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The Dream of ISJ

In the academic year 2009-2010 Institut Sankt Joseph chose to work intensively on “Drømmen om ISJ” or “The Dream of Institut Sankt Joseph.” The goal was to implement a process whereby ISJ’s identity and vision were discussed and clarified; in essence, “Who would we like to be in the future?” This work was supported by the school’s development group; consisting of teachers and educators from all departments, as well as management. The process was carried out with maximum involvement from all employees at ISJ!

What do we want – ideally – to provide our children?

What should – ideally – characterize children from ISJ?

What should – ideally – characterize student achievement by attending ISJ?

What do we want – ideally – for the children when they leave here, both daily, and when they leave the school after the 9th grade?

What impact does our view of humanity and educational ideals have upon our daily school life?

Identity and formation

By Hanne Brixtofte Petersen, associate professor of Danish and Peter Franklin, principal.

“It is humanity´s task to become human.” -Cicero

In everyday language it has become common to say, “I want to make a difference.”  It is said so often that it has almost become a cliché. Nevertheless, it is perhaps the shortest way to answer the question of why there must be Catholic schools in Denmark. The Catholic schools, like all good schools, have the task of creating the conditions necessary for children to learn skills and knowledge that will enable them to pursue their personal goals, and act as citizens in the Danish society. That being said, what is the difference between a school and a Catholic school, and how can it be identified? If a Catholic school must continue to be justified and make a difference, it must be able to justify itself in relation to a formation task. This implies, of course, a formulated view of humanity and educational ideals that are promulgated with a serious reflection on the concept of learning. The Human vision of the Catholic school can be briefly summed up as follows:

• Man is wanted and loved by God

• Man is unique; in that he is endowed with free will, personal integrity, and absolute value

• Man was created with a specific intention: to be human

• Human beings are not human in virtue of themselves

• Man was created to sanctification; the life to come closer to God and oneself

• Humans have the ability to reflect, discern, judge, choose and act

• Man is competent, can be trained – and is obliged to take one´s life, opportunities and choices seriously

The Catholic school must be basically understood as a humanities project, rooted in the long tradition of its Catholic-Christian roots. As indicated in the title, the overall objective when leaving a Catholic school – whether it be at the end of the first day, or at the end of 9th grade- should be that every child is equipped to take on the task of becoming human – of becoming oneself.

In the Christian sense, “being human” is defined as living a life of love of God, oneself, and one´s fellow man.  It is therefore essential that students at a Catholic school develop an ability, desire and willingness to use their own skills for the benefit of other people and the world.

In recent years there are often complaints among educators and teachers that children are young individualists, who, together with their parents, require special treatment. This makes it difficult to maintain the class as a responsible community, with space for all children regardless of their circumstances. Bluntly put, the relationship between the individual requires fulfillment. Building and sustaining the community is one of the biggest challenges in modern society. It may seem to be an impossible task to teach that man only realizes his true being in solidarity together with others.  We live in a contemporary society, where being human is seen as an individual project, where communities only have value insofar as they contribute to self-realization.

The Human vision of a Catholic school must be, if there is to be a difference made, reflected in the ways in which teachers create conditions for student learning in the classroom. It is an important aspect of a humanistic approach to education that knowledge and life skills help to create man.

The Human vision of a Catholic school must be, if there is to be a difference made, reflected in the ways in which teachers create conditions for student learning in the classroom. It is an important aspect of the humanistic approach to education that knowledge and life skills help to create man.  Self-understanding occurs in a dialogue with traditional knowledge sources, such as those available in school subjects. However, knowledge is not static; but rather, cultivated and developed through new acquisition, and exploration of the mind.

The Christian language theorist Mikhail Bakhtin wrote, “The human being is deep communication: Being means to communicate. I cannot do without the other – I cannot be myself without the other.”  In an educational context, this means that students must learn that wisdom and knowledge are developed through communication. It is not only the individual, but also are fellow man who help us to create meaning. It is the dialogue between the subject material, the teacher, and the other that is the activating principle which provides a basis for understanding.

Therefore, the student must learn that precisely his or her unique approach to what is to be learned is necessary for there to be learning in class. The teacher’s task is to appreciate students’ different approaches and provide a framework for a binding learning community. There is a big difference between circle pedagogy and the dialectical classroom. For in a classroom marked by dialogue, it is expected that each student is actively engaged in helping to create knowledge. Of course, this assumes that the student has a real opportunity to participate because he is challenged academically; where one´s ability is currently, and not where one is expected to be. The individual must learn that one can make a difference, just as the teacher may find that he/ she makes a difference to the students being taught.

“You were with me, but I was not with me,” said Augustin. In this sense, Man is able to be alienated from himself. The human being is still on its way to becoming human. The Catholic school must, as a foundation for its humanistic and formation project, help to support and challenge students. It must support individual pathways for man to be himself. A prerequisite for the realization of self is identification with oneself, one´s history, opportunities, limitations, desires and dreams. With all of these factors in mind, man can make informed choices. Informed choices made, in particular, on the basis of the values which the pupil is formed in at the school.

In the film Harry Potter, Professor Dumbledore says at one point, “It is our choices in life that make us who we are, to a much greater extent than our innate abilities.”  Choice becomes crucial for how the individual’s life forms itself. The mission statement of the Catholic schools says that students are “trained” how to make ethically motivated choices. More than any other jurisdiction which is necessary in order to be valued in modern society is the ability to make choices, and to dare to make choices, knowing that there is a process of de-selection.  Learning to make ethically-based choices requires students, during their time in school, to face real situations of choice, where they will be presented with a number of choices that have an ethical dimension. Moreover, for the individual, the ethically founded choice means to see one’s life and choices in a dimension where one considers not only what one wants to do, and what one´s abilities are; but also, one must pose the questions, where is there a need for me? How can I make a difference?

In a film about a Carmelite monastery in Sweden, the Prioress was asked by the journalist, whether she had a last message to give to the world as the broadcast concluded.  She thought for a moment and then said, in a lovely Swedish accent “was inter Rädda.”   This may well be one of the most important beliefs that students take with them after leaving a Catholic school: Do not be afraid and believe in love: as it is the power that can carry you through life and can bring you closer to both yourself and God.