Finding Prophetic Voices: Teaching Philosophy, Religion and Identity

By Gillian Wallace, SNDdeN, Ph.D.

This article initially appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of our magazine, 'Sowing Goodness.' The full issue is available here.

When I started teaching at Notre Dame High School (NDSJ) in San Jose, California, little did I know that I would be getting a fluorescent vest… free! This perk is because I am a traffic guard. Wow! Who knew my vocation would lead me to this unexpected role?

I love using my prophetic voice cheerfully to greet our students and staff as they arrive. It’s gratifying to see students who look sad or anxious smile.

This week I greeted groups by saying, “Welcome to the Good Place, NDSJ!” This got the best response yet!

In case you don’t know, “The Good Place” is a sit-com about philosophy. Juniors and seniors watch it in the philosophy classes I teach. A number of students report to it being the main reason they chose to take philosophy.

The photo you see is of us finishing the unit on African American W.E.B. DuBois’ theory of double consciousness. The idea is that we have two identities; how we know ourselves and how others perceive us.

Students investigated the impact this philosophy had on the U.S. civil rights movement all the way to Black Lives Matter. Students also identified double consciousness’ impact on contemporary African American literature and films. Discussing race and identity in the U.S. today is no easy task. Yet these prophets of the future did just that. Many shared their own experiences of discrimination based on their ethnicity or religion. One also shared her vision of how the future might look if we could move beyond viewing our differences in a negative way.

Freshmen religion students are also finding their prophetic voices in The Woman’s Place Project. Inspired by the artist Judy Chicago’s art installation “The Dinner Party,” each student researches a woman of impact. She then creates a place setting as if that woman were being honored at the dinner. Our entire gym is filled with these place settings. On the night of the program, families walk around the installation whilst the freshmen stand by their place setting and wax lyrical about their woman of impact.

Only a few of the biblical prophets were women. Thanks to NDSJ, I am hopeful that there will be many more modern women prophets in the future. These prophets will reflect the various faith traditions of our students. May their impacts be positive and long-lasting.