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Saint Ignatius High School

What is Good for the Heart

The last week of the semester is a difficult one because there is so much to do and so little time in which to do it. This is a time of year when one finds out the difference between what can be left by the wayside, and what is truly essential and good for the heart.

The last week of the semester is a difficult one because there is so much to do and so little time in which to do it.  Many teachers are feeling the time crunch and I am no exception.  In my Christian Manhood class the headliner is The Little Prince and all of the other class topics are the mere opening acts, so it is essential that we don’t run out of time before the students learn that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” and all of the other life lessons taught by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Fortunately, the Ignatian vision of education, what we pros call the “Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm”, is built for such time-crunches.  Leaving for another time the cycle of Experience-Reflection-Action as well as the the importance of the bookends of Context and Evaluation, and focusing instead on non multa, sed multum - “not many, but much” - can make the end of the semester less hectic for teachers and students alike.

Ignatius believed that a Jesuit education should not focus on becoming the most valuable member of your trivia night team, but instead it should focus on becoming the most valuable person in your workplace, parish, neighborhood, etc. by your ability to adapt to changing circumstances.  If a Jesuit education teaches you to think well, read well, and write well, then your value to others can be immense.

Many who came before Ignatius had the same thought, and proof of this lies in the fact that the educational system of the Middle Ages focused on three courses spoken of by Plato: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  In the Middle Ages these were grouped together as the Trivium and formed the basis of a liberal education.

The gold standard of texts on these three courses was written in 1937: The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric by Sister Miriam Joseph Rauh, C.S.C., Ph.D. a professor of English at St. Mary’s College who earned her doctorate at Columbia and was a disciple of Mortimer Adler who formed the Great Books Program at the University of Chicago under the presidency of Robert Hutchins.

Hutchins, Adler, and therefore Sr. Miriam, were all proponents of the educational school known as perennialism - a vision of education where the emphasis is on principles over facts, a liberal over a vocational approach to teaching.  This vision falls in line not only with the ancient practice of Socratic dialogue, but also with the pedagogical model proposed by Ignatius and the Jesuits.

To go back to The Little Prince, the narrator is a pilot who is stranded in the desert because his plane has malfunctioned.  In the desert, as at the end of a semester, one finds out what is truly important and what can be left by the wayside.  As one who has been given the responsibility of handing on the wisdom of this tale to the Christian Manhood students, I have also been given the opportunity to highlight those things that are the most important, and in the terms of the book, those things that are invisible to the eye.

Near the end of The Little Prince the narrator comments on the time that must be spent on essential things, stating that they are “good for the heart, like a present – reminding him of the lights of the Christmas tree, the music of Midnight Mass, the tenderness of smiling faces that made the gifts more than gifts.”  In this rushed season of final exams and final preparations for Christmas it is good for us to remember to focus on those things that are good for the heart and to do it all with tenderness and a smiling face that makes gifts more than gifts.