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Marc A. Cohen, Mark S. Markuly

Putting the context in “context”: Notes on the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, the recent “Inspirational paradigm,” and student formation

The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm occupies a central place in the recently published White Paper, “An inspirational paradigm for Jesuit business education,” which calls Jesuit business schools to action: “We have a responsibility not only to reshape our curricula [in Jesuit business schools], but also to touch our students’ hearts and minds so they can be a light to the world and use their skills and talents to address the grave challenges facing us” (p. 6). The most direct description of that Pedagogical Paradigm occurs in the document, “Ignatian pedagogy: A practical approach,” published in 1993—which gives “preeminence to the constant interplay of EXPERIENCE, REFLECTION, and ACTION” (¶22), a pattern for learning that includes evaluation as the fourth component. In order to guide this process, the teacher must know the student, “to modify and adjust [the educational exercises] to make them directly applicable to the retreatant” (¶36). And the teacher must care for the student, becoming “as conversant as possible with the life experience of the learner” (¶37). This knowledge and care form the “CONTEXT OF LEARNING” (¶35), and this way of understanding “context” is adopted across the Jesuit universities as they use the Paradigm. This thinking about the way context informs learning is borrowed from the Ignatian spiritual exercises. The present paper begins to rethink (or, put more cautiously, proposes expanding) the understanding of “context” in the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm and in Jesuit business school education. The call to action in the White Paper refers to specific challenges—including extreme poverty; lack of access to basic needs (nutrition, healthcare, clean water), education, and jobs; environmental degradation; and inequality in income and wealth (p. 2). An education oriented around these challenges demands a specific kind of context: courses must expose students to the challenges—their causes, their histories, their current manifestations. Examples of such context include (a) patterns of exclusion: (such as redlining that prevent minorities from buying houses, closed off educational opportunities, etc.); (b) mechanisms of control and worker suppression; (c) and market power, historically and in the present. Understanding these challenges—their histories and causes, and the forces that keep the problems entrenched—is essential to forming students who can address these challenges directly, both in their professional lives and as democratic citizens. So, the present authors see the need for a course (or multiple courses) organized around the theme, business history—past and present. Implied here is a conception of student formation (at least in part) at odds with the White Paper—which describes formation in religious terms: “The Ignatian [pedagogical] paradigm is one of holistic formation. It seeks to inculcate the right attitudes and values in our students” (p. 6). Instead—and consistent with the White Paper—forming students requires teaching them to understand the challenges mentioned above (providing context); training them to solve those problems (providing skills, empowering students to act); and studying examples of persons and businesses who have addressed social problems (inspiring the students). This paper invites broader discussion of these central themes.