On Heart - The BLI Series

March 6, 2020

Dr. Jason A. Heron, Instructor of Theology

Here at Mount Marty, both our strength and our uniqueness lies within the Benedictine tradition that has guided us since our founding in 1936. It now rests at the core of our programming through the Benedictine Leadership Institute (BLI). Every month, we welcome a member of the Mount Marty faculty to share their thoughts on the impact of the BLI program to be shared exclusively on our website and LinkedIn page. Today, join us in welcoming Dr. Jason A. Heron, Instructor of Theology at Mount Marty:

I teach at a Benedictine college where we follow Benedict in teaching with humility and an open heart. Following Benedict has taught me a lot about the heart - what it needs, what it desires, and how to listen to it. And so, I felt both challenged and empowered when I encountered Luigi Giussani’s startling educational proposal in The Risk of Education. There, Giussani defines education as a process that develops the student’s capacity to judge both reality and the contents of the student’s own tradition against the student heart’s desire for truth, goodness, and beauty. Why is this definition a challenge to educators?

If the student’s heart is such a standard, then educators seem to be standing on unstable ground. Is Giussani simply advocating an unthinking relativism? What if students judge our content irrelevant? What if they judge our methods ineffective?  These are reasonable questions. After all, the human heart can be mistaken, shortsighted, idle. Mine has been, at least. So, if Giussani is right, and education entails teaching students to judge reality and tradition by the desires of their heart, and their hearts are underdeveloped in some way, then won’t the students’ judgments be distorted? Isn’t Giussani presuming a competence students don’t actually possess?

I think it’s too late for such worries. Educators have already experienced how students assume certain disciplines are irrelevant, and how they recognize only certain methods as “rigorous” education. Students have not followed their hearts’ true desires to these assumptions. They have been trained in them. (Combine this training with the sort of unthinking relativism many of our young people assume is their only option, and you can sense the risk in Giussani’s title). So, our anxiety about Giussani’s proposal has not come from long experience with taking a risk on listening to the human heart. Instead, it has come from avoiding such a risk. How so? 

In many ways, the story of our educational system is the story of obsession with two prophylactics against the risk of listening to the heart: efficiency and utility. Giussani calls educators to abandon these and to believe that the human heart has a certain - even objective - destiny called truth, goodness, and beauty. This destiny has been written on the human heart, and education is essential for helping students discover this about themselves. More efficiency and utility will not mean greater student engagement or more appreciation for our disciplines. Instead, it will mean only more protection from the original source of engagement and appreciation in education: the heart’s natural desire for truth, goodness, and beauty. 

I am privileged to teach at a Benedictine college where, despite enormous historical pressure, we have not given up on Benedict or Giussani’s attention to the heart. This is a precarious time for such an institution. But as the landscape of higher ed changes, schools that take a risk on the heart’s desire for truth, goodness, and beauty will thrive.

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