“Nurturing Leadership and Social Responsibility”

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KASpaces: Rethinking Educational Infrastructure and Teacher Development

April 28, 2022

I like to start with this question. I think it is a question that should haunt every educator:

“How do you make good people out of educated people?” Because it does not follow that just because you educate a person, that person will become a good person, whatever good means. And so this is a question that I pose to myself and to others and perhaps, this morning, to us as well: “How to you make good people out of educated people?”

When I talk about leadership or social responsibility, I like to go back to this experience with our medical students. These are students who will become doctors someday. Some will go to public health and other fields. I think they were in second year a couple of years ago but, aside from their heavy academic load, they produced a two-hour film, Mga Kuwentong Tsubibo. It means “stories of the merry-go-round or of the ferris wheel—anything that goes around and around. And I was very much pleasantly surprised because it was a film (do doctors know how to make films?) that talked about not just medicine. It talked about poverty. It talked about organ transplant and the desperation of people, how they are forced to sell, for instance. their kidneys, all of these underground, which is illegal. They talked about these issues and how things are systemic, how things just keep on coming back. At the end of the film, I congratulated them. I said, “I am so proud of you because I know that you will be more than just doctors.” And yes indeed, they will be more than just clinicians.

Where I work is a school that starts with the young ones, all the way to the professionals. So we start them early, at about five, six years old, till they perhaps graduate from us in their 20s. I just want to say that I am a Jesuit and this is my perspective. We have been in education for about 500 years now and we educate not just Catholics or Christians; we’ve educated Moslems, Buddhists, even non-believers. This is what we always bear in mind: we want to form the whole person and the whole person “for others”–an expression that means we try to tell people that their happiness is ultimately tied to the happiness of others, trying to make others happy, in the oblation of life that they make for others. And the second is that they are here in this world, not just for themselves, but to serve the common good. Now any school can say that this is what they are about. In a Jesuit school, we say, “Yes, any school will do that.” In our schools, we say we are shaped by a particular inspiration.

So what are the challenges these days?

Leaders are supposed to preside over realities that are bigger than themselves. And so I think the task and the mission of education, especially today, is to connect our students to all sorts of worlds.

First is the world of learning. The second is the world of tools and technologies. And third is the world of cultures with an “s” because there are many cultures. Connect them also to the world of nature and to the world of the poor. And the world of interiority. I shall explain this briefly as we go along.

These are the challenges of leaders, not just leaders, but individuals, all of us. We are in a world that is more connected, but we are also divided. We are divided more than ever despite the 24/7 hyper-connection that we experience. We already know some of the reasons. There is a lot of information and data out there and yet we seem to know less now. The change is disruptive. The speed of the change not just in technology but also in the human psyche and even in our social organization and economies (you’ve heard of the gig economy). One last challenge is the environment. I think among young people, there is anxiety because they feel that what they are inheriting from us is a world in peril and the future is not clear. They hear about climate change, disasters, and so they worry.

So, how shall we nurture leaders? How shall we do this in a hyper-connected world? We will need to form hyper-connected leaders. And what do I mean? Learners who are connected inside themselves, who struggle with the fragmentation inside of them and who try to connect all these things within themselves; creators who try to connect technology to people; global citizens who will connect cultures and the many ways that peoples do the same thing; stewards who connect people to nature; leaders who connect the excluded, the margins, to the center; and then, for those men and women of faith, shepherds who connect people to themselves and to our God. 

The first part is to foster that love for learning. When we try to educate these young minds, we tell them you are not just a mind—you are not just what you think. We expose them to all sorts of worlds and I think this is crucial to the whole person that we are trying to form, not just the intellect. So, we look at psychology, even at athletics, physical formation. We look at ethics, conscience. We look at all these other realms in the person.

I like to share this quote from Eric Hoffer, an American philosopher back in the 1970s. Those who inherit the future are not the learned but those who are always learning, and so I believe that you first form leaders by teaching them to love learning. I mentioned liberal arts, which is crucial. Our students are exposed to the classics, to theater, to the arts. I know this is easier said than done because, in school, we always try to put things in learned packages, the outcome that is needed, but we believe that, especially in these past days, the capacity for learning is important especially if you don’t know what is going to happen.

Creators who try to connect technology to people

We try to foster creators who can navigate the world of technology and not just technology, but technology and people. You’ve heard of the “Internet of Things,” where they connect to data from our devices. The “Internet of Things” is possible because of the “Internet of People” and so we tell them: technological progress might be there but social progress does not necessarily follow from technological progress. And we have seen how people regress even if they have all sorts of technology at their disposal.

Global citizens who will connect cultures

Global citizens who connect cultures, especially now that we seem to be fractured as a globe with the Ukraine and Russia war. I think now, more than ever, we try to connect people. Give them experiences of cultures, of people who believe differently or who do not believe at all. By culture, we mean many different ways that we do the same thing—language, cuisine, etc. So, we try to foster this appreciation of diversity of humanity, and that means communication, language. So important. Not just words as you know. We try to sharpen that skill of listening and of articulating and of being careful about our words and silences.

Stewards who connect people to nature

Try to expose them to nature. We have “extra-curricular” activities because they are outside the curriculum. We try our best to relate what is “extra” to what is “intra,” to what is inside the classroom. Exposure or immersion in the beauty and the vulnerability and sensitivity of nature is important, so we try to connect them and to impress upon them that we can destroy this garden. But we also have the power to take care of this garden.

Leaders with compassion for the margins

We also provide opportunity for students to enter the world of the poor. Many of our students come from privileged families. About a fifth are from poor families because they are scholars but the majority, about 80%, come from well-to-do families. We tell them “Is your goal in life to make yourself richer?” Systematically, throughout their formation, while they are with us we try to give them experiences that make them question (even God!) why there are poor people and other questions that disturb them and, hopefully, lead them to the conviction of who they are.

Leaders who connect the excluded to the community

Disasters will always be a challenge for us and disasters will continue to isolate people, and so we try to expose them as well to the reality of environmental risk

Shepherds who cultivate habits of stillness, silence, and prayer. 

Lastly, you need not to be a person of faith or a religious person to develop the habit of interior stillness and silence–simple habits, like praying before and after the class or certain rituals of silence, meditation. We have a program called “Unplugged.” They let go of the wires and the technology so that they can be comfortable with solitude or even talking face to face with each other.

Our banig strategy

This is our strategy. It is a matrix format. On the vertical, you have the academic disciplines—Math, English, Pilipino, History—but running across them are skill sets for leadership competence that we try to foster. For instance, if you are a teacher of Math, you can try to choose the kinds of problems or equations that can perhaps touch on topics, like technology or poverty.

Let me end saying that I began that it does not follow that because you are educated you can become good. But it does happen that educated people can become good people. And, when that happens, I think the joy is priceless—the joy that makes us jump corridors.

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