Education Committed to Social Justice and Human Dignity

This past Monday, January 15th, we commemorated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King often spoke about the “inescapable network of mutuality.” In many of his letters, Dr. King noted that our shared humanity was tied to our shared success as a society. In his sermon on January 7, 1968, he expressed this interconnectedness this way: “For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.”

I am often reminded of Dr. King’s words. Dr. King—like Fe y Alegría founder Fr. José María Vélaz, S.J.—was convinced that the path to lasting peace, true peace, would be forged through education. Both of these consequential and deeply spiritual individuals believed that education was not an act of rote learning, but a tool for social change. In the words of Fr. Vélaz, “The mission of Fe y Alegría is not to build schools, but to transform, through education, social structures.”

That is the role of Jesuit education programs. Building women and men for and with others, capable of becoming protagonists in their individual and communal development. An education that is anchored in a profound commitment to social justice and human dignity.

Jesuit education networks, like Fe y Alegría, understand that education is a fundamental human right, a public good, and a public responsibility. Together with national ministries of education, they work to prioritize and ensure access to quality education for all, transcending any form of barrier. Together with Magis Americas, our partners work to build multi-stakeholder alliances that meld public-private partnerships in support of quality and inclusive education.

Crucial to these alliances is our shared conviction that quality and inclusive education is key to:

  • guaranteeing equal opportunities
  • caring for our Common Home the Earth
  • promoting tolerance and diversity
  • encouraging citizen participation
  • empowering individuals and communities to become protagonists in their own development

Most fundamental, though, is our firm belief that education is key to accessing and enjoying all other human rights and that, more than anything else, is the linchpin to lasting peace.

As we mark the sixth International Day of Education, I am humbled to walk alongside you, and so many other individuals, working toward more just societies through education programs that promote social change and a lasting peace. Thank you.

Global Citizenship Education as a Force to Change the Course and Transform Education

Education as a tool for transformation

How many times a day are we exposed to news of the alarming realities that many of our fellow brothers and sisters face? The protection of individuals’ dignity, the commitment to ensuring basic rights, and the safety and health of our common home are all at risk. We live in an increasingly connected world yet, sometimes, it is hard to connect and empathize with each other’s realities. Seeing past ourselves and accepting our interdependencies as strengths can help us take our place as agents of change for a more humane world. To stand in solidarity in the mission of justice and reconciliation and realize our role as Global Citizens, we first need to see the possibility of change.

The choices we collectively make today will determine our shared futures. One of these choices, perhaps the most important, is how we are educating the leaders of tomorrow. Education is the basic human right, key in accessing all other rights and inevitably linked with our responsibility as Global Citizens. Yet, today more than 260 million children and youth are denied this right.

Education is a tool for societal transformation. It cultivates understanding and builds capabilities that can help us create more just and equitable societies. Education mobilizes knowledge to help us navigate a transforming and uncertain world. Global Citizenship Education (GCE) takes this to the global stage. It has the power to connect us with the world, encouraging us to revisit our assumptions, be critical in our analysis of current issues, engage in collective action, and include others in possible solutions. GCE exposes us to new possibilities, leading us in changing the course and transforming education.

The “La Silla Roja” campaign, Magis Americas’ annual GCE campaign, encourages students to take action locally and globally, transforming their mindsets and educational experiences. Every year, the “La Silla Roja” campaign works to defend the right to an equitable and inclusive education. In 2021, the campaign led students and youth through a process of reflection, awareness, and action in which they ultimately made a Promise to Education (#APromise2Education). Students took on their responsibility as Global Citizens and realized that #APromise2Education is a promise for opportunities, agency, and the contribution of creating a more inclusive and just world.

Global Citizenship Education in Action

At least eight high schools within the Jesuit School Network participated, in this year’s campaign, all in different forms. Here are some examples and takeaways from students and teachers.

St. Peter’s Preparatory

“Introducing students to ‘La Silla Roja’ was an incredibly rewarding experience….I believe in the transformative power of education as a tool to empower students and broaden their perspectives and engaging with this campaign edified that belief as I watched my students apply their knowledge for the betterment of our world.” – Salvatore Veniero, Director of Global Initiatives

The St. Peter’s Prep Global Ed Club took the initiative to bring “La Silla Roja” to their school. The board members of the club went through the three phases of the challenge, and decided their Promise to Education would be a series of activities for fellow students to get involved and learn more:

  1. Presenting the “La Silla Roja” campaign to the freshman and sophomore classes
  2. Painting red chairs to place around the school
  3. Participating in a “La Silla Roja” scavenger hunt
  4. Letter writing to congress
  5. Tutoring students from a Fe y Alegría school in Peru

James Popadick, Senior
“I participated in the ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign because I wanted to be able to make a direct impact on not only my school community but also the community of individuals who currently lack the access to education that is essential in the lives of all people.”

Joshua Pascale, Senior
“My biggest takeaway from this program was gaining a greater sense of gratitude for everything I’ve been given in my life.”

Evan Merkov, Sophomore
“’La Silla Roja’ campaign [gave me the] wonderful opportunity to give back to my global community, and it is an experience I will keep with me for a long time to come.”

Jesuit High School, Tampa

“This year’s ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign was an impactful experience for our students. They were able to learn about how the pandemic has increased educational inequities and the concrete ways Fe y Alegría is working to bring quality educational experiences to those most in need. The ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign not only made our students aware of the problem, but also inspired them to take action to promote educational opportunities for all.” – Dr. Cristina Delano, Foreign Language Department

The La Gente Club took the lead in painting two chairs red and placing them around the school. Throughout the fall semester, a series of Spanish classes went through the challenge and students made their Promises to Education.

Archie Teller, Class of 2022
“’La Silla Roja’ is a great metaphor for the need to improve education, and the activities with it that I have done have helped me do my part for this cause. The biggest action I have taken so far was giving a speech in front of my whole school about the ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign, what it means, and what our school can do to help.”

Diego Cubas, Class of 2023
“Painting la ‘Silla Roja’ allowed me to reflect on the social crisis of kids who are deprived of school. I believe it was a great way to help bring awareness to the people around the school.”

Sam Forman, Class of 2023
“While participating in the ‘La Silla Roja’ project at school, I learned about how lucky I was. In the activity, the issues regarding education and health in countries like Peru and Ecuador were brought to my attention, which is something that had never been done before. This activity helped to inspire me to contribute to my own community by helping teach the children at my local religious school.”

St. Xavier High School Ohio

“We investigated the various reasons why some children do not have access to quality education and how organizations like Fe y Alegría work to provide this fundamental human right to the world’s youth. Magis Americas’ ‘La Silla Roja’ project fit perfectly with our unit, and when I introduced the project to the class, students responded with enthusiasm. In fact, they even generated some of their own ideas to augment the project.” – Therese Bower, English Teacher & Global Education Coordinator

The Global Perspectives class went through the ‘La Silla Roja’ challenge, and in addition to painting a red chair, students suggested a couple of ideas of their own to increase the impact of the project:

  1. They placed red tape across 29% of the desks in the school’s classrooms to represent the percentage of children worldwide who do not complete secondary school
  2. They also 29% of the student body to wear red shirts on a designated day, and then arranged to deliver an education-themed Examen during homeroom.
  3. They did research on the issue
  4. Met with the school principal
  5. Made posters for the display in the main stairwell
  6. Composed and shared an Examen to the school community

Connor M
“Through the ‘La Silla Roja’ Project, I have learned that finding ways to help with global issues is important in my development as a global citizen.”

Andrew S:
“‘La Silla Roja’ really made me appreciate the opportunity that I have been given to attend such a great school and to receive an amazing education. It also taught me how to work as part of a team. We all had different roles, from talking to the principal, to making posters, to writing and reading an Examen for the entire school.”

Brooklyn Jesuit Preparatory

“It is important to have campaigns like this because it allows students to become aware of the hardships others face around the world. It allows them to understand how fortunate they are. These campaigns give students a world view and pop the bubbles that some may be living in. It gives students the true meaning of becoming men and women for others.” Maryellen Doino, School Counselor

The Student Government was responsible for taking the ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign to all homerooms at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep. Students reflected on the importance of access to education shared their thoughts in open discussions as well as organized a dress-down day to support Fe y Alegría.

Safaira Kelly, 8th grader, Student Government President
“This is important because everyone deserves an education”

Gervais Gors, 7th Grade, Student Government Representative
“It was important to learn this because it shows that we should be grateful that we have school because others might not be able to go to school and they can’t achieve what their parents want them to or what their parents couldn’t”


Students took part in contributing to solving the dual challenge we face as a society of (1) fulfilling the promise to ensure the right to quality education for every child, youth, and adult and (2) realizing the transformational potential of education as a means to achieve sustainable societies.

Students changed the course and transformed their educational experiences. Each group was able to see education in a different light and through a different lens. Most importantly, not just education, but the role they can collectively and individually take in collaborating in the creation of a society in which all can access this basic right.

The impacts of COVID-19 on education: Where do we go from here?

Earlier this year, as education systems around the world began to close as a result of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear that our individual and collective responses, as with all disasters and emergencies, would occur in two phases: emergency response and recovery.

Globally, we currently find ourselves somewhere in the middle of those two phases. Europe and parts of Asia have made strides towards recovery, while the Americas, Africa and the Indian sub-continent continue to struggle. All told, though, the impacts are becoming clear: nearly 1.6 billion learners in 190 countries have had their education interrupted as a result of COVID-19. A staggering 94% of the global student population. What’s more, the United Nations estimates that 23.8 million children and youth will drop out and/or lose long-term access to education in the upcoming school year.

The educational crisis we face is undoubtedly a unique moment in our history. However, let us be clear: the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that long pre-date this moment.

At the start of 2020, more than 250 million children and youth were out of school worldwide. Nearly 800 million adults were illiterate. Even access to school did not guarantee a quality education, as 56% of primary school age children worldwide are estimated to lack basic reading skills.

This isn’t to say that gains have not been made since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals 20 years ago. Quite the contrary, we have made huge advancements. The reality, though, is we still have a long way to go.

How we respond, though, in the emergency response phase of this pandemic is secondary to the actions we take in the recovery phase. Simply put: what happens next? How do we move on from here? How do we ensure we stay on track to achieving Sustainable Development Goal No. 4 by 2030?

In response to the current educational crisis, the United Nations has issued a policy brief outlining four recommendations to guide education during response and recovery. The Lego Foundation, in partnership with Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait launched Save Our Future, of which Magis Americas is a partner.

La Silla Roja: Protecting Education for Sustainable Lives

There’s a wonderful phrase in Haitian Creole that Fr. Emilio Travieso, SJ taught me on one of my first trips to Haiti. “Yon timoun lekòl se benefis tout moun. Chak timoun ki lekòl se responsabilite nou tout.” “A child in school is to everyone’s benefit. Each child in school is our shared responsibility.”

While these initiatives are important to setting the international agenda, they can often seem far removed from the priorities of our day-to-day lives. They allow us to distance ourselves from issues and view them as “other people’s” problems.

Education is a communal act. Not one of us was educated in a silo or by a single individual. Likewise, we all benefit from an educated society. It’s often easy to forget, but education is not a commodity or a business. It is a human right. It is the essential human right, key to enjoying all other rights. We all share a responsibility in ensuring access to quality and inclusive education.

This week we launched our annual La Silla Roja campaign, which is a global citizenship education initiative to defend the right to education for the over 250 million children and youth worldwide who are still out of school. La Silla Roja (or The Red Chair, in English) is a symbol of the right to quality and inclusive education and calls attention to the impact a lack of access to education has on personal and communal development.

This initiative was first launched in 2012 by our partner Entreculturas – Fe y Alegría Spain and has since been implemented by Fe y Alegría in several countries throughout Latin America, Europe and Africa

The focus of this year’s campaign, “Protecting Education for Sustainable Lives”, calls attention to the educational crisis brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this year’s campaign, we are launching a three-part challenge with Educate Magis to encourage students and schools across the Jesuit Schools Network to learn about the impacts of COVID-19 on education, reflect on their roles as global citizens, and take individual and collective action to support their peers around the globe.

We hope you’ll join us on this journey to defend access to quality and inclusive education for all.

To participate in this year’s campaign, click here or email Mariana Palacios.

Nate Radomski
Executive Director