In this interview, Fr. José Mesa SJ revisits our role as Global Citizens and how this concept is currently serving as an important element in fulfilling our mission as a Global Network.
1. How long have Jesuit and Ignatian schools been working as a Global Network, and what would you say are the main achievements?
It is true that in the beginning, the Jesuits were able to build an international system of schools with a common curriculum and a common pedagogical style which they put into practice through the “Ratio Studiorum”. In some ways, it was indeed a centralized model. But it is also true that even at that point the Jesuits were aware that schools had to respond to their local needs and contexts. Therefore, they encouraged the schools to respond to the particularities of their own respective cultures.
At that point, every Jesuit school in the world could be recognized as part of the Jesuit Network because they had the same curriculum, style and structure. However, this structure changed after the restoration of the Society due to the changes brought about through the French revolution. From that point on, education became one of the main tasks of the modern states. In some cases, they would have had absolute control of what the schools taught and how education was imparted and the Jesuits had to adapt to these new circumstances.
Today, we are facing a new reality; the new reality of the global world; of our common global problems; of a humanity that is more conscious that we are all brothers and sisters. We need to respond to that through networking and by recognizing our co-responsibility with the universal or global mission of the Society of Jesus.
The two previous General Congregations and the last four Generals of the Society have called the schools and Jesuits, to be aware of this global context and to use our imagination and creativity to respond to this new reality.
I think this is like anything in education – a slow process. We are learning, and through this process we are not only becoming more aware, but also more open and willing to explore new ways to work together. About three decades ago, our schools were all locally ruled and locally run. Now, through the establishment of the regional Jesuit education networks, schools are presented with new opportunities such as: creating regional projects and working together with other schools in their region. This progress brings a new level of awareness and a new level of agency to our schools. Today, we want to move further, we want to take another step and go beyond the boundaries of our regions or conferences. We want to do more as a unique and connected Global Network.
In terms of achievements, I think that the main accomplishment we have now is the increasing awareness of the great apostolic potential we have if we work together, and that we need to discover more specific ways to develop this potential. The Boston Colloquium meeting held in 2012, the SIPEI Conference held in 2014 and the upcoming congress in Rio de Janeiro are pointed towards helping us to recognize that we all belong to a Global Network, that we need to be working as a Global Network, and that we need to do more than we are already doing.
I could also argue, for instance, that Educate Magis is a big accomplishment in that sense, because it is providing us with an online platform so that all schools can come together as a Global Network. We didn’t have this before and without something like this we cannot really continue moving forward in the direction of a united Global Network.
2. How can schools measure their success in working as a Global Network with a Universal Mission?
This is a big question and I don’t really have an answer to this but I will say that our schools could begin asking themselves: Are we educating our students, our families, our staff, and our faculties within this global mission? And, are we really educating them through the lens of global citizenship, so that they are aware also of their common responsibility for the whole world? A responsibility that goes beyond their nation, their city, their region, and their culture? Maybe our schools can create some standards which we could use to measure these actions. This could be a very good step but it is something that we still need to do more of.
3. Can the results of this work have a direct impact on societies around the world, and how?
As we know, education occurs not only through classroom lessons but also through specific programs and projects. For example, the Red Chair project is one specific way to accomplish what we want to accomplish. This project has a strong impact as it helps our school communities, as well as civil society, to realize that the fact that there are so many children in different parts of the world who cannot go to school and cannot benefit from quality education is also their problem. It is in fact a problem for all of us, because we are all part of the same civilization and all of us are in many ways connected. The problems of others are in some ways also my problems.
Moreover, and specifically in terms of education, we know that the key to true development of any country and/or of humanity is quality education so when children lack access to quality education it is not only their problem or their nation’s problem but it is a problem for everyone because it affects all of us.
These kind of Global Citizenship projects, such as the Global Red Chair are very important because It helps to make the civil society, around our schools, to become more aware of what is going on and it also helps the school, the students, the faculty and the families to engage the civil society on a different level. A level that can really help to turn things around towards being able to face our common problems and taking action.
4. Would you say that today the Jesuit and Ignatian schools are working as a Global Network?
I wish I could say that but I cannot say they are at this moment. What I can say is that I see many Jesuit schools, in all regions of the Society and on all continents, who are very open and very willing to work and explore how we can work together internationally. This level of awareness is increasing everywhere. This is good news because, as I said before, education begins with awareness. We are gaining a very important momentum for our schools to really work together. I hope that the JESEDU-Rio meeting with the Education Delegates of the Society of Jesus later this year will help us to move forward and to be able to create a common agenda that will facilitate our schools to work together as a Global Network and to be able to reach a new level of awareness.
5. As the Secretariat for Education, what are your hopes for teachers of Jesuit and Ignatian schools around the world?
My hope is that all our teachers can understand the importance of what we are trying to do as a Global Network, serving our global mission. That they can understand that they are not only responsible for teaching a specific subject matter, in their particular school, but that they are also active participants of the Global Network. Acknowledging that they also need to help us in this mission. We cannot achieve what we want to achieve unless our teachers join us in this mission, because Jesuit education is not what we say or what the documents or videos say, but it is really what the teachers do every day in the classroom and how they really teach their students. So, without the commitment and support of the teachers it would be very difficult to do that.
The good news is that I see, in all regions of the world, some very enthusiastic teachers who understand the challenge that we face, and see it as a wonderful opportunity to grow together. To grow as human beings and as a Global Network of Jesuit schools. Many teachers are committed to moving to the frontiers of education as the first Jesuits did for our schools and are ready to be creative and respond with imagination to these new challenges and opportunities.
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