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Catholic Social Learning: Educating the Faith That Does Justice

reviewed by Daniel Hendrickson - August 01, 2011

coverTitle: Catholic Social Learning: Educating the Faith That Does Justice
Author(s): Roger Bergman
Publisher: Fordham University Press, New York
ISBN: 0823233294, Pages: 160, Year: 2010
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Roger Bergman’s book, Catholic Social Learning (2011), hosts a variety of voices and vocations: philosophers, poets, saints, social activists, and service learning students (Bergman’s own and others) are some of them. From contexts of the ancient-past or the now-present, the ivy campus or the poor campo, as well as the shocked, shamed, and sagacious, he shows us what Aristotle, Nietzsche, Paulo Freire, Pope Paul VI, and others commonly share: encountering.

The kinds of encountering his characters represent testify to one of two different types of experience, if not both. The first experience is in meeting – through history, literature, media, and personal interaction, for instance – moral exemplars, heroines and heroes who show us something quite admirable about daily living. The other experience is in meeting the global poor. On the other side of the border, on their turf, in their homes, in their hearts, the second encountering is of the people of the Third World or, as he indicates, the Two Thirds World of people beyond our own (but who even exist within it). Both encounters – of powerful exemplar, of poor other – are profoundly transformative, and both are necessary. They are the ingredients of an effective service learning program. Bergman shows that Catholic higher education provides, or should provide, such encounterings.  

On one level, Bergman’s book is about service learning anywhere in higher education. He discusses his own program in particular, offering curricular examples, course content, reflective strategies, assessment techniques, venues, and more through which service learning programs can be successful. Reviews of pertinent literature within his book articulate different models, processes, and outcomes of programs and they reveal testimonies of students who participated in them.  

But the Catholic dimension of his book is not insignificant. Bergman also explains why Catholic colleges and universities should be offering, if not mandating, service learning on their campuses. John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University (1887), Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Ex corde ecclesiae (From the heart of the church) (1990), and social teachings of the Catholic bishops, such as their 1971 letter, Justitia in mundo (Justice in the world), describe why service learning manifests an essential feature of what a Catholic university is. Distilling hundreds of pages of Catholic social teaching of the 20th Century alone, part of Bergman’s project is to make more explicit the pedagogical implications of a rich but seemingly irrelevant tradition.  

Within such a tradition, Bergman becomes more specific. As he offers an excellent discussion of Catholic social thought and amplifies an operative philosophy of education, he well explains the origins, relevant documents, and pedagogy of Jesuit higher education. A teaching order within the Catholic Church, the Jesuits, a global force, educate at all levels. In particular, Bergman charts the ideas and decisions of recent commissions and personalities that have crystallized how and why justice is a fundamental component of such an enterprise at the level of colleges and universities, and the role of service learning in best reaching it.

In all of this, Bergman’s philosophical foundation is Aristotle. In fact, his discussion of The Philosopher is a strength of the book. While Bergman freshly nuances a familiar philosophical friend, letting us, for instance, appreciate less-discussed features of Aristotle’s ethical treatises, he lets Aristotle assist him in two important ways. For Bergman, Aristotle, first, substantiates service learning as a necessary aspect of education in general, and, second, Aristotle gets us to Alasdair MacIntyre.  

Of the first, Aristotle is named in Bergman’s book as the grandfather of service learning (p. 78). Bergman’s research highlights the aspects of Aristotelian emulation, youthfulness, shame, generosity, and civic and personal responsibility as efficacious of effective service learning. Of such concepts, shame, a quasi-virtue listed in the Nicomachean Ethics, is a driving concept of Bergman’s philosophy of education. Shame shines prominently and convincingly as Bergman steers us away from an oft-discussed sentiment of pleasure in the virtuous life toward the reality of its painful sensations. He takes great care in explaining how Aristotle uses shame, how shame functions successfully in the milieu of service learning, and when shame is not helpful. The book ends with necessary delineations of shame in healthy and unhealthy expressions. Shame that is perfectionist, ascribed, or toxic, for instance, “suppresses our own deepest humanity and that of others…” (p. 147). As Bergman guides us away from noxious shame and into its self-reflective, motivating, and inspiring capacities, he also reminds us that its total absence, shamelessness, can be sociopathic: “the black hole of a life without shame may suck peoples into its destructive maw” (p. 147).

Getting to Alasdair MacIntyre, the second aspect, lets Bergman spotlight a contemporary Aristotelian luminary in pedagogical hue. It is MacIntyre, Bergman suggests, who best adapts Aristotle and the pursuit of the good life to contemporary life in the West. MacIntyre bemoans exaggerated forms of self-relativism, commercialism, and public persuasion, forces that are also lamented in Catholic social teaching. But MacIntyre faces these Modern Era realities of individualism, capitalism, and the mass media with Aristotelian authenticity. Bergman thus describes the important MacIntyrean roles of narrative, community, and tradition in educating people virtuously, and then suggests what virtuous living looks like. How you already are an anonymous Aristotelian and how you might be a revolutionary one, Bergman explains.

As Aristotle’s shame is persuasively discussed, so too is John Henry Newman’s idea of a university. Newman is already referenced above as an advocate of service learning; it is worth mentioning that Bergman credibly debunks myths of Newman that describe him as a cultivator of the gentlemanly elite or as only intellectually invested. Bergman insists that a moral force is indeed at work in Newman’s idea. “Higher education, according to Cardinal Newman, is for the liberating of the oppressed and for the upward mobility of the robbed, the exploited poor. It is for the inclusion and participation in mainstream society of those ‘thrust aside,’ the marginalized” (p. 124).

Bergman’s book is personal. You will learn about his own life as a poet, scholar, teacher, and activist. As the theme of encountering – the powerful exemplar, the poor other – gathers together in his book various thinkers from vastly different genres of life, and as it represents the lifeline of service learning, it also represents his own life. Encountering the virtuosi and victims of daily life is an important part of his narrative. The book testifies how he has tried, over the years, for these experiences of encountering to be important parts of others’ narratives.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 01, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16501, Date Accessed: 5/17/2022 3:50:07 PM

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About the Author
  • Daniel Hendrickson
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    DANIEL HENDRICKSON, MA, MDIV, is a candidate in the Philosophy and Education PhD program at Teachers College, Columbia University. He has taught philosophy at Creighton University, Omaha, NE, Fordham University, New York, NY, and Jordan University College, Morogoro, TZ, East Africa. He is a member of the Jesuits. His dissertation focuses on the philosopher Charles Taylor.
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