Jesuit Educational Philosophy

Core Values and Characteristics

Since founding their first school in 1548, the Jesuits have believed that a high-quality education is a path to a meaningful life of leadership and service. They have understood that combining the liberal arts, the natural and social sciences, the performing arts, and other branches of knowledge is a powerful means to develop leaders who influence and transform society.

The Jesuits adapted the best educational models available while developing their own, and it has succeeded in a variety of cultures because it adapts to the context of the learner.

Education in the Jesuit tradition is a call to human excellence. It develops the whole person, from intellect and imagination to emotions and conscience, and approaches academic subjects holistically, exploring the connections among facts, questions, insights, conclusions, problems, and solutions. Students learn each subject’s implications for what it means to be a human being and what we may contribute to the future well-being of the world.

Jesuit education also examines the history of injustices, often subtly embedded within systems and cultures, while also generating hope so that students feel called to address significant world problems with courage, commitment, and good faith.

Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm

In 1599, the Jesuits promoted what was known as the Ratio Studiorum, a statement of operating methods and objectives for the hundreds of Jesuit colleges in Europe, Asia, and the Americas that constituted a vast and growing educational operation. While such a universal curriculum is impossible today, a well-organized pedagogy, whose substance and methods promote the core values and characteristics of the Jesuit educational philosophy, remains important.

In 1993, the International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education issued “Ignatian Pedagogy: A Practical Approach” as a model that speaks to the learning process in Jesuit institutions. It addresses the teacher-learner relationship and has practical meaning and application for the classroom.

Often known as the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, this approach accentuates five elements that should characterize the learning experience in Jesuit education: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation.

  • Context: In the Jesuit tradition, educators consider what needs to be known about learners (their environments, backgrounds, communities, etc.) in order to teach them well. In this context, teaching manifests a sense of personal care (or cura personalis) for students.
  • Experience: Since human experience is the starting point of Jesuit education, teachers ask what kinds of learning experiences most deeply engage students as whole persons. We attempt to create conditions whereby learners gather and recollect what they already understand and assimilate new information and further experience so that their knowledge will grow in completeness and truth.
  • Reflection: A key question for Jesuit education is how learners may become more reflective, so as to more deeply understand what they have learned. Teachers lay the foundations for learning how to learn by engaging students in skills and techniques of reflection. Memory, understanding, imagination, and feelings are deployed to grasp more fully what is being studied. Discovering its relationship to other facets of human knowledge and activity is central, as is its implications for the continuing search for truth.
  • Action: Because Jesuit education stresses commitment to improving the condition of the world, learners are urged to move beyond knowledge to action. Ideally, teachers are able to provide opportunities that will challenge learners to consider the best possible course of action, based on what they have learned. In this way, they may contribute to the global community through actions that are rooted in justice, peace, and love.
  • Evaluation: In Ignatian pedagogy, evaluation includes but goes beyond academic mastery to encompass learners’ well-rounded growth as persons for others. Observant teachers will perceive signs of growth or lack of growth in class discussions and students' generosity in response to common needs much more frequently.