Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Preventive System

Today is the feast of St. Giovanni Bosco, who developed the Salesian Preventive System of education, based on the three pillars of reason, religion, and loving-kindness, or even more fundamentally, on the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: Love is patient, love is kind, bearing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. John Bosco became a teacher of students in poverty, often orphans, who had few options in the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. He came to the conclusion that standard approaches to student discipline were too repressive and punishment-focused; many of the problems that one had with students could be nipped in the bud if one simply exercised a greater degree of gentle guidance. Rather than laying down the law, one should talk with students, explaining to them why they should be doing this rather than that, and acting with goodwill and gentleness toward them, quietly warning them when they are forgetting the rules and getting near to punishable behavior, and one should particularly recognize that the point of discipline is not to force the students to behave a certain way but to help them cultivate the habits required to avoid sinning against God and neighbor. Punishment might still be necessary, but as St. John noted, students tended not to resent punishments whose rationale they understood, particularly if the punishments were fairly mild and coming from someone with whom they interact regularly; and when they understood the rationale, mild punishment was more effective than severe punishment.

The approach has shown itself historically to be very effective; it also very intensive, however, and, I suspect, requires a certain kind of temperament to pull off effectively. But, then, perhaps that's not surprising.

From some comments by St. John Bosco to his fellow teachers in the Salesian order:

Long experience has taught me that patience is the only remedy for even the worst cases of disobedience and irresponsiveness. Sometimes, after making many patient efforts without obtaining success, I deemed it necessary to resort to severe measures. Yet these never achieved anything, and in the end I always found that charity finally triumphed where severity had met with failure. Charity is the cure-all though it may be slow in affecting its cure.

Remember that education is a difficult art and that God alone is its true master. We will never succeed in it unless he teaches us the way. While depending humbly and entirely on him, we should try with might and main to acquire that moral strength which is a stranger to force and rigor. Let us strive to make ourselves loved, to instill into our children the high ideal of duty and the holy fear of God, and we will soon possess their hearts. Then, with natural ease, they will join us in praising Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is our model, our patron, our exemplar in all things, but especially in the education of the young.

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