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La pédagogie jésuite

The Jesuits, founded by Ignatius, have a venerable pedagogical tradition, and I have been interested in finding out more about it for about a year.

Recently a blogger friend sent me an article about a pedagogical concept from the Jesuits that I had not heard of before: eloquentia perfecta. According to the article, "The phrase evokes an elegance and erudition in learning and communication, whether in public speaking or writing, that is directed not toward the mere perfection of these skills but toward service to the common good."

Loyola University Maryland, part of what the article portrays as a rediscovery of eloquentia perfecta at Jesuit universities, gives three goals of the pedagogical method:

  • the ability to use speech and writing effectively, logically, gracefully, persuasively, and responsibly
  • critical understanding of and competence in a broad range of communications media
  • competence in a language other than one's own
Igantius of Loyola
This list and the statement above from the article sound like what all teachers want their students to achieve, but the $1 million pedagogical question is, How do you achieve it?  Again from the article: "Students devote a higher percentage of class time to preparing and presenting oral reports; they must complete more writing requirements; and each assignment is more thoroughly reviewed and revised by instructors and often by fellow classmates as well."

As with anything in education, of course, there is no "best" methodology (the French phrase la bonne pratique is helpful since it does not contain the superlative but focuses teachers on finding out what works). I think the more important challenge for any teacher, and the resolution of which is the most rewarding, is making the chosen methodology both effective and interesting for students. One Jesuit professor is quoted in the article saying, “These are just skills that you really have to learn, and you learn them by doing them. . . . With any core curriculum, . . . most people hate [it] while they do it, and they fall in love with it 10 years later at alumni reunions.” The challenge is to transform that initial hate into love.

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