which emphasizes experience, reflection, and action. By coming to class with a diagram that reveals their comprehension of a biological concept, Russel is able to help students, in small groups, revise, reorganize and re-evaluate previous understandings. This may, at times, create “cognitive conflict,” which Russel describes as nothing short of Ignatian reflection.

In perhaps the most animated of the short, eight-minute talks, Tim Huffman from Communication shared, with those gathered, five Ignatian imitations. The first is to “go before you are ready.” Huffman described this step personally when he said, “I keep saying ‘yes’ until I help somebody.” The second imitation was, “after you fail, learn to do it better.” The third Ignatian imitation was simply “be with,” using the Jesuit Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries as an example, as well as the Labre Ministry on SLU’s campus. Fourth is “pursue a just society,” otherwise described as the work to humanize, legitimatize and enable, for humans to thrive. Lastly, Huffman offered that just as Jesuits seek to see God in all things, to “contemplate while acting” is a valuable Ignatian imitation.

The discussion that followed dealt with the perception of a dichotomy between Ignatian pedagogy and getting tenure at a research university like SLU. The panel failed to come to consensus on the issue, with some faculty admittedly more comfortable than others with pursing work and research with the poor, while not sacrificing chances for job promotion and respect within their field.

The panel was offered as part of Ignatian Heritage Week, which continues throughout the week.

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