Ignatius Loyola was a Basque soldier turned priest who formed the Jesuits, or Society of Jesus, a missionary order driven by a military-type zeal to spread the Catholic faith. He famously said ‘give me a boy until he is ten, and I’ll give you the man’. Education was to be their primary and most successful weapon. Jesuit education is apostolic and the order demanded missionary and educational service in whatever part of the world they were sent. It was a reaction tom the Reformation and Prtestantism and drove Jesuit priests into many remote lands and ever remoter locations to defend the faith and, above all make converts. The Jesuits are still active with tens of thousands in the order and educational activities in many countries.
Jesuit education was founded across Europe as part of the Counter-Reformation, to prevent what the Catholic Church saw as heretical teaching in the Universities of the day. After the publication of the Jesuit educational manual, the Ratio Studiorum, by Acquaviva, known as the second founder of the Jesuits, in 1586, the Jesuits had added a practical method to their zeal. Acquaviva formalised Jesuit education making it easy to replicate and scale. The book is a detailed account of how to set up a school, classes, curriculum, schedules, and methods of teaching. It attempted to do then what is common now, standardize teaching methods and the curriculum
The primary function of education for the Jesuits was religion, specifically the teachings of the Catholic Church, so that moral character and religious devotion became habitual. This was not done through direct religious instruction but through a religious approach to all learning. Boarding was encouraged as it was in line with the indoctrination of the whole student. Strong and well-trained teachers were essential, with constant evaluation and feedback throughout the year. Good teachers who were talented, prepared and inspiring were sought, poor teachers rejected.
In the days when educational theory was a matter of life and death, the Ratio Studiorum was condemned by the Dominicans to the inquisition, as it contained some unpalatable theological doctrines. The Jesuits compromised by removing the implicated chapters.
It is a highly academic education with a focus on the humanities and the classics in literature, history and language, with the emphasis on reason, leading to philosophy and theology. Mathematics, for example, was seen as a secondary, worldly subject. The curriculum, however, aimed to ‘form’ and not just ‘inform’ character through analysis. Critical thinking was encouraged. This is not to say that the curriculum was wholly academic, as the arts, especially drama and physical education, were also encouraged. They were keen on plays where students would debate and show moral dilemmas and issues on the stage.
As the idiom of religion and the Church, Latin was compulsory even into the 20th Century. Not only was Latin taught but much of the teaching was done in Latin, with some schools not allowing vernacular to be spoken, even outside of the classroom. The Ratio makes it clear that Latin was not about helping learn other languages but about inculcating learners in the culture of the church and the classics. It was taught directly and through immersion, translation being frowned upon. The religious basis of Jesuit education is seen by many as an anachronism in our post-colonial and secular world. The promulgation of Latin can also be partly traced to its religious role in Universities, and not as is commonly assumed, for utilitarian purposes.
The Jesuits were a global educational enterprise, first India, then South America, Florida, Mexico, China and Japan. The used and wielded power but always saw ‘schooling’ as their modus operandi, raining money for schools, which are fixed, visible and useful entities within communities. Their buildings were often huge and ostentatious. Education means salvation, but also power. They were particularly good at adapting to local, indigenous cultures linguistically and culturally but also good at remaining elite and scholarly, infiltrating government and ruling entities.
Jesuit education has modernised and in its many universities and colleges, especially in the US, has become part of the mainstream educational landscape. They run 168 higher education establishments in 40 countries and 324 secondary schools in 55 countries, with around 20,000 in the order but it is estimated that their numbers are falling.