Teaching and Justice

by Gina Merys, Acting Director, Reinert Center

The university must carry out this general commitment [to transform and enlighten the society in which it lives] with the means uniquely at its disposal: we as an intellectual community must analyze causes; use imagination and creativity together to discover remedies; communicate to our constituencies a consciousness that inspires the freedom of self-determination; educate professionals with a conscience, who will be the immediate instruments of such a transformation; and continually hone an educational institution that is academically excellent and ethically oriented.

–Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., The Task of a Christian University

Jesuit universities have stronger and different reasons, than many other academic and research institutions, for addressing the actual world as it unjustly exists and for helping to reshape it in the light of the Gospel.

–Peter Hans-Kolvenbach, S.J., The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education

The start of an academic year is a time for new beginnings; faculty and students alike have renewed energy to devote their minds to what happens in their courses, and a greater capacity to see with new eyes the many ways to ignite a thirst for learning and how an education can be used to transform the world.  I see the ideas from Ellacuria and Kolvenbach, in the epigraphs above, as models for how we can approach the Reinert Center’s theme for the year, “Teaching and Justice.” Such a theme draws on and from the many facets of a university, specifically the variety of disciplinary knowledge and skills, theoretical perspectives and concrete practices present in the classrooms, offices, residences, and social spaces here. Simultaneously, this theme of teaching and justice taps into the multiple perspectives of humanity through the scope of the Jesuit mission that calls us to use what we draw from the university in the service of bettering the immediate community around us as well as the world beyond, for everyone.

The goal of focusing on the intersections of teaching and justice neither supposes it is a singular topic nor one that can be (un)covered in one academic year. It does, however, give us an occasion to exercise the particular context of the university to refocus our ways of being in relationship with our content areas and how we invite our students into that relationship as well. Regardless of the place on the spectrum of novice to expert we encounter students, we have the opening to create spaces for them to make connections with ideas, to develop proficiencies, and create new knowledges through our own unique courses and classroom spaces. When we see learning experiences through the lens of Ignatian pedagogy, each meeting with student minds is a great gift and immense responsibility to their humanity and the humanity of all those they encounter through the lenses we design with them; therefore, the partnership between teaching and justice becomes all the more important to examine.

Throughout the academic year, the Reinert Center will create opportunities to encounter the theme through several subtopics as a way of exploring, scrutinizing, and developing teaching and justice including: Student Identities, Ability and Accessibility, Classroom Practices, Course Content and Curriculum, Technology, Experiential Learning, Assessment, and Mentoring. We invite the Saint Louis University community to discover the multiple layers embedded within our theme and the ways in which we can use those layers to teach ourselves to embody, enact, and engage the gifts of the university context to, in the words of St. Ignatius, “set the world on fire.”

 

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