The Educator's Mission

Education for Justice | Wed, Jun 1, 2011

By James E. Hug, S.J.

This article, first published in America Magazine, explores the challenge to educators that Pope Benedict XVI lays out in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate.  It presents a very different vision of the future than most students harbor.

“The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side” (No. 53).

Our world is caught at this time in a series of converging global crises of economy and finance, food and hunger, migration, climate change and ecological disaster. Solutions that try to get us back on the track we were on before the crises hit will guarantee only greater upheaval in the future.

Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” addresses this troubled world and offers an insightful and challenging blueprint for a more authentically human, sustainable and secure future. Turning that blueprint into a practical reality implies a reorientation and refocusing of the whole educational enterprise in this country.

The stakes are high for educators who have the challenge of making “Caritas in Veritate” understandable while promoting the new direction it introduces. That is no easy task, since its vision conflicts head-on with many American cultural assumptions.

Most would agree that the purpose of education is to guide students to discover and develop their own gifts, finding their vocation to serve the community. Globalization has revealed an interdependence that calls us to turn economic, social, political and cultural forces toward the creation of a global community of love, a single human family united in solidarity and peace. For Pope Benedict a complete education requires service of the global community. Curricula, from kindergarten through doctoral studies, therefore, need to be suffused with this global vision, shaping people who think of themselves as part of one global human family. Are we ready to instill the vision that the pope outlines of a single human community living in solidarity and peace?

Pope Benedict also calls for a transformation of the market, business and politics. The market must integrate more relational principles into its workings. Trust and a sense of gift or gratuity in the relationships between producers and consumers need to replace cutthroat competition and a philosophy of caveat emptor. Creation of wealth is not businesses’ only responsibility. Every business must recognize its responsibilities to all its stakeholders, including workers, clients, suppliers, consumers, local communities and the environment. Pope Benedict’s vision of a well-ordered global economy implies a revolution in business education and economics courses. Will our business schools work seriously with these themes? To do so they must introduce students to the schools of alternative economics that are trying to integrate family and community values and environmental concerns into traditional economics programs. They will have to focus their curricula on a renewed economic order in which economic development serves human dignity and ecological sustainability.

The pope offers a vision of global commerce, directed by Catholic social teaching, that promotes rather than repels global solidarity and that serves the common good. In fact, he claims, if globalization is well managed politically it will open the possibility of redistribution of wealth on a global scale. Will our economists and political scientists educate new generations in this vision and help develop it as a practical, if challenging, direction that the world needs to embrace?

Politicians and citizens alike need to recognize that if there ever was some kind of absolute national sovereignty, it no longer exists. But there is still an important role for the nation state as well as for democratically participatory governing institutions at all levels. That role is not to compete ruthlessly to secure the future for its own people. It is to work together with all other political actors to build a workable global governance system that serves the common good of the whole human family. Can our researchers and educators open up those concepts, counter knee-jerk reactions of fear and suspicion and help to develop systems that serve the common good of the whole human family?

Pope Benedict defines the solidarity we are all created to seek as a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone for everyone. To educate our nation in this vision and instill in it this motivation is truly the “love in truth” that defines authentic human development and our shared vocation. In our culture today, this is a sharply prophetic mission for all educators of every kind.