Saturday, August 20, 2011
Yesterday, Pope Benedict addressed young university professors at the Monastery of San Lorenzo while in Spain during his participation in the World Youth Day in Madrid. His address is HERE.
Although it is brief, the address contains some important thoughts for those of us who have dedicated our lives to tertiary and professional education. The pope’s words are all the more relevant as we begin a new academic year in which many of us wrestle with the objectives of our teaching, advising, and research. In addition, for those of us who may have the opportunity to consider new faculty hiring, the Holy Father’s words serve as a resource for considering the qualities of candidates who will be considered for faculty positions. Surely the pope’s thoughts about qualities for teaching also apply to us who are already teachers.
What are these qualities?
Pope Benedict begins by contending that a teacher has a responsibility to search for and disseminate the truth. For the Christian and Catholic, this truth is Jesus Christ, God incarnate. A person disposed to this has a solid chance of acknowledging and discussing with others the inextricable nexus between faith and reason. For the skeptic who may take issue with this assertion, one needs to take stock of the fact that the foundations of the great western universities of today rest on this nexus and search.
In addition, a further desirable quality related to the first is the zeal to engage colleagues in other disciplines which have a bearing on the fields of teaching and research that one pursues in his or her own work. Of course this engagement is not simply geared to self-improvement of the individual teacher. It also provides considerable benefit to the students by demonstrating that learning leads to knowledge and knowledge leads to wisdom about the nature and essence of the human person. This wisdom, moreover, enables a person to see the danger that inheres in the utilitarian fragmentation of knowledge that too often accompanies the work that takes place in universities today. Combating this academic fragmentation provides an important basis for helping teachers and students address the fundamental questions of education: who am I? What am I? What is my relation to the world and the university? What is my relation with others? What is my relation with God? Pope Benedict argues that the authentic educational enterprise is geared to pursuing these questions in order to save humanity from the “reductionist and curtailed vision” which is cultivated by academic disintegration.
Anoter question for ourselves and for those whom we consider to join our faculties is this: do we share in Benedict’s definition of the university as the “house” where the inhabitants seek “the truth proper to the human person”?
Once again, Papa Ratzinger provides the benefit of his many years of teaching experience in this wonderful address. Tolle lege!