Teachers and parents can agree with the statement of St. John Bosco (1815 – 1888) who said that teaching youth is a “labor of love”. January 31 is the Feast Day of St. John Bosco (Don Bosco or Father Bosco) who was an inspirational educator who started schools for unfortunate boys and girls in Italy in the mid-19th century during the period of industrialization in Turin, Italy. His “Oratories” provided recreation, solace and education at a time when overwork and abuse of young workers was not uncommon. He structured his approach to helping these children and youth, in part, was based on the teachings of St. Francis de Sales; and eventually in 1859 started the religious order, “The Society of Saint Francis de Sales” (“The Salesians”). He called his approach to education and care of children and youth, the “Preventive System”. This approach was very successful in providing education and guidance to destitute young people in the 1800’s and was a forerunner to modern-day approaches to education. As such, St. John Bosco’s methods are considered to be a “Secret Recipe” to assist in the education of children and youth in the current time. Read about St. John Bosco’s successful approach below.
Don Bosco was born as Giovanni Melchior Bosco in 1815 in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. When the youngster was 2 years old, his father died leaving his mother Margaret (Margherita) to support 3 boys. Giovanni worked as a shepherd and in the fields to assist the family but he longed for education and the priesthood. He entered the seminary at Chieri (just outside of Turin) at age 20 and was ordained 6 years later.
Turin, the Oratory and the Salesians
In 1841, during his first assignment as a priest in Turin, Don Bosco visited the prisons of the city with his mentor Father Joseph Cafasso (who also became a Saint) and saw the deplorable conditions and treatment of boys and young men in these institutions. He resolved in his mind to try to help these young people and the seed of the “Oratory” was formed in his thoughts. The Oratory was a place where boys and young men would gather for recreation, education and assistance. The Oratory was a “youth club”, but also focused on education, moral guidance and religious training. In later years, some of the Oratories were trade schools; and numerous seminarians received their early education at an Oratory. The meeting places were originally in the streets, but within a few years, as the groups grew, Don Bosco established more permanent locations for the boys as he obtained donations from the wealthy and the government who saw the benefits of aiding the less-fortunate. Don Bosco was aided by other priests who joined him in this endeavor, along with his mother who became known as “Mama Margaret”. During this time, Don Bosco also organized the building of churches including the Church of Our Lady, Help of Christians which was consecrated on June 9, 1868. In 1874, he obtained full approval from Pope Pius IX for the organization of The Society of Saint Francis de Sales.
St. John Bosco’s System for Teaching Children
Don Bosco called his method the “Preventive System” in which “learners obey not from fear or compulsion, but from persuasion. In this system all force must be excluded, and in its place, charity must be the mainspring of action.” His objective was to provide constant and loving oversight and assistance to the child, such as would be experienced in a family setting – the students were put into a situation where they could not do wrong! The system had 3 aspects: 1) The Principle of Loving Kindness (or Rapport) is the building of a trusting, loving relationship with the child – there is no learning without a relationship; 2) The Principle of Reason provides a structure to avoid extremes and exaggerations; and establishes an environment where the child will accept instruction and guidance; 3) The Principle of Religion outlines the value of living a virtuous life and helps the child obtain personal holiness. Overlaying the Preventive System was St. John Bosco’s belief that positive reinforcement was the best approach which led to his famous motto, “Get them to love you, and they will follow you anywhere.”
Don Bosco taught his Salesians these strategies on how to educate children and youth:
1) We want the child to know that he is part of God’s plan by the very fact he was created in His image and likeness. This in turn will help the child view others in the same light.
2) Educators should act like caring parents:
- Always be gentle and prudent
- Allow for the thoughtlessness of youth
- Be alert for hidden motives
- Speak kindly
- Give timely advice
- Correct often, if needed
Practical Tactics in Education
Don Bosco outlined some of the necessary, practical tactics to be employed in education while using his Preventive System in a May 10, 1884 letter to his Salesians from Rome:
1) A most important idea is that “the boys should not only be loved, but realize that they are loved.”
- Be friendly and attentive, especially in recreation – share their youthful interests – and create a friendship.
- Affection cannot be shown without a friendly relationship, and without affection their can be no confidence.
- He who wants to be loved, must first show his own love.
- When a person knows he is loved, he will love in return, and when a person is loved he can get anything, especially from boys.
2) Avoid punishment for not following rules.
- Punishment stirs up hatred and gives rise to bitterness.
- Rules which are not enforced at all arouse only contempt for the superiors and cause serious disorders.
3) Have children go to confession to confess faults, but also to have a firm purpose of amendment.
4) Rely on Mary, Help of Christians who was present with the apostles in Jerusalem at Pentecost, at the beginning of the Church - she remains the protector and guide of the Church and individuals.
St. John Bosco founded The Society of Saint Francis de Sales on December 18, 1859 in Turin, Italy. The Salesians are a male religious order dedicated to apostolic and missionary activity and to the many works that Christian charity has given rise to, but above all at the service of young people, especially the poorest and most abandoned. In just over a century and a half, the organization now consists of 14,486 Salesians in 133 countries. Find out more about the Salesians at https://www.sdb.org/en