Fordham is taking its identity as the Jesuit University of New York seriously.
A new pilot seminar within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) has brought faculty together with graduate-level student teachers to study the centuries-old tradition of Jesuit education and how it can be applied to today’s classrooms.
The cross-disciplinary Seminar in Jesuit Pedagogy, which got underway in January with nine graduate teaching fellows and three professors, exposes future teachers to the history and methodology of Jesuit pedagogy in order to help develop their educational styles.
“Fordham wants to do more than just educate people to be scholars, experts or specialists,” said Michael Baur, Ph.D., an associate professor of philosophy who is part of the seminar. “Higher education today is so specialized, particularly at the graduate level, that often a student’s view of the whole is lost. Jesuit pedagogy is a very rich tradition. To be a good teacher is to care about the whole person—cura personalis.”
Baur distinguished the Jesuit charism for its pragmatic and world-affirming nature. He said that its pedagogy is both humanistic and steeped in the service of faith through the promotion of justice.
The seminar grew out of a task force appointed by Nancy Busch, Ph.D., dean of GSAS, to establish a pedagogy-training program that would expose teaching fellows to the characteristics unique to Jesuit education. As fellows, Busch noted, the graduate students teach Fordham’s undergraduates, which was another reason to start the program.
“Making the Jesuit connection explicit [will]make our pedagogy preparation stronger,” said Busch, noting Fordham’s good placement record for doctoral students seeking academic positions. “My vision is to demonstrate the relevance of Jesuit characteristics for all disciplines: not just for English, philosophy, theology, but also for biology, economics, history, psychology. And for all higher education.”
The curriculum covers the history of Jesuit education through the ratio studiorum (map of studies), a blueprint for the Jesuit educational system written in 1599, and other readings. Students studyeloquentia perfecta (rhetoric), ethics and social justice, and will give oral presentations at an end-of-semester public forum.
In addition, students work with faculty mentors and observe one another’s teaching styles. Gary Gabor, a doctoral candidate in philosophy who teaches “Philosophy of Human Nature” to freshmen, was observed recently by Jessica Masty, a doctoral student in psychology. Gabor said students seemed reticent to comment on the Lucretius’ belief that after death, there is nothing; Gabor finally asked: Why are you hesitating?
“Jessica pointed out how my question evoked an affective response from my students,” Gabor said. “That’s the kind of question St. Ignatius wants us to ask—not to just speak to the mind, but to the heart.”
Masty agreed. “If you get your emotions involved in what you are learning, you will come to a better understanding of the material and how it can be practically applied,” she said.
Gabor also pointed to the flexibility, use of imagination and commitment to social justice that Jesuit pedagogy embraces. “You may take a course on economics and still address those moral issues it relates to, like poverty,” he said.
As the only seminar member teaching the “hard” science of biology, Kevin Matteson, GSAS ’07, said that he tries to apply the art of rhetoric to his courses “Life on Planet Earth” and “Tropical Ecology.”
“In biology, it’s not necessary for persuasion’s sake,” he said. “But it’s about developing passion. We’re looking at life, organisms and species—it should be something that people care about.”
If the pilot seminar is successful, others will be added with the hope that they will strengthen Fordham’s graduate and undergraduate experience.
“Our world is in need of healing in so many ways,” Baur said. “People often don’t see that education—the cultivation of the mind, spirit and heart—is in itself a salvific endeavor. But it is one of the ways [in which]Jesuits understand their mission of healing.”