In a letter to the people of Rome, dated 23 January 2008, Pope Benedict XVI writes that every person and every generation must make fresh choices, without being able to accumulate the progress made in the past. The educational relationship is above all the encounter between two forms of freedom, and successful education means formation in the proper use of freedom.
There is an “educational emergency” with talk of a “generation gap” and of the young people of today as if they were different from those of the past: the pope is urging against discouragement in the face of this situation, continuing to emphasise the formation of the new generations and recalling that the difficulties “are not insurmountable” but “the other side of the coin that is the great and precious gift of our freedom, with the responsibility that rightly accompanies it”.
Today, the Pope says, there is talk of an “educational emergency”but education “has never been easy, and today it seems to become increasingly difficult”. The spontaneous response is to blame the new generations, as if the children born today were different from those born in the past. There is also talk of a ‘generation gap’, which certainly exists and is significant, but it is the effect rather than the cause of the failure to transmit certitudes and values”. In fact, at the root of the educational crisis there is “a crisis of trust in life”.
This should not cause discouragement. The fact is that “unlike what is happening in the areas of technology and economics, where today’s progress can be added to that of the past, in the area of personal formation and moral development there is no such possibility of accumulation, because man’s freedom is always new, and thus each person and each generation must make new and independent decisions. Even the greatest values of the past cannot simply be inherited, but must be made our own and renewed through personal choices that are often painful. But when the foundations are shaken and essential certitudes are lacking, the need for these values is again felt in a compelling way: this is why the demand for an authentic education is on the rise today”. An education would be “very poor if it limited itself to furnishing ideas and nformation, but left aside the great question concerning the truth, above all that truth that can act as a guide in life. Suffering, too, is a part of the truth of our lives. For this reason, by trying to shelter the youngest from any difficulty or experience of suffering, we risk, despite our good intentions, raising fragile persons lacking in generosity: the capacity for love in fact corresponds to the capacity for suffering, and for suffering together”.
One thus arrives “at what may be the most delicate point of the work of education: striking the right balance between freedom and discipline. Without rules of behaviour and of life, applied day after day even in the little things, there is no character formation or preparation for the trials that will not fail to come in the future. The educational relationship is, however, above all the encounter of two forms of freedom, and successful education means formation in the proper use of freedom. Gradually, as the child grows, becomes an adolescent and then a young adult, we must accept the risk of freedom, remaining always attentive to helping him to correct his mistaken ideas and choices. What we must never do is reaffirm him in his errors, pretending not to see them, or even worse, sharing them as if they were the new frontiers of human progress”. “Education can therefore never do without the authoritativeness that makes the exercise of authority credible. This is the fruit of experience and competence, but it is gained above all through consistency in one’s own life, and through personal involvement, an expression of true love”.