Episode Show Notes

In this episode, Mike sits down with SFC’s Head of Schools, Rod Gilbert, and philosophy teacher, Jenny Cattaneo, to discuss SFC’s philosophy program and explore the story of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Mike Siciliano, Upper School Dean of Students, has a long history with Sante Fe Christian, sitting in several roles including alumnus, US history teacher, and football coach. As a student, Siciliano felt he had teachers and coaches who personally invested in him and made a huge difference in his life. Now, he tries every day to continue that legacy for current SFC students, live up to the standard his teachers set for him, and have a lot of fun.

Jenny Cattaneo loves to nurture both critical thought and creativity in her students. In addition to teaching French, she has a background in ancient history,  ancient civilizations, and western philosophy. As a philosophy teacher, Cattaneo challenges students to discover how the past relates to our present and encourages them to ask questions and discover what they will stand for as they leave SFC. Her passion for sharing the beautiful adventure of learning is contagious!

Rod Gilbert brings a fresh perspective as SFC’s Head of Schools. As a strong leader with a shepherd’s heart, Rod encourages SFC’s faculty, coaches, and staff to strive for excellence in all they do. At his core, Rod is an educator who wants children and their parents to see the world as something lovely, worth exploring and redeeming through Christ.


00:00:00 – Introductions

00:01:32 – What we can learn from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and how it applies to SFC

00:02:43 – Performance of the story

00:06:21 – Meaning of the story

00:06:43 – Profound questions or conversations with students

00:07:56 – Cultivating a sense of wonder in students

00:08:13 – SFC’s role in awakening student curiosity

00:10:03 – Comparison of early philosophy to The Matrix

00:11:29 – Discussion of Men in Black as it relates to mentorship

00:12:57 – Discussion of nature and nurture while analyzing The Truman Show

00:14:59 – Role of SFC teaching critical thinking

00:17:06 – What students struggle with while contemplating the allegory

00:19:16 – Benefits of blog projects

00:21:17 – We are meant to see the good, which is God

00:25:50 – Going through the cave more than once engenders excitement about the unknown and the mystery

00:26:41 – Benefits of having a mentor on this journey

00:28:01 – What teachers want for their students in life as they experience many cave situations


Mike Siciliano [00:00:04] Welcome back to another episode of our Eagle Perspective Podcast. I am Mike Siciliano, Dean of Students of the Upper School. Today we’re going to do something a little different. I’m excited about it. We’re going to talk philosophy. I have two individuals with me today that I’d love to introduce. The first is our philosophy teacher, really, the founder of our philosophy program, Jenny Cattaneo. Jenny, thanks for being here.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:00:28] Thanks for inviting me.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:30] Of course. I know this subject is near and dear to your heart, as it is to our head of schools, the one and only Rod Gilbert.

Rod Gilbert [00:00:37] Glad to be here. Glad to be here, Mike. Thanks for having me.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:40] Yes. So, there are not… I can speak from experience, and let’s just come out with it. Jenny started our philosophy program and really has developed it for what, 15 years now. Is that right?

Jenny Cattaneo [00:00:53] Yes, about 15 years.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:54] Okay. It’s been a labor of love. Rod joined us three years ago and is one of the more philosophical people I’ve ever met.

Rod Gilbert [00:01:03] That’s funny.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:03] Is that fair to say, Jenny, in your experience?

Jenny Cattaneo [00:01:05] Absolutely. Absolutely.

Rod Gilbert [00:01:07] Do you mean nerdy?

Mike Siciliano [00:01:08] No. I mean deep thinking. I mean capable of… Anything I say is going to sound like kissing up now. So, I guess I’ll move on.

Rod Gilbert [00:01:16] A raise for you, Michael.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:17] Yeah, there we go. That’s what I was going for. There’s a bookshelf over there with an incredible amount of philosophical works.

Rod Gilbert [00:01:23] Yes.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:25] Then I have to come to myself. So, there was one year in which Jenny and all her talents was so busy she couldn’t teach the course, and so, I taught the course. So, I’m the third wheel of this philosophical discussion. I’m honored to be in the room. So, we’re going to look today at a famous philosophical work from Plato called the Allegory of the Cave. It has a lot of lessons for us as humans. It is something that we’re going to talk a little bit about, Jenny, how you use it in your class. But also, I think, with all three of us, what we can learn from it as humans and how it applies to Santa Fe. Is that a fair explanation?

Rod Gilbert [00:02:04] Yes, that’s great.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:02:05] Absolutely.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:06] So, at Jenny’s suggestion in true philosophy teacher form, rather than just describing it, you said, “Well, we ought to read for them the Allegory of the Cave.”

Jenny Cattaneo [00:02:16] Let’s do it. Let’s do it.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:17] Okay. So, Jenny’s going to read it, and Rod has a role.

Rod Gilbert [00:02:21] That’s right.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:21] I think there’s a lot of yeses in here. So, I may sneak in some requests that I have just in the middle of the story right before you speak, Rod.

Rod Gilbert [00:02:28] That’s perfect. That’s perfect.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:30] All right. So, Jenny, why don’t you get us started? Here is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:02:34] I want you to go on to picture the enlightenment or ignorance of our human condition somewhat as follows. Imagine an underground chamber like a cave, with a long entrance open to the daylight and as wide as the cave. In this chamber are men who have been prisoners there since they were children, their legs and necks being so fastened that they can only look straight ahead of them and cannot turn their heads. Some way off behind and higher up, a fire is burning, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them runs a road in front of which a curtain wall has been built, like the screen a puppet shows between the operators in their audience, above which they show their puppets.

Rod Gilbert [00:03:13] Huh. I see.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:03:14] Imagine further that there are men carrying all sorts of gear along behind the curtain wall projecting above it, and including figures of men and animals made of wood, and stone, and all sorts of other materials. And then some of these men, as you would expect, are talking, and some are not.

Rod Gilbert [00:03:29] That’s an odd picture, an odd sort of prisoner.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:03:32] They’re drawn from life. Tell me, do you think our prisoners could see anything of themselves or their fellows except the shadows thrown by the fire on the wall of the cave opposite of them?

Rod Gilbert [00:03:43] How could they see anything else if they were prevented from moving their heads all their lives?

Jenny Cattaneo [00:03:48] And would they see anything more of the objects carried along the road?

Rod Gilbert [00:03:51] Well, of course not.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:03:53] Then if they were able to talk to each other, would they not assume that the shadows they saw were the real things?

Rod Gilbert [00:03:59] Inevitably, they would.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:04:01] And if the wall of their prison opposite them reflected sound, don’t you think they would suppose whenever one of the passersby on the road spoke that the voice belonged to the shadows passing before them?

Rod Gilbert [00:04:11] They would be bound to think so.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:04:13] And so, in every way, they would believe the shadows of the objects we mentioned were the whole truth?

Rod Gilbert [00:04:19] Yes, inevitably.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:04:21] Then think what would naturally happen to one of them if they were released from their bonds and cured of their delusions. Suppose one of them were let loose and suddenly compelled to stand up, and turn his head, and look, and walk towards the fire. All these actions would be painful. He would be too dazzled to see properly the objects of which he is to see his shadows. What do you think he would say if he was told that what he used to see was so much empty nonsense, and that he was now nearer reality and seeing it more correctly, because he was turned toward objects that were more real, and if on top of that he were compelled to say what each of the passing objects was when it was pointed out to him, don’t you think he would be at a loss and think that he used to see far truer than the objects now being pointed out to him?

Rod Gilbert [00:05:05] Yes, far truer.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:05:07] And if he were made to look directly at the light of fire, it would hurt his eyes. And he would turn back and retreat to the things he could see properly, which he would think really clearer than the things being shown to him.

Rod Gilbert [00:05:18] Yes, yes.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:05:20] And if he were forcibly dragged up the steep and rugged ascent and not let go until he’d been dragged out into the sunlight, the process would be a painful one to which he would much object. And when he merged into the light, his eyes would be so dazzled by the glare of it that he wouldn’t be able to see a single one of the things he was now being told were real.

Rod Gilbert [00:05:40] Certainly not at first.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:05:43] Because, of course, he would need to grow accustomed to the light before he could see things in the upper world outside the cave. First, he would find it easier to look at shadows next to the reflections of men and other objects in water, later on to the objects themselves. After that, he would find it easier to look at the heavenly bodies, the sky at night, or the light of the moon and stars rather than the sun in its light by day.

Rod Gilbert [00:06:05] Mmm, of course.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:06:07] And the last thing he would be able to do would be able to look directly at the sun itself and gaze at it without using reflections in water or any other medium but that as it is in itself.

Rod Gilbert [00:06:19] Yes, yes, that must come last.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:06:21] Well, we can end it here. Hopefully, that gives you, as you are listening at home, a general idea of what this myth or allegory of the cave is. It’s the idea that we are chained up inside a cave, and in order to be enlightened, we have to be exposed to something, if not dragged forcibly out into the light.

Mike Siciliano [00:06:43] Jenny, why don’t we start with… For you, as a philosophy teacher, when you first expose your students to this, what are some of the initial questions that you ask them or conversations that you have with them that stand out to you as being the most profound or these aha moments for them?

Jenny Cattaneo [00:07:23] Well, I think in the beginning, it’s just getting them to reflect back on when was the time in class where you had that aha moment. Maybe it was in a math class when the concept was very obscure, and then all of a sudden, you had enlightenment, if you will, and you could understand it. So, things that had formerly been in shadows and you couldn’t really decipher became clear to you. So, we start with the easy things like that, and then we move on into probably a deeper aspect of what does the allegory mean.

Rod Gilbert [00:07:56] When you’re in discussions about the dialogues or this one in particular about the cave, how are you cultivating a sense of wonder in the students? Because some students have the muscle of wonder and amazement, and others don’t. How do you cultivate a sense of wonder?

Jenny Cattaneo [00:08:13] I think one of the things I do is leave them in their uncomfortability at times. I don’t jump right in and answer their questions, and I also let them circle around with a safe person, if you will, where they can test their ideas, because I think what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to wake up their intellect and wake up even that sense of curiosity in them that sometimes can be crushed out if they’re looking for what they think is the right answer. What does the teacher want? I don’t necessarily want anything but for them to wonder, and question, and think, and explore.

Rod Gilbert [00:08:53] It’s true sometimes that students and adults alike, we want to be able to ask a question, and then just give me the answer. Just give me the answer, and then I, as a student, often just want to know, “Is this going to be on the test?”

Jenny Cattaneo [00:09:06] Exactly.

Rod Gilbert [00:09:07] But what you’re doing is cultivating… You’re actually forcing the issue of they have to create new muscles to go try to find the answer. You’re just making it harder on them.

Mike Siciliano [00:09:17] And that actually segues to, I think, part of the key of the story is the learning sometimes is uncomfortable to the point of pain.

Rod Gilbert [00:09:04] That’s a good point.

Mike Siciliano [00:09:05] Not necessarily physical pain, but this process of my goodness, I thought everything was one way, and I’m starting to see the shape of something that might be different, and it’s really uncomfortable.

Rod Gilbert [00:09:16] So, I have a different question. So, I had an animated thing in my head about the cave. Not until I saw the movie The Matrix did I really understand the cataclysmic shift of the key of analogy. Everybody’s nodding in the row.

Mike Siciliano [00:09:32] Well, first of all, I don’t know if Jenny knows I actually showed The Matrix to the philosophy class the year I taught it. I don’t know if you approve or disapprove.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:09:38] Well, I love The Matrix. However, movies in class. Oy vey!

Rod Gilbert [00:09:45] Did Mr. Hannan approve that?

Mike Siciliano [00:09:48] I’m not saying I asked him for permission.

Rod Gilbert [00:09:50] Good for you. So, you showed it?

Mike Siciliano [00:09:52] I did.

Rod Gilbert [00:09:54] Okay. So, why, and what was the response?

Mike Siciliano [00:09:56] Well, we were…  

Rod Gilbert [00:09:58] By the way, they just finished filming Matrix 4 in New York.

Mike Siciliano [00:10:01] See, now, that’s exciting to me.

Rod Gilbert [00:10:01] I just heard.

Mike Siciliano [00:10:03] So, we were in the midst of looking at a number of… Much of early philosophy is what is true, what is real, what can we actually know, are our senses proof of knowledge. I think The Matrix asks that question in a visually powerful way. I can eat this food, taste it, see it, touch it, and yet, it wasn’t actually reality in the movie.

Rod Gilbert [00:10:28] So, this chair’s not real?

Mike Siciliano [00:10:29] Correct.

Rod Gilbert [00:10:30] So, you said, “What’s real?”


Mike Siciliano [00:10:33] Yeah. You have the one character who wants to go back in, because he just says, “I don’t care if it’s not actually real. I want to make it my reality.” So, there’s lots of good questions and conversations there.

Rod Gilbert [00:10:45] So, did the students connect it well? Had they already seen the movie because it came out like ’99. 

Mike Siciliano [00:10:52] Most of them hadn’t been born yet. Actually, all of them hadn’t been born yet. But I would say it was maybe only a quarter had seen it. But they all liked it to the point where they were acting out scenes from it the whole rest of the year. Anyway…

Rod Gilbert [00:11:07] That’s good. I’m glad to know that you showed the movie. I was sitting here listening to you. I can’t think of a better modern cinematography… I can’t think of a better feature film that showed it. I’ve seen some cartoons of the cave analogy on YouTube. They’re accurate, but they’re boring compared to what the movie The Matrix did.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:11:29] The only other reference I can come up with would be the Marvel in Men in Black.

Rod Gilbert [00:11:33] Oh, explain this to me. What now? What now? Say that again.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:11:38] Oh, I think at the end of one of those movies.

Rod Gilbert [00:11:42] Oh, oh, oh, at the end, he opens the locker.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:11:44] There’s something…

Mike Siciliano [00:11:45] Yes. Right. It’s like the whole earth is really just inside this marble inside this locker.

Rod Gilbert [00:11:50] Yes.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:11:51] Here we go.

Rod Gilbert [00:11:53] The Men in Black movies are great for all kinds of stuff. Mentorship galore.

Mike Siciliano [00:11:58] Right.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:11:59] There was one other maybe…

Rod Gilbert [00:12:01] Yes. It’s one of my favorite mentorship movie series.

Mike Siciliano [00:12:02] Are you thinking of Inception? The dream within the dream and the top spinning…

Jenny Cattaneo [00:12:06] No. I’m thinking of the one where he lives in the domed…? Oh, goodness, this is Jim Carrey. He’s inside…

Rod Gilbert [00:12:17] Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Mike Siciliano [00:12:18] Jenny, you’re going to laugh.

Rod Gilbert [00:12:19] Truman Show

Jenny Cattaneo [00:12:20] Truman Show!

Mike Siciliano [00:12:20] Guess what? I showed that at the end of the year.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:12:23] Oh, my gosh. Who gave you permission to do this?

Rod Gilbert [00:12:26] All last summer when the pandemic was super crazy, I just kept telling everybody, “I feel like I’m in The Truman Show. At some point, a light’s going to fall out of the sky, and there we go. Hey, Rod, we’ve been following you since you were a little babe.” At some point I thought, “I’m just going to row the boat out there and get out of this thing.”

Mike Siciliano [00:12:44] So, did you start driving your car around…

Rod Gilbert [00:12:46] I wanted to. I wanted to. I was looking behind the bushes to see if a boom mic would come down. That’s how crazy the world has been.

Mike Siciliano [00:12:55] Yeah, it’s true. It’s true.

Rod Gilbert [00:12:56] Okay. So, The Truman Show?

Mike Siciliano [00:12:57] I did. Again, it’s another… At some point, we got into nature and nurture.

Rod Gilbert [00:13:06] That’s great. 

Mike Siciliano [00:13:07] Yeah. Okay. So, you were going somewhere with The Matrix.

Rod Gilbert [00:13:10] Well, I was just curious what other movies are out. The only one I could really think of was The Matrix. I couldn’t think of another one that really did it in a tasty fashion.

Mike Siciliano [00:13:20] Truman Show is also out there as far as what is real and nature/nurture.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:13:26] If we don’t have good Christian mentors with these kids as they begin to have their eyes opened to certain things, there are times when I think the world is just too much for them. And they do. They want to crawl back into The Matrix. They want to stay in The Truman Show. They don’t want to really know what’s out there, because they feel like there’s an either/or to this thing. As we hold their hands as the older generation—and I’ll definitely be part of that—we can walk with them into this dynamic tension of both and do it with the light of Christ… 

Rod Gilbert [00:14:01] It’s not an either/or.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:14:02] It’s not an either/or.

Rod Gilbert [00:14:04] And the things of the last 12 months should not lead us to despair. They actually lead to hope.

Mike Siciliano [00:14:10] We’re in some sort of cave process right now.

Rod Gilbert [00:14:13] That’s right. We’re in some sort of cave process.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:14:15] We are. Those Titanic shifts are not easy to endure. The kids in the philosophy class are actually writing an essay on hope. It’s going to be submitted to a national conference put on by PLATO, Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization. It’s the preeminent precollege philosophy organization in our country.

Mike Siciliano [00:14:39] There’s not a competing organization called Aristotle that might challenge?

Jenny Cattaneo [00:14:42] There is not, only PLATO.

Rod Gilbert [00:14:46] A smackdown between the two philosophers.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:14:48] So, I’m eager to coach our kids into a place where one of them could write that competitive essay. Just saying, there is a little competitive edge here.

Rod Gilbert [00:14:58] That’s really good.

Mike Siciliano [00:14:59] Maybe, Rod, you can speak a little bit to what is our role as a school in that process. I think a lot of people have this view of education of you teach them the facts; they learn stuff; they do well on the test, and they go out and then are successful because of what they’ve learned. But there’s this other process of curiosity and the unsettledness of learning that things might be different than you think. What’s the role of this feeling?

Rod Gilbert [00:15:25] Some people think that when they come to a school, they’re just going to be given the facts, the facts, the facts. That reminds me of a quote from a Charles Dickens book, Hard Times. In the opening two pages, a teacher is demanding that the children learn the facts, the facts, the facts. Dickens was brilliant enough to name the teacher Mr. M’Choakumchild, and is frightening. So, as much as many people want to come for us just to tell them exactly what to think or hear the top 10 things, what we’re more interested in is critical thinking skills and, if anything, opening up their minds to different ways of thinking about things. We’re sending them off into a very complex world that’s full of amazing wonders, and we don’t want them just to have rudimentary understanding.

Mike Siciliano [00:16:14] How do we determine when is the right time to show just the shape of something or reflection of something, and when is the right time to show the sun?

Rod Gilbert [00:16:29] Yeah, that’s a good question. I would say that we have a very unique situation at Santa Fe because we have a preschool, the little tiny ones, three years old, up to 18-year-olds, and we have the benefit of a singular school to gauge everything in an age-appropriate way. We know we don’t have to teach him everything in fifth grade, because we’ve got him at least seven more years, some of them eight more years, depending on how they need a little more help. I think that we look for an age-appropriate way to open up new things to them, and we have the benefit of doing that as a single string.

Mike Siciliano [00:17:06] Jenny, what’s something that kids in your class, really young adults in your class, struggle with, with this allegory?

Jenny Cattaneo [00:17:15] The challenge to it is like you said. In the beginning of the allegory, you’re just dragged a little bit closer to the light. Those first maybe aha moments, the kids will step out of their comfort zone and say, “Yeah, I didn’t use to like a certain kind of music, but then I got introduced to jazz or classical, and I realized that there’s actually merits to it. It’s interesting. I can see why other people appreciate it.” So, that first level of being exposed to the light is a very, very exciting level, where you can step outside of your particular zone and step into the shoes of the other. Where I think it gets more exciting is once they take that second step, and if you go with the allegory, they’re dragged out. There are times when the kids are against their will being put in a space where they’re going to question things. I have found, especially just after confinement, after all of the stress and strain of this educational complexity that we find ourselves in, I’m finding that kids are either afraid to ask the question in a very safe environment or they’re indifferent. So, some of the things that I push them to do, I guess, the quotable Cattaneo, “The future belongs to those who can ask a question that Google cannot answer.” So, as they begin to ask those questions, I’m like, “Come on, you guys. You have to have questions.” In the beginning, they’re even afraid to have a question. Is it the right question? Don’t worry about whether it’s the right question or not; just go have a question.

Rod Gilbert [00:18:58] Back to, “Is it on the test?”

Jenny Cattaneo [00:18:59] Is it on the test? It was not on the test.

Rod Gilbert [00:19:02] Sometimes it’ll stop a class like that and say, “Okay. Everybody will get A’s this semester. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s go be human.”

Jenny Cattaneo [00:19:09] You are guaranteed an A. Now show me that you can earn it by thinking.

Rod Gilbert [00:19:15] It frees them up.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:19:16] It frees them up, definitely. So, one of the things that is really a joy for me to do in the class, one of the cool things where I was forced out of my comfort zone, there was a year once upon a time at Santa Fe where I taught Writing to Publish. I have a master’s in English but was not comfortable teaching that class. In fact, I cried when I was supposed to teach that class. The backwards blessing of that class is I taught blogging to kids, never having blogged myself. It has unleashed an incredible amount of creativity, not only amongst me as a teacher and other teachers but with the kids. So, the way that this goes is we kick things around in class. They’ve got the freedom to discuss, debate. What does it mean to be out in the light? What are things that you feel like you’ve been enlightened in? Then they go write about it, and they’ll post it to a blog. Then they’ll find images that illustrate what they’ve learned. So, I think for me to be able to come clear with them, “These are the ways I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, and you kids are receiving the blessing of it.” So, the whole blog project is one of the most creative things I’ve ever seen kids do.

Rod Gilbert [00:20:34] I think you just hit on something real important from a mentorship model. The mentor cannot take the student somewhere where the mentor has not been for two reasons: one, you’re a liar and second, the kids know you’re a poser. If you’ve not actually been through the journey yourself, they’re not going to believe you. They’re not going to go with you. So, when I first learned of the cave analogy, I went to my spiritual conversion to Christ. I have very vivid memories of that. So, I equated this as a one-time event in life when I first read the cave analogy, and then the rest of my life I live as a Christian. So, the older I get, I’ve really applied this to a lot more avenues. 

Jenny Cattaneo [00:21:17] I think for parents who are listening to this, to hear my heart, the reason that you’re sending your child to a Christian school, I am the poster child for the Allegory of the Cave. So, if you teach this allegory from a secular point of view, you can be enlightened by anything: your guru, your yoga teacher. You can feel enlightened because you understand the right kind of—I don’t know—clothes to buy, whatever you want, and you can stop the allegory right there. But I’m going to agree wholeheartedly with Rod that it is truly meant to be, even the reference of the sun at the end, that we are meant to see the sun, which is the good, which is God.

Rod Gilbert [00:22:00] Yeah, that’s exactly what Plato means.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:22:02] That’s what Plato means by the ultimate enlightenment, if you will, would be seeing God face-to-face.

Rod Gilbert [00:22:09] The metaphysic.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:22:10] The metaphysical view.

Rod Gilbert [00:22:11] That’s right. That’s what we share with Plato.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:22:13] So, the blessing of being here at a Christian school is that I don’t just leave them with their vanilla interpretation of it, but I do get to share my story. So, in brief, my story is this. At the ripe age of 17, I was going down many a wrong path, definitely chained inside, seeing shadows of things, and desirous of truly understanding truth. I went, if you will, on a shopping spree and thought I would find religion somewhere. So, I’m one of those odd people around here that has not grown up in a Christian environment and truly came to faith out of the blackness of my own despair and out of atheism. So, as I’m trying thing after thing…

Rod Gilbert [00:22:55] How old were you when you came to Christ?

Jenny Cattaneo [00:22:57] I was a precocious 17-year-old. I really, really wanted to know what would happen if I died—there was a fear aspect — and is there love in the universe. It really meant the world to me. Meant all of the difference in the world to me. So, I tell the kids about being invited… If you will, the first amount of fire that I was exposed to was a Bible study that someone invited me to from a group called The Navigators. Very rigorous Bible study and I’m a totally raw atheist with all kinds of crazy ideas. My Bible study leader patiently explained these things to me. Then ultimately, in November of 1976, there was my true being dragged out of the cave. But the person who truly I feel like dragged me out was the Spirit of God Himself. Dragged me into the light, where I was faced with my own sinfulness, faced with a grace that was before me, faced for the sacrifice on the cross. Truly felt that I had gone from the black-and-white into Oz, and everything was in color. I tell the kids that that conversion experience, which is… The joy of it has never left me. If anything, it’s stronger than ever. I also was that person who went back to my family and said, “Wait, you’ve got this all wrong. Don’t you guys understand?”

Rod Gilbert [00:24:22] I’ll bet you were a pain to live with.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:24:23] Oh, I was a pain to live with. I was relentless in…

Rod Gilbert [00:24:27] Go somewhere, go to college. 

Jenny Cattaneo [00:24:29] Oh, my goodness. No, they couldn’t get rid of me. I had hounded my family, and I do have the joy to say that both my parents, after 30-plus years of me praying for them, came to Christ.

Rod Gilbert [00:24:40] Jenny, while you were talking, I was thinking of Francis Thompson’s famous poem, The Hound of Heaven, because he describes his conversion to Christ as being chased by a hound in an unperturbed, unhurried pace. So, while you were talking about your conversion, in my head were stanzas from that poem. Then you just said, the Holy Spirit hounded you.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:25:05] Hounded me.

Rod Gilbert [00:25:06] Hounded you.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:25:07] Pursued me. Pursues all of us relentlessly.

Rod Gilbert [00:25:11] It’s frightening.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:25:12] It is.

Rod Gilbert [00:25:13] Then when it’s complete, this conversion, then you’re light as a feather.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:25:19] Amen.

Rod Gilbert [00:25:19] It’s a whole new world.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:25:20] Amen. A whole new world. So, it truly is a joy to share that with the kids and have them reflect on it. Many of them have grown up… Because of the wonderful parents we have here, they’ve grown up in a very secure, very Christian, Christ-filled, Bible-filled environment. So, for them at times, there’s almost a need to go back to the strangeness and the mystery of what this thing is called faith.

Rod Gilbert [00:25:45] Exactly. I think teaching a mystery is a powerful thing. What were you going to say?

Mike Siciliano [00:25:50] I was going to say I think even in that context there are plenty of students that, as they take your class and learn about this, are in the midst of the cave or being dragged out of it, even from current understanding of faith to better understanding of faith. That process is… The cave process is one that is ongoing and repeating, even for those who come to faith at a young age. And I think there’s such a faith-building exercise in that and maybe… I don’t want to say it’s too strong, but in a way, it’s what we want from our students to embrace. You go through the cave once, it’s really scary; it’s uncertain. Once you go through that journey a couple times and you see God’s hand in it, you start to get almost excited about, like you said, the unknown and the mystery.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:26:41] You’re making me think back, though, to this whole idea of having a guide or a mentor in this journey. So, in the original story, our poor fellow was dragged up into the light. We’ve talked about the significant people who have impacted us, say, a Bible study leader or a mentor in your life. I think, especially with a class like philosophy, where people can get a little leery of like, “Well, what do you actually teach in there?” and to know that it’s because, again, you’re at Santa Fe Christian, I’m not going to teach them that any light is the light. They have to learn how to be discerning to things that are truly just the flickering of flames on the walls, and the muffled voices in the cave, and what does it truly mean to get out into the light? It’s not the lights; it is the light. So, even Plato himself, there are incredible foreshadowing and hints to the person of Christ even in Plato’s Republic. So, all truth that is God’s truth is going to be light, but not all lights are the light we want them looking at.

Rod Gilbert [00:27:54] Some are borrowed light. 

Jenny Cattaneo [00:27:56] Some are borrowed light.

Rod Gilbert [00:27:57] They’re borrowed reflections that’s like fool’s gold.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:28:00] Exactly.

Mike Siciliano [00:28:01] We’ve talked some about how this cave experience can happen over and over. How does that connect with what we want for our students in life as they go on and experience their own cave situations?

Rod Gilbert [00:28:15] I do think this systemization of education could make it very rote like we’re just a factory and we educators—I’m guilty of this—of just wanting predictability. Parents want predictability. They want the GPA set. We all understand the college industry forces us into a system, and it’s sometimes maniacally painful. If we’re not careful, we actually squelch curiosity. If I had to choose between all A’s for my own children when they graduated or a real sense of curiosity of go learn the way the world works, I would have chosen curiosity. Because what they’ve become, what my children have become since 18 just into their mid-20s, is very, very different than what I would have predicted when they’re 18. I think there is a little bit… I’ve been able to see just among children that they’re actually more curious about the way the world works, and they were less worried about the way the grade works. It’s hard to de-tether it. I don’t want to squelch curiosity.

Mike Siciliano [00:29:24] Right. We use that phrase “lifelong learning” sometimes, and, really, what you’re saying is we want kids who see the littlest light to become aware, “I’m in a cave. I got to go run to that light,” rather than having to be dragged through it.

Rod Gilbert [00:29:41] There’s more to know and go explore.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:29:44] I have this nerdy fascination with economics and business, and a driving passion to make the philosophy class infinitely applicable to their own lives. So, for instance, they read Nicomachean ethics of Aristotle, parts of it, and then they have to write their own ethical code. I make them do some serious mental push-ups to figure out how does their ethical stance apply, and how is it tethered to maybe this Aristotelian, beautifully Judeo-Christian view of virtue as guiding our lives. So, everything that we’re doing to expose them to the light—the light of Christ, the light of knowledge—to light that in them, that there’s so much more application to it. So, like you said, curiosity. Give them freedom to question and wonder. Give them a chance to Crock-Pot ideas so that they can creatively present them in a way that’s winsome. Get them to collaborate in class. Get them to do things that I think they’ll be doing in the future. They’ll be collaborating. They’ll be creating. They’ll be thinking really, really hard and well.

Rod Gilbert [00:30:54] Working with a team to solve a problem.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:30:57] Yes, absolutely.

Rod Gilbert [00:30:57] They need to solve problems with a group, not just on their own.

Mike Siciliano [00:31:01] Did you say winsome, because you know that’s one of Rod’s favorite words?

Rod Gilbert [00:31:03] It is.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:31:03] Is it really?

Rod Gilbert [00:31:05] It is. All my little lights went off.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:31:07] Oh, I do like that word.

Rod Gilbert [00:31:09] If I was on social media would have gone like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, but I’m not.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:31:12] Yep, winsome. Yes, we do want to be winsome. We do.

Mike Siciliano [00:31:16] Well, I know that this conversation could last, really, for much of the day, if we wanted it to.

Rod Gilbert [00:31:22] And it may…

Mike Siciliano [00:31:23] Yeah. We’re just going to turn the mic off here in a sec. Thank you both for being here and sharing your wisdom and your insights. I appreciate it. We’ll do this again.

Rod Gilbert [00:31:32] All right. Glad to be here.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:31:32] Let’s do it. It’s been a pleasure.

Rod Gilbert [00:31:34] Thank you.

Jenny Cattaneo [00:31:34] Thank you.

Mike Siciliano [00:31:35] Thanks to those of you at home for listening to our Eagle Perspective podcast. We’ll be back with more soon.