Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Concepts vs Contact

One of the more moving aspects of Kolvenbach’s speech was his take on solidarity. He believed that tomorrow’s whole person must have a well-educated solidarity, and that it is the job of Jesuit education to prepare its students of this solidarity in the real world. In doing so, he explains that we are to learn through “contact” rather than “concepts” when he writes, “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection” (34).
This aspiration for all Jesuit students vibrantly stuck out in reflecting upon this speech, because before attending Loyola, all of my previous education was held in public schools. Therefore the ideals of service and justice were forcibly separate from every aspect of the classroom, if any was done among my fellow students at all. I was active with most of my own volunteer work through my church, and even that was limited because of classes, sports I participated in, clubs I attended, and assignments I had to complete. As discussed in class, the typical lifestyle of a public school education left participating “wholly as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven” relatively hallow if not entirely vacant. I was always aware of all that I could be doing, by learning the “concepts,” as Kolvenbach explains in his speech, of poverty. My schools always supplied me the opportunity of racking up the facts, and reading articles of the devastation, hardships, and tragedies that people were facing even within our own country. There was always an awareness, but never “contact” or an occasion to fill my own personal void of wanting to do something more.
I believe that is what I found most enriching about Loyola as I walked over the bridge during my campus tour. As we passed the chapel, my tour guides started discussing all that they participated in, and the many organizations I could potentially join. The fact that they were there in the first place intrigued me, but upon entering my first year at Loyola, which was deemed “The Year of the City,” I was taken back by how readily my teachers encouraged reaching out to the struggling citizens of Baltimore. Over the years I have visited many schools, such as Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, as well as Villa Maria where I worked with emotionally disturbed children, and most recently St. Mary’s for service learning in our class. What amazes me the most is how appreciative the districts are to have the company of Loyola students. Walking into St. Mary’s the secretaries all harmoniously sighed, “The Loyola girls are here!” and later upon entering my eighth grade class my teacher enthusiastically stated, “Welcome, you’re from Loyola right? I love it when you guys come here!”
Not only were these comments flattering, but they made me feel like my role in the organization was incredibly important. My personal involvement with students like the ones in St. Mary’s has therefore changed many previous conceptions. I have become less concerned with what I can essentially receive in return for volunteering, and more concerned with how much I can give to the students. Looking around the classroom last Wednesday I began to take notice of how drastically different it was from the immaculate rooms of Selinger, the carpeted floors of Maryland Hall, and the intensely large windows of Knott Hall. The room had little decoration, limited chalk, and the teacher actually had to pay for some of the students’ lunches. It was hard to ignore the “innocent suffering” these thirteen and fourteen year olds were faced with, yet it was also amazing to see their faces brighten, their concentration intensify, and their confidence in their own knowledge rise as we worked on a short story by Marc Twain. Thus far at St. Mary’s I have discovered the power service provides when intertwined with education, both for the students and for myself. Coming in “contact” with contrasting societies and cultures, I truly have been challenged to change. Furthermore, I hope that as my relationships with the students at St. Mary’s grows through out the semester I will be awakened to more areas of my own life, and begin to embrace intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.

No comments: