Education: Discovering the Promise of Reality


Dider Jean-Baptiste

Stephen Adubato’s father Steven Adubato Jr. speaks with Nathaniel Cruz at the New York Encounter, January 14.

Stephen Adubato, Guest Writer

Why do we go to school? What is the ultimate value of an education and what does it offer us? Does an ideal educational system, structure, or method even exist? Over the course of the last six months, I worked with a group of other teachers from around the country on an exhibit that sought to understand the foundational premises of education. We wanted to understand how our work as teachers can become a more “human” endeavor, seeking to account for and engage our own essential needs and desires as well those of our students in the process.

This exhibit was introduced at the New York Encounter, an annual three day cultural event in Manhattan. The Encounter offers a series of panels, exhibits, and performances that focus on a central theme. The theme this year was the phrase, “Reality Has Never Betrayed Me.” The Encounter was introduced with this statement: “We all have the intuition that life, even with all its hardships, is fundamentally good. Its original appeal is continuously being reawakened by things and people – an appeal we can resist, but never eliminate. And yet, we have a hard time relating to many aspects of life. In the end, since life does not bend to our desires and its meaning remains elusive, we use our ingenuity to construct our own reality and give sense to life. But the reality we try to create, when put to the test of experience, does not deliver on its promises, and too frequently the ensuing frustration turns into anger and violence. What are we missing? Why do we often perceive reality as disappointing? What can help us reconcile with reality and engage life as it is?” Our exhibit’s contribution to the Encounter looked at how education offers a path to discovering that reality is indeed something positive and promising, rather than something empty and disappointing.

We began by looking at our work as teachers in light of our experience having met the charism of Fr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation. Fr. Giussani, who taught  religion to high school students in Milan, Italy, had a desire to convey to young people the beauty and fullness that the Christian faith can give to our everyday experiences. Giussani developed his pedagogical methods and published them in his book The Risk of Education. His method emphasizes the need to invite students to engage the content they are learning through concrete experiences. By doing so, students have the opportunity to discover that at the depth of every experience is the presence of an eternal mystery-a mystery that invites us all to a relationship that reveals one’s identity and leads to his or her ultimate fulfillment.

As I worked on this exhibit, I asked myself, in what ways does this mystery reveal itself in my relationships in the St. Benedict’s community? What have I discovered in my work as a teacher here? Through my work, I am constantly reminded of my need to understand the meaning of my own life, and that by myself this endeavor is impossible. It’s through the faces of my students, whose curiosity, passion, and at times, drama, that I begin to discover the promise of meaning and hope in the “craziness” of everyday life. It’s in my relationships with my fellow teachers and the monks, who accompany me as I seek to understand the value of my work and the presence of beauty in it, that I am pointed closer and closer toward that same promise.

What’s fascinating to me about Giussani’s method is that it can be applied in any school, Catholic or public, whether I am teaching religion or Spanish, precisely because it emphasizes that which is basic to all human beings-our desire for meaning and fulfillment. So as much as I can’t say that I’ve discovered the “perfect” educational method, I can say that I have discovered and continue to discover the presence of meaning in my work at St. Benedict’s Prep. Working in a place that allows me the freedom to take my own humanity and experiences seriously, along with a community to accompany me in the process, I begin to discover that within my daily experiences, as pleasant or dramatic as they may be, exists a promise that invites me to a unveil it through each class I teach and each face I encounter.