Don Bosco the Educator (Part 2 of 3)

Today’s the second day of the triduum in honor of St John Bosco’s 200th birth anniversary. To honor this great a saint whom I have come to consider as a father, I am sharing this essay which I wrote when I was in the philosophate, some seven years ago.  This is the second of Three parts. You may read the first part here, and the second part here.

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Opening up a School

These realities and his wanting to teach the young people the truths of faith made him conscious of the need for some kind of school. He noticed that some children who are already advanced in years are still completely ignorant of their faith. Hence, he started a regular Sunday school, and eventually, a regular night school that would not only teach religion to the young, but would also equip them with necessary skills to cope with the demands of their environment.

Don Bosco embarked on teaching the young alphabet, structures of syllables, and reading. He thought this necessary in order to teach them the catechism lessons. Eventually, he would succeed in getting some to read and study on their own a whole page of catechism.

However, since Don Bosco accepted various kinds of young people, he found it quite challenging to deal with the slower pupils. They would forget what they had learned the previous Sunday. This gave way to the opening of the night courses.

Don Bosco was not alone in carrying out this task since he enjoyed the assistance extended to him by some of his brother priests. Among the young people they would care for emerged some bright ones. He invited them to help him teach the younger ones. Soon, he would count on their help as they educated the young lads flocking to the oratory.

The success of the Sunday and night courses encouraged Don Bosco to introduce arithmetic and art to the reading and writing classes. The concept of his school was quite revolutionary at that time; soon, everybody spoke of it as a great innova­tion. Before long, visitors such as professors and other persons of distinction graced his school. Even the city sent a delegation to see for themselves if the results of his night school was as good as it was reported to be.

They themselves examined the boys in pro­nunciation, arithmetic, and recitation. They found it hard to explain how young men who were illiterate until they were 18 and even 20 years of age had progressed so well in manners and instruction in a few months.

His Educational Method

Don Bosco had a thorough concept of education. Hence, instead of merely confining his young people in the classroom, he encouraged them to play in the fields and brought them out occasionally for out-of-town hikes. Walking along with a group of lads, he was always dressed in his cassock and dripping with sweat.

During his time, music captivated the young. This did not escape Don Bosco’s perception that he also taught the lads various musical skills. He organized a brass band and this provided entertainment when there were feasts and special occasions.

He also considered the stage an avenue to educate. It inculcated discipline among his boys, and allowed them to explore other artistic opportunities. During important feasts of the Church, he would choose from among his boys—the brilliant and especially those who were well-behaved ones—to stage theatrical productions he himself wrote. These were presented on the eve of the celebration, and served as a means to spiritually prepare each one for the festivity.

At a time when priests were held in pedestal, Don Bosco volunteered to mend clothes, fix shoes, cook dishes—and a lot more all—all for the sake of his boys! Don Bosco stuck to this mission until the end. To the youth of his time he had these words to say: “For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life.”

However, apart from these methods, Don Bosco based his educational method on affective relationships. Foremost among this, he believed that “The youngsters should not only be loved, but that they themselves should know that they are loved.”[1]

He reasoned out “By being loved in the things they like, through taking part in their youthful interests, they are led to see love in those things which they find less attractive, such as discipline, study and self-denial, and so learn to do these things too with love.”[2]

[1] Letter from Rome, 1884

[2] ibid

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