My theology of education has been greatly influenced by ecological ideas. This week, I feel I'm spending a lot of time contemplating these ideas.* In my book I propose philosophical positions, but I also suggest a theological root (a spiritual praxis), which may be distinctive to our field. As a Catholic, I use Catholic thought to provide that theological foundation (which is extended using a couple of Buddhist authors); but I'm sure other religious traditions are able to provide other foundations. Those foundations don't discount the philosophical arguments because philosophy occurs conceptually at a different level than theology. One theologian I use extensively is Thomas Berry, CP.
Thomas Berry (1914-2009), a Passionist priest, spent a good part of his professional life integrating the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin with Thomas Aquinas; and linking those ideas to the current ecological challenges. In his 1997 "The Wisdom of the Cross," Berry quotes Aquinas: "... in all creatures there is found the trace of the Trinity," and Berry continues, "In Thomas Aquinas we find an orientation toward the world as manifesting the Trinity, the order of the universe; [and] medieval Christian thinkers ... all relate the wisdom of the cross to an inherent wisdom in the world." The antipathy many Christian writers seem to have for the natural world (and I'll add to scientific theories) "has appeared in contemporary Christianity." It is ahistoric. In contrast Berry, like Chardin, sees redemption paralleled in the material universe: "We might even say that the redemptive suffering of Christ lies in the line of creative transformation moments revealed to us in the universe throughout the entire course of history." He exemplifies, "This supernova event could be considered a sacrificial moment, a cosmological moment of grace that established the possibilities of the entire future of the solar system, Earth, and every form of life that would appear on Earth, including the spiritual dimension of the human mode of being." For Berry, cosmological, historical, and Christian moments of grace are all religious moments of grace.
Continuing Berry's line of reasoning, our domination of the natural world emerges in our psyche--our "hidden rage against the human condition"--an uneasiness (I can't help but think about my own work in interrogating uprootedness in our profession). For Christians, "The universe as divine manifestation has receded into the background ... The sense of a Christ presence or Christ identity with the natural world has been diminished." This unhappy domination of nature also leads to "ever greater exploitation of the weaker by the stronger, of the less competent by the more competent, of those who own nothing by those who own everything." And here is the ecological and spiritual root of the inequities we face. This is why I suggest educators begin by becoming conscious with the ways we are uprooted. Uprooted teachers teach uprootedness. When uprooted teachers recognize a problem, they suggest uprooting solutions. Roots are therefore a spiritual matter. A matter for religion. A matter for intergenerational culture. A matter for place.
To conclude, a theology of education based on Thomas Berry might:
1. Recognize spiritual truths within the natural world.
2. Be deeply historical, cosmological, and grace-infused.
3. Cultivate peace to alleviate the rage against the human condition in our psyche
4. Recognize the way we are uprooted, so that we can help in ways that are rooting.
Pope Francis recommends little acts, which have spiritual implications for our teaching. In Laudato Si' he writes:
"Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms." What little ways of love will emerge the next time we walk into school? Even if its a small sign, a gesture of peace, we can make a difference in the lives of our students. This is part of an ecological pedagogy, ending exploitation, selfishness, and violence against each other and creation.
*Note: my book continues to be much cheaper on the Routledge website than on Amazon or BN.com, and I cannot figure out why; but that means purchase it there, or pick it up at the library.