Dear Members of the De La Salle Community:
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. (John F. Kennedy)
One of the great advantages of belonging to an International Institute of Catholic Educators such as ours is that we can benefit from a collective wisdom that helps us to understand the present as we move into the future. This is fully consistent with our heritage and traditions. For example, the Conduite des Ecoles, underwent innumerable revisions over time. This text embodied the entire pedagogical practices, from general to specific, used in the "Brothers" schools for several hundred years.
The unprecedented time we have experienced since March of this year has not gone unnoticed or unacknowledged by the international Institute of Lasallian schools around the world. I should therefore like to share with you a few thoughts for reflection that I believe are important for every parent, student, teacher and administrator at this time.
I am sharing with you several quotations from a book entitled the "Declaration on the Lasallian Educational Mission - Challenges, Convictions and Hopes" published and issued to all heads of our schools recently by the Centre of the Institute in Rome. We need to take these ideas and reflect on them prayerfully and seriously as the world before us changes in so many significant ways. Although they are not prescriptive, they are intended to provoke thought and direction. I present a few ideas contained in this document.
The decades at the end of the 20th century in the years since the beginning of the present century have been fertile on all knowledge fronts. The turbulent decades of the 60s and 70s allowed the creation of alternative educational projects and the liberating and critical pedagogical positions that even today continue to show strengths. For example, the novel expression of popular education. However, today the range is greater and conducive to fertile dialogue between centuries-old educational traditions, such as ours and theoretical proposals that support current educational projects.
Today, new paradigms that impact education are also appearing forcefully. The emerging paradigm of complexity implies a break with the determinism and positivism of science, the fragmentation of knowledge, the linearity of thought, and the emergence of unsuspected problems and threats. At the same time, this paradigm presumes different approaches, such as inter-discipline and trans-discipline, for the approach to knowledge and the solution of problems, systemic thoughts, hologrammatic concepts, auto-organizational theory, that is, a new epistemology to education that poses enormous challenges to education and the school.
To continue insisting on a compartmentalized school for the approach to the acquisition of knowledge is simply impossible. Thus, for us Lasallians, honest dialogue is necessary to enrich the knowledge so essential for these times with our educational heritage. The rereading of the founding values of our tradition and the study of its historical, social, ethical and political implications would make our educational proposals more relevant. If they were approached from the perspective of complex problems, pedagogies for the mediation of conflicts and dissent, cooperative learning would be favoured.
The school and the teacher are no longer the only dispensers of knowledge. It is impossible to do so in a world where computer resources make available to all people the knowledge accumulated in the most diverse areas. Obviously, in the same world, knowledge, truth, falsehood, lies, and all sorts of approaches that demand criteria for discernment and character to seek the truth coexist.
Thus, a fundamental change in the functions of the school and the teacher is proposed. Today, more than the information itself, it is important to generate the conditions for learning and to ensure the accompaniment that forms the criteria and the character. The need that arises for pedagogies that can form the criteria and the consequent character of the teacher. This function consists in the educational mediation between the subject who learns and the object to be known, between the absolutism of the criteria of truth attributed to the teacher and the autonomy of those who are learning to discern their own criteria.
Critical reading, a return to the classics, permanent dialogue, purposeful debate, discussion to foster the understanding of different positions or opinions on various topics, the exploration of different theoretical or political approaches, the study of religious traditions, and the approach to cultures are examples of educational mediations essential today in the Lasallian educational project.
Over 350 years of Lasallian educational mission has seen a privileged place for the formal institution or school, be they primary, secondary schools, or universities. However, in places today, where it is not possible or convenient to establish institutions, our mission has found other channels. They include non-formal or informal education, pastoral action, evangelization in other public and civic settings and recently a presence in virtual media in unschooled settings. Realities often bypass the imagination.
The last decades have been prolific in educational advancement. Among the most important to be noted is the progress of cognitive psychology, computer science, communication technologies, neuroscience, advances in genetics, philosophical reflection, critical perspective of social systems, and new paradigms that pose different conceptions of discipline itself and of scientific methodology. All of these have influenced education as never before, and, consequently, they have influenced pedagogies and instructional strategies. New educational paradigms emerge, and, without a doubt, inspire and challenge, consciously or unconsciously, explicitly or implicitly, the Lasallian educational mission.
For over three centuries, the Lasallian school has distinguished itself for being a comprehensive educational project implemented through pedagogies based on the intense educational relationship between teacher and student, as well as the strength of the fraternal community in the group as a mediator of learning.
The present times are different. Although many of the original inspirations of basic education - literacy, arithmetic, language learning, professional skills and a reason to live - retain their inspiring power. It is fitting that we become aware of the new dynamics that affect contemporary educational processes.
(Declaration on the Lasallian Educational Mission - Challenges, Convictions and Hopes, 2020)
As challenging and even perhaps threatening as it may be to some, it is never the less important to recognise that education should not be viewed as synonymous with school buildings or, necessarily, a place to go. A school is a place to be. Learning must go on beyond the place of school, and learning must continue to evolve into a state of being and conviction. Students do need to be in such an environment, I strongly believe this, but I also believe that if this environment is not extended to the home, neighbourhood, playing field, the parish, and place of business, we have severely reduced what it means to learn. Time learning is intended to serve the needs of students and must not be reduced to students simply putting in time.
Maybe, these unsettled times teach us that we have missed the mark and marginalized schools too much, thus rendering the educational process often meaningless and fruitless. The end of education is not an end in itself. For us, as Catholics, Lasallians and believers, it must be much more, and it must be founded on the truth, joy and hope of the Good News and in a environment of quality learning.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. (Victor Frankl)
I am very much aware that we have, all over the world, had to change and adapt over the last many months. It was an immense joy for us all to know that after an absence of over five months, our own students would be back. Yes, there are changes and restrictions. These will remain in place for some time as our own country, and the world continue to cope with the pandemic. In addition, much unrest has occurred close to home, which has also resulted in a state of increased anxiety, anger and instability around the globe.
As good Lasallians, we are called to see all things with the eyes of faith. Perhaps, we are being called today to rebuild the true edifice. Perhaps, we need a strong reminder that unless we build on a strong foundation - a foundation based on the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we build in vain. I ask all members of the community to put aside our own comfort levels, our own ease, our own designs and plans, our own issues and personal concerns for something greater.
The educational plan rolled out in these early days of the academic year may not meet everyone's needs, desires and dispositions. I never thought I would teach online or with a mask. I am. And I am trying to make the best of things. It will not be a permanent condition. We cherish the relationships among colleagues and the students and teachers. We will, with time and prudence, return to some previous norms while other norms will need to recognise the new realities into which our current and future students will go. Although much has changed in our small worlds and the larger one, much is also the same. Although we are inconvenienced and limited, we are not beaten or unable to function. In times of crisis such as ours, there are those stuck in the past, those who lament and are perplexed, and then there are those brave souls who determine to meet the challenges and forge ahead with wisdom and calmness.
We are not alone. We are together in mission. Fraternity and the sense of community are the greatest and best contributions we can make to one another. This fraternity promotes the harmonious growth of people, helps us find meaning in life, and creates bonds of affection and respect. Our Lasallian expression of what it really means to learn is a gift of God to one another and the world beyond.
Lastly, please do not underestimate the power that prayer can bring to our broken world. Young people need us to help them along this stormy path these days, so we must strive to find the strength to solve problems and build together with a spirit of patience and co-operation. With goodwill, it can be done.
I know that in these first days of school, we have to some degree experienced some level of anxiety. Leaving familiar ground is always difficult. All of us must assume more personal responsibility and handle more independence than we have been used to doing. It is our generation's time to face some adversity. Are we up to the task?
I believe the current temporary conditions provide us with a basis to build for the future, but we know that we still have much to do, and we will need to rely on everyone's conviction and commitment to the great responsibility we have as a Christian educational community striving for authenticity and excellence. Let us move forward with faith and zeal.
Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever; not even if your whole world seems upset. If you find that you have wandered away from the shelter of God, lead your heart back to Him quietly and simply. (St. Francis de Sales)
Live Jesus in our hearts. Forever.
Brother Domenic, fsc