Ignatian Pedagogy and the Spiritual Exercises

Posted on: March 30th, 2016 by Carol Scheidenhelm

In the almost ten years I have been at Loyola, I’ve encountered a great number of faculty committed to transformative teaching. Central to the Jesuit concept of educational practice, transformative education is not merely a method of teaching but a means by which students make meaning of their learning, their lives and their place in the world.

The university wrote an excellent document that describes and characterizes what is meant by transformative education. Reflective of Jesuit principles uniting faith, justice and reason, a Loyola education strives to lead students to a series of personal transformations that help them understand their own moral responsibility to the world. Loyola’s online document (linked below) includes a brief history of the early Jesuits’ struggle to capture their thinking about how education should transform the student. The Ratio Studorium, crafted by the Jesuits in 1599, outlines the process which defines the transformative process simply: “an Ignatian pedagogy is one in which the student is challenged to appropriate his or her own process of knowing.”

Foundations of the Ratio Studorium were derived from the principles laid out by St. Ignatius Loyola in his spiritual exercises. Prior to becoming director of the Faculty Center, I was familiar with these origins but did not see a true connection between Jesuit education and the spiritual exercises. I assumed the spiritual exercises related to become good Catholics. But closer study reveals that the five domains of the pedagogy align perfectly with the concepts laid out in the exercises.


Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm

Ignatius challenges us in the spiritual exercises to determine who we are and how we define ourselves (Context in the Ignatian paradigm). The exercises have us investigate how we relate to God and how we define our calling; what speaks to us in our understanding of our relationship with God? (Experience) Reflection is crucial to the exercises: how does what we’ve read relate to our lives? How does what we have learned about ourselves change our approach to life? Our interaction with the world? And what are we going to DO about what we have learned? (Action) What actions can we take to live the life God intends for us? The fifth domain provides the chance to look back on our experiences and determine how successful we were (Evaluation). What should we change? Where do we need more reflection? Action? Who am I NOW (Context) and how do I continue to challenge myself to better understand God and my role in this world? And the cycle continues.

The spiritual exercises, like Ignatian education, challenge us to continuously question, grow, discern good from evil, and act in a morally responsible way.  What a great foundation for preparing students to lead extraordinary lives.

Transformative Education, LUC: http://www.luc.edu/transformativeed/


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