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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

Teachers awaken the future!

We have come as far as we have because we are the cleverest creatures ever to have lived on earth. But if we are to continue to exist, we will require more than intelligence. We will require wisdom.

David Attenborough

Pope Francis has said that we no longer live in an era of change, instead we live in a change of era. Everything is changing, human relationships are in radical change as migration increases, traditional cultures are losing their power to hold people together, the patterns of employment are adapting to increasing mechanisation, virtual reality is eating into everyone’s free time. In the background to those changes the relentless progress of climate change threatens the very existence of humanity. We are part of a great acceleration into uncertainty and time is short. We cannot ‘fix’ many of these issues, but we can fix ourselves and adapt to a new future, and that is the task of education.

Young people are resilient, usually optimistic and have a natural energy for life. They are the greatest resource that humanity possesses. As educators we need develop in them not just intelligence but also wisdom if we are to prepare them for the unknown. That means giving space in education for more creativity and imagination and not just overlocking information into a young workforce who may never have a traditional career or need for the knowledge they receive in school. Moreover, teaching to a tight curriculum where convergent thinking is rewarded is unlikely to stimulate imagination or creativity in our students. Such gifts may wither on the vine, and those gifts may well hold the key to the future of our planet.

St Augustine identified imagination, cognition and memory as the focus of education that led students into the wisdom of God. He was one of the foundation stones of Catholic education. This inner wisdom often breaks into young lives as a mystery that fascinates but fades as formal education proceeds to devalue subjective personal experience and emphasise measurable facts.

That devaluing begins to happen in the top years of primary school and goes underground in young lives for many years. That means that many young people are making life changing decisions based on a narrow set of economic factors that play into a superficial maintenance of a culture that is in urgent need of change. We are wasting our most important human potential by clinging exclusively to competitive measurable outcomes in education rather than engaging imagination and creativity.

Authentic Catholic education has never bought into this industrial model of education. One reason is that Catholics have always started from the understanding that we are spiritual beings, every one of us has soul. That unique soul spirals through us like DNA. It is a source of deep knowing, an instinct for wisdom and a source of values. Each pupil needs to embrace that soul, that inner wisdom, to be themselves rather than a factor of production in an evolving industrial economy. It is in that secret place that young people find the spiritual energy to trust their imagination, claim their creativity and move to a fuller life. It is the soul that recognises the interconnectedness of all creation not just as an idea but a felt experience. It is the soul that gives the will and resilience to let go of consumption as a source of comfort and security. It is the soul that has the wisdom to create new relationships that will ease tensions between the rich and poor nations. It in the soul that we nurture compassion for our fellow human beings and our shared planet. The soul is the place where the call to action is heard.

So, teachers need to be aware that the wisdom of God is hidden in each of their students. They carry a whole range of gifts that may not be stimulated by the standard curriculum. Sport, drama, music, religion, and dance are likely to awaken a tacit awareness of the soul in young people. Teachers who can find time to know some of their students as persons are more likely to identify their gifts, dreams, and energies as they look to the future. Good observation, encouragement and conversation can help young people consolidate a sense of vocation that connects their deepest and best energies with the greatest needs of the world in which they live. That inner call to fullness of life in young people is our best hope for the future. Religion, and especially the Gospel for Christians, is the best way to focus that inner energy and wisdom for the future. Reconnecting this spiritual, vocational energy and wisdom to a young person’s life path can help them in Don Bosco’s phrase to, ‘save their soul’ and through coming generations, perhaps to save the planet. Teachers need to be more than career guides they need to awaken and rescue the souls of their pupils.

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