Learning and teaching Laudato Si’: Enabling the youth’s sense of belonging

To address the urgent problems of today, the one thing educators must teach the youth is a sense of belonging, according to Pedro Walpole SJ, Executive Director of the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC).

“We are kept so busy in life, we don’t have time for solidarity.  But we cannot exist without community…without belonging.  This is what the youth needs,” Fr Walpole shared with educators from different schools and universities in his breakout session on Learning and Teaching Laudato Si’ in a Cultural Context during the International Conference on Educational Frontiers 2018 organized by the Asia Pacific Interactive-Jesuit Education Consortium (API-JEC) at the Ateneo de Manila University from 3 to 5 October.

The international conference aimed to serve as a venue for educators to exchange ideas and discuss contemporary issues in education, in line with the celebration of World Teachers’ Day on 5 October.

Fr Walpole’s session focused on sharing about the possibilities in interdisciplinary learning using Laudato Si’, the environment encyclical that Pope Francis shared with the world in 2015.  Laudato Si’ is a message to the whole world about care for our common home and the need for a new and universal solidarity. It is a quality document that can be read and practiced certainly in the context of a school community promoting a sense of service leadership in an area of great consequence for humanity fostering both self-reflection and collective aspirations and actions.

Fr Walpole talked about what the encyclical says about the importance of community in addressing pressing social problems and shared his experience working with the Pulangiyen youth in Mindanao.

“Farming…is a killer livelihood at the moment. We are forcing people, through consumerism, off the land. Where I am, kids don’t want to stay on the land. But I keep telling them, this is where you belong. You can always come back,” he said.

Through APC, young people in Bendum, a village in Bukidnon, northern Mindanao, are taught to take part in sustaining their forests as a way of strengthening their culture and helping their community in managing their resources and livelihood.

According to Fr Walpole, instead of filling them with so much aspiration for success, what teachers need to impart children is the humility of being rooted in their culture.

“Laudato Si’ is really about community. Self-improvement doesn’t necessarily improve the world. Individuals get isolated in the process, and this is where many of our social problems arise.  Social problems must be addressed by community networks, not by individuals,” he said.

“The document is about freedom (and) gratitude. And what humble responsibility comes with that? Do I consider the next generation?” he added.

Fr Walpole said it is through this sense of connectedness that the youth can learn when they have had enough in a world driven by consumerism.

“We’re so busy with economy…with branding. We’ve lost sight of both the basic rights and ecological values. We’ve got to get participation back in society,” he said.

Some of the participants shared how they impart these values to their students.

“Sometimes it’s just the everyday classroom discussion that will make sense to them, so it’s a very conscious effort to give them the idea that learning is not just knowledge…after that, you’re not the only living creature in this world,” said Juen Quiambao, a teacher at the Xavier School Nuvali.

“My takeaway is we have to reach that semblance of collective aspiration. You will get more gain if you don’t dream for, but dream withthe people in your community,” said Jervy Robles from Ateneo de Manila Grade School.

The participants also shared challenges and difficulties they encounter in imparting the values taught by the encyclical to young people in their different contexts.

The session discussed new ways for students to learn and engage with ideas and people as Laudato Si’ can be approached in different ways. According to Fr Walpole, just understanding why the document is written is an interesting inquiry and discussion.

In the APC school, Laudato Si’ is used in different ways with the teachers and students such as in identifying a topic for discussion like water, cities, or culture, and developing a sense of identity and responsibility. For example, finding the eight references to culture challenged the teachers and students to reflect on their identity and values in their own context.

The experience of teaching Laudato Si’ also challenged the Pulangiyen community’s cultural understanding and role in society and the different ways of communication.  It is used as a reference to understand the ancestral domain and provides affirmation of the work in assisted natural regeneration that the high school students are involved in.  It is hoped that the APC school can use these experiences as a basis to engage other students in the summer who come to visit and so can realise together that there is much in common.

“Teaching Laudato Si’ is not easy.  That is why you need to start with gratitude, and then you have a vision of hope. This is not another textbook. This is a whole lifetime,” Fr Walpole said.

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