Monthly Archives: October 2013

Teaching and Learning: “I’m an Over-Achieving Perfectionist”

This semester in the IPS Foundations of Social Justice course, students began the semester by thinking about what it means to teach and learn. They were challenged to not only think of themselves as students or learners, but also as teachers who will share the knowledge they learn as they practice social justice in their communities. This week we’re featuring some of their reflections on teaching and learning at IPS.

I cannot believe that I am starting this blog post with a confession, but here goes nothing. I’m an over-achieving perfectionist.  Why would I start with such a confession?  Well, after reading the progressive works of Pablo Freire, Sarah Amsler, bell hooks and Sharon Welch, I realized that while perfectionism could be sometimes seen as such a desirable character trait in academic settings, and in fact it has pushed me in many ways, it has actually been my greatest stumbling block.

In my high school classes and my early years of undergraduate work, I saw the classroom as yet another way to prove, mostly to my insecure self, that I was excellent, hard-working, and, if I applied myself enough, maybe even close to perfect.  With this mindset, though, I also thought I would eventually learn something along the way, but the goal of learning never took precedent over the most important goal: the good grade.  If I got a good enough grade, then that meant I must have learned something, right?  After reading Freire, I realized that, pushed by my perfectionistic tendencies, I lived within, what he calls, the “banking system” of education but had no personal stake or interest in actually being “engaged in a continuous transform,” which Freire claims is “true learning” (33).  Who knew that my own fear of failure had kept me from transformation?

Just like for hooks, who speaks of educators in her early educational life that “were on a mission” and impacted how she thought about learning, I feel like I had such encounter once I attended Georgetown.  Andria Wisler, my sophomore year Justice and Peace Studies professor, revolutionized my previously held thoughts and feelings toward the goals of a formal education.  Operating from a largely Freirian, non-violent educational pedagogy, Andria forced me to fail and be uncomfortable, which was all I needed to actually begin to learn.   Hooks claims, “any radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged.”  Andria firmly practiced such pedagogy, to my own dismay.  My perfectionism, up until this point in the classroom, expressed itself as hiding, keeping my head down, and memorizing in order to regurgitate exactly what the professor emptied into my consciousness, because in previous classes that would give me the best grade.  I would never want to participate out of fear that what I had to say would not sound enlightened or would basically be wrong.  Well, Andria decided to do things differently.  She created a classroom environment in which everyone’s voices were expected to be heard and valued.  Essentially, this course began as my worst nightmare but ended as the mark of my first real educational experience.

I did not have to know the ‘right’ answer or any answer at all to have my voice heard.  The classroom became a place for me that was defined by failing, or what I began to understand as experimenting, more than it was about achieving unattainable perfection.  I fully understand Freire’s claim that “the necessary requirements for correct thinking is a capacity for not being overly convinced of one’s own certitudes.”  Through this conversion and transformation process within my education, I now understand the need for people that want to be involved in communal or society change to be open to failing and changing within their own lives.  My short time within the MA in Social Justice and Community Development program at Loyola University of Chicago has continued this educational transformation and reinforced my beliefs that hands-on experience and the willingness to fail are the marks of a genuine and committed learner. Welch concludes her first chapter in After the Empire with a quote that speaks to the importance in life and in social justice work of recognizing our own and others’ capacities for being wrong, which I will try to remember during any experience or even the courses I take at Loyola.  Welch writes, “I and every person, movement, group and institution that I trust can be deeply, profoundly, tragically wrong.” Through accepting that notion, I am able to think critically and deeply allowing the information I encounter to transform me personally.  Freire would probably say that I have finally begun to really learn.

Mackensey Carter is a first year dual degree (MSW/ MASJCD) student at Loyola University Chicago. After completing her BA in Theology at Georgetown University, she moved to Chicago to participate in a year of post-grad service through a faith-based program called Amate House.  During this year, she worked at parish’s after school program for middle school and high school students in the Mckinley Park neighborhood. She hopes to work specifically with social justice issues relating to racial reconciliation and the prevention of youth violence in the city of Chicago.

Teaching and Learning: Discussing Poetry at the Crack of Dawn

This semester in the IPS Foundations of Social Justice course, students began the semester by thinking about what it means to teach and learn. They were challenged to not only think of themselves as students or learners, but also as teachers who will share the knowledge they learn as they practice social justice in their communities. This week we’re featuring some of their reflections on teaching and learning at IPS.

It was a typical Tuesday morning. My 20 teammates and I had awoken before the sun and stumbled our way over to the weight room, using our cold breath as a guide. Many of us had been up late the night before (reading, writing papers, catching up with friends and family). As a result, when we spotted each other during bench presses, it wasn’t uncommon to see “crusties“ in each other’s eyes, or toothpaste smudged across our chins from a quick morning brush.

Most mornings I could go back to my room after these crack of dawn workouts. Change my clothes, wash my face, and give my teeth a proper brushing – maybe even fit in a solid 30-minute mid-morning nap before enjoying a buffet breakfast in the Wege cafeteria.

Not on Tuesdays, however: there was something better in store.

Tuesdays were a rush. Just as the sun started to rise, I would power walk out of the weight room to the main Academic Building. My peers (much like myself a couple hours earlier) would be groggily climbing the stairs to the ivy covered building, wondering, begrudgingly, why on earth they signed up for an 8am class.

My clothes still sweaty and hair damp, tightly twisted into a bun on top of my head, I made my way up to our second floor classroom. The chairs were arranged in a circle. Sometimes it was hard to find an opening and we acrobatically threw our book bags into the middle and jumped our way into a seat. There was no teacher desk – it was not needed. The professor, Dr. Jennifer Dawson, joined right in.

Before reading Friere, Amsler, and Welch, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I’d been blessed from kindergarten through undergraduate studies with passionate teachers. Educators who were experts in their fields, whether it be teaching multiplication tables or dissecting “The Wasteland.” Many seemed to genuinely love their jobs, and equally so, were invested in educating their students. There was something about Dr. Dawson, however, that made her stand out from the rest. In Friere’s words, she lived out his belief that, “Whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching, and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning.” Her mind was brilliant, but so was her heart. Because of this, she had the ability to educate my mind as a teacher, and educated my heart in her ability to be a student.

Dr. Dawson’s class was a seminar on Margaret Atwood. I had previously read only some of Atwood’s poetry, and I came into the class with no real expectations.

Each week became a spiritual experience. We came into class, formed our circle, and with an opening sentence, “So what did you guys think?” our class would begin. When I or a classmate shared a comment, Dr. Dawson would look them intensely in the eye. Not the eye of an examining authority, but the eyes like that of a mother. One who has absolutely every intention on hearing what you have to say. If your comments offered a genuine insight that clearly reflected your time and effort spent digging into the words, it wasn’t uncommon for Dr. Dawson to respond, “Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!”

She allowed her emotions to shine through. She told us sections of books that always made her cry. Themes that left her up at night, worrying about the future of her children. Certain quotations and threaded motifs that identified what she considered the mark of a genius writer. She shared her intellectual mastery, but also her intimate vulnerability. In response, my classmates and I took on the individual challenge to do the same.

For all intents and purposes, this class could be considered an accelerated book club. Dr. Dawson would provide historical and literary tidbits to provide a deeper context, but the majority of our classes were group discussions of the book at hand. As Amsler and Welch suggest, she was radical in her trust and willingness to allow us, the students, guide the flow of the class. One person would offer up a quotation of interest, and others would start uncovering another piece, another connection. The purpose of this class was not to “transfer knowledge” but to embrace “creating possibilities” (Friere).

This to me was perhaps the most meaningful of educational experiences. Because my voice was valued, I felt a responsibility to dive into our class materials, to make connections that could be offered in class and see if anyone else made the same connection. After all, we were the teachers just as much as Dr. Dawson (something I have only recently come to understand).

As a result, the themes, topics, and questions we discussed in this class nearly four years ago are still among the freshest in mind. They stuck. Not simply because I felt my voice was valued, but also as Welch suggests, I was diving into the social awareness of the themes at hand. Hearing how they were played out in my classmates and how they play out in our society at large.

Needless to say, it was worth every smudge of toothpaste left on my face.

Monica Rischiotto is originally from Portland, OR and just finished up a year in Detroit as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corp where she worked with school gardening programs in Detroit Public Schools. She studied English and Community Leadership at Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, MI) and feels extremely honored and privileged to continue her studies at the graduate level through LUC’s Social Justice & Community Development program. 

Teaching and Learning: Not a Parrot in a Cage

This semester in the IPS Foundations of Social Justice course, students began the semester by thinking about what it means to teach and learn. They were challenged to not only think of themselves as students or learners, but also as teachers who will share the knowledge they learn as they practice social justice in their communities. This week we’re featuring some of their reflections on teaching and learning at IPS.

Many people praise the unique capability of the parrot to reproduce faithfully different sound, even of human beings. My education, in most cases, expected me to memorize and repeat information uploaded into my head by the teacher. In general the pedagogy applied by my schools system did not instill personal and social transformation. I deal here with a rare occasion that transformed me and how it is relates to our course readings.

The image of parrot is a good symbol of for my education as a “recording machine”. Most of the time in primary, high school and at university in DR Congo, a student is required to read, memorize, and reproduce – without mistake – volumes of books, which often are dated from the last half of the last century. This education is a colonial heritage, and it has never undergone any major change since it was designed.  The system never intended to form independent persons capable of transforming society. The intention of the designers of the educational system to which I was exposed was not to foster a critical mind but to prepare people who will fill the gap in the colonial administration.

In this regard, my experience in this area is similar to bell hooks’ experience after the racial integration period: ‘The banking system of education (based on the assumption that memorizing information and regurgitating it represented gaining knowledge that could be deposited, stored and used at a later date) did not interest me’ (bell hooks 1994, 5).

The learning experience that deeply transformed me happened in a workshop prior to an internship experience in South Africa. During this meeting, I was expecting the speaker to lecture us on a set of methods, attitudes, and formulas to say to people, much likemy previous educational experiences. On the contrary, he talked only for fifteen minutes, and what did he say? “You are all that these people out there need. They need your compassion, your energy, your creativity, your intelligence – and your silence, if words are not enough or if you don’t understand the local language (this was my case). After these few words, the group was set to start the experience.

I was shocked and disappointed with the speaker. I asked many people wondering if that is all that he had to tell us. I became very insecure because he shared so little information. But when I arrived in the terrain, people didn’t come with problems related to philosophy or highly disputed theological topics. They came with daily living situations: unemployment, hunger, and sickness; the stigma of HIV/AIDS, of having been raped, of drug addiction. Confronted by these existential problems, neither words nor theory was enough. What was most important was simply being present. It is then that I understood the relevance of the speaker’s words, his simplicity and lack of an authoritative tune. I understood that I am the first asset needed in that context – not an encyclopedic knowledge, but my wholeness. This experience changed my view on what the world is expecting from me: to be present not only with my head but my whole person. I related this newfound understanding with my faith experience. This is exactly what Jesus professed in coming to stay with us:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God’ (Hebrew 10:5-7).

God made me in His image with freedom and free will. Why then should I be imprisoned by a ‘banking system’ education? These readings made me aware of the disastrous effects education based only on memorization has had on my life. It prevented me from believing in myself. Instead I trusted more in the “information” received. Now I was beginning to understand my discomfort with the shortness of the instructor’s presentation. My reaction was the consequence of my education background which Paulo Freire called “banking system”. This system produces:

Intellectuals who memorize everything, reading for hours on end, slaves to the text, fearful of taking a risk, speaking as if they were reciting from memory, fail to make any concrete connections between what they have read and what is happening in the world, the country, or the local community”(Freire 1998, 34).

I want to regain my dignity, the right of being the primary agent of my formation and transformation. God does not desire sacrifice or burnt offerings. He desires me. He desires a human being, He gave me a body. Through critical pedagogy, I am empowered, my capacities are valued, and I am challenged to challenge the world where I live. I fulfill my destiny, which in St Iranaeus’ words is God’s glory.

The parrot is admired for its capacity of reproducing sound and its place apart from the forest is in the cage. But I am a free man. Not made to live in a cage. My place is in the heart of human failures, struggles and conquests. That is why I would like to forgive my previous school systems, which caged me and made me a dominated person who is ‘crushed, diminished, and converted into a spectator, [maneuvered] by myths which powerful social forces have created’ (Amsler 2013, 70). I ought to follow the example of bell hooks and Sharon D. Welch, who have constantly reflected on their educational heritage and have found creative ways to make difference in history.

Gauthier Buyidi, SCJ is a first-year MASJCD student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who seeks to place faith, poverty, justice, peace, development, reconciliation, and conflict resolution in dialogue with one another, particularly in the context of his home country.

Teaching and Learning: The Importance of Studying and Reflecting on Pedagogy

This semester in the IPS Foundations of Social Justice course, students began the semester by thinking about what it means to teach and learn. They were challenged to not only think of themselves as students or learners, but also as teachers who will share the knowledge they learn as they practice social justice in their communities. This week we’re featuring some of their reflections on teaching and learning at IPS.

At IPS, transformative teaching and learning are essential to what we do. We know that our students aren’t at IPS just to satisfy their intellectual curiosities, they come here because they want to make a difference in their world. In the MA in Social Justice and Community Development program that I direct, we often remind our students that they’re not just learners, they’re also teachers. As social justice and community development practitioners, they don’t just do justice, they teach others how to do justice as well. 

In our Foundations of Social Justice class this semester we started the course with a two week focus on teaching and learning. We named our own transformative learning experiences as well as the characteristics we like to see in students and teachers. We developed a class covenant to ground our learning and we spent a lot of time talking about education for justice. We read Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and Alice Walker and we discussed the conditions for transformative education. As the professor for the course, I attempted to pull back the curtain, so to speak, on my own decisions about pedagogy. I adopted an open syllabus and invited the students to give feedback on the content we would cover during the semester. And each week, students fill out a questionnaire where they name their biggest obstacles and successes in learning that week. We review these as a class the following week as a way of remembering our common task of transformative education and clearing any obstacles that might be in our path. 

We’ve found that when we name teaching and learning as a subject matter in its own right, then we’re able open more room to engage the the transformative possibilities of the course’s content. So this week we wanted to pull back the curtain a bit further and share some of our own reflections on teaching and learning. We hope this gives you all a chance to glimpse what it means to practice transformative education at IPS.  

Meet Dr. Peter Jones: IPS’ Newest Faculty Addition

Dr. Peter Jones

Peter Jones, PhD, joined IPS this semester as a member of the full-time faculty. Here are some questions to get to know Peter a little better!

What is your research/academic focus (or foci)?

My teaching focus has been all things systematic and practical theology while the intersection of theology, ethics, and economics has always been of special interest to me, and was the topic of my dissertation.  I have been led by research in these areas to dive more deeply into theological anthropology along with cultural studies and social theory.

What appeals to you about IPS?

There are two main things that draw me to IPS.  First, the range of student interests in conjunction with their diverse backgrounds is supremely appealing to me as an instructor.  I sincerely enjoy learning so many things about our course topics as these kinds of groups discuss them.  Second, the Catholic and specifically Ignatian impulse that suffuses the institutional identity of Loyola is refreshing.

Which classes are you teaching this semester? 

Introduction to Theology and Ministry

The Church and its Mission

Cubs or Sox?

Being from Texas, this is an easy choice because my hometown Rangers don’t always get along with the Sox.  I’m going with the Cubbies on this one, though I should perhaps admit that in a moment of weakness I did give some of my money to the fellow who cursed the team at the World Series all those decades ago (in exchange for one his delicious Cheezborgers of course).

To learn more about Peter, check out his CV. PeterJonesCV

IPS ‘Tweet the Bible’ Campaign featured on Fox 32 News

On Monday, September 30, the Feast Day of St. Jerome, Institute of Pastoral Studies Tweeted the Bible for 24 hours to promote biblical literacy. Fox 32 News featured the event on their newscast last night. To watch the video, click here: (If hyperlink does not work, copy and paste the website into your browser.)