At the dawn of this 21st century, Peter Drucker made this observation about the common good:
“This is not the first pluralist society in history. But all other earlier pluralistic societies destroyed themselves because no one took care of the common good. They abounded in communities but could not sustain community, let alone create it. If our modern pluralistic society is to escape the same fate, the leaders of all institutions will have to learn to be leaders beyond the walls.” (Peter Drucker, “The New Pluralism,” Leader to Leader, No. 14 Fall 1999).
Drucker’s observation pinpoints the challenge we hope to address in the MRI’s 2017 symposium on “Education for the Common Good”, which is being prepared in cooperation with the University of Saint Joseph, Macau. He notes that the common good and learning to care for it are indispensable, if our global civilization is to survive, let alone flourish. Learning to care for 2 the common good, of course, requires education. But which vision of the common good, and what sort of education should we seek in order to achieve it?
Over the centuries, much has been said and written about the common good. What is it? How is it rooted in the goods that each of us seeks in our pursuit of happiness or personal self-realization? How does it offer a path going beyond these toward a good that is shared in common? Often today philosophers will distinguish public goods from private goods. They may observe that private goods are consumed individually, like an ice-cream cone or one’s personal copy of a good book, while public goods are those that cannot even be enjoyed individually unless they are shared with others, for example, the security provided by institutions like police and fire departments, or medical dispensaries. But is the common good merely an aggregate of public goods? Of what else might it consist? Perhaps Drucker is right to focus on what it takes to sustain community.
There must be an ongoing discussion of the nature of the common good, and we hope our symposium may contribute to it. Particularly, we hope to focus on the question of education for the common good. How is education, whether public or private, to be understood, if not in relation to our continuous effort to sustain both communities and community? Education, to be sure; but for what?
We all remember the old debates in educational philosophy of “nature vs. nurture”—a dichotomy that can be seen as falsely posed from the perspectives of both Western and Chinese cultures. Confucian teaching is particularly acute on this point: What is natural in us must be nurtured, like cultivating the dispositions—or “sprouts,” as Mengzi labelled them—from which virtuous habits may be formed. Though care for the common good may be rooted in human nature, it is not spontaneous and is easily overshadowed by our self-interested desires and inclinations. But if care for the common good is to grow in us, are there pedagogies, both tried and true and socially innovative, that will make it more effective?
What then have we learned from efforts to develop pedagogies for the common good? This call for papers is meant to help us to address that question, by mapping a range of educational experiments seeking to cultivate the common good, and evaluating them for the soundness of their understanding of the common good, and the effectiveness of their approaches.
The MRI’s commitment to this topic is long-term. In 2009 the MRI organized a conference on “Education for New Times: Revisiting Pedagogical Models in the Jesuit Tradition,” the proceedings of which was published in 2014 under the same title, as No. 6 in the MRI Studies series. This was a major effort, edited by Artur Wardega, SJ, involving 17 scholars whose topics 3 ranged from historical evaluations of the Jesuit tradition of education, its impact in Asia, as well as the challenges of Christian education in China and Hong Kong today, and various new social and technological trends and opportunities. The book, which can be ordered online through the MRI website (http://riccimac.org/eng/introduction/index.htm), still provides very useful background on this conference and its Call for Papers.
Many of the issues involved in the effort to envision “Education for the Common Good” require us to go beyond what scholars could foresee in 2009. In particular, with rapid changes in the scope and pace of globalization, we can readily see that the new trends in pedagogies—for example, service learning, education for social justice, distance learning, continuous education for adult learners, etc., and the digitalization of research and development in all these areas, may require a thorough updating, particularly in light of our concern for the common good. It is also clear that this concern is widely shared beyond the pale of Jesuit and Catholic higher education. Pope Francis has emphasized the need for “interreligious dialogue and collaboration,” particularly in addressing the challenges highlighted in Catholic social teaching. “Education for the Common Good,” if it is to be effective, must begin on that basis, welcoming the contributions and learning from our brothers and sisters whose work unfolds in other communities of faith and social concern.