Don Bosco the Educator (Part 3 of 3)

Today’s the third 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 final piece of three parts. You may read the first part here and the second part here. 


The Value of the Playground

A shrewd philosopher once noted that “If St. Francis of Assisi sanctified nature and poverty, St. John Bosco sanctified work and joy. I would not be surprised if he would be proclaimed protector Saint of Modern Games and Sports. ”[1]

Don Bosco believed that the playground is an important component to the educative process because playgrounds are venues when young people are not restricted to speak and act.  One can win a friendly informal relationship with the boys, especially in recreation. This explains why all his schools consider the playground as a basic facility that the school must have.


His Preventive System

On the centenary of his death in 1988, then Pope John Paul II wrote “One may say that the peculiar trait of [Don Bosco’s] brilliance is linked with the educational method which he himself called the “preventive system.” In a certain sense this represents the heart of his wisdom as an educator and constitutes the prophetic message which he has left to his followers and to the Church, and which has received attention and recognition from numerous educators and students of pedagogy.”[2]

The Preventive System, a handiwork he left to his Salesians has in its core three elements: Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness. This pedagogical method brings together educators and young people in a family experience of transparency and respect. The practice of the preventive system demands an empathy with the young and a willingness to be with them, not only as a teacher, but also a friend.

Don Bosco passed on this technology to his Salesians, not merely by talking about it, but by allowing them to see how he lived it. In his school, he cultivated an environment of spontaneity. He developed a personal relationship with his students. He treated his students with respect. And he strictly taught his Salesians not to humiliate the young in public. He was for the kindest love. He is their father and friend.

In return, his students loved him. When he was critically ill, his boys stormed the heavens with their prayers just so he would survive. They accompanied their prayers with vows and promises to become better boys. Not a few of them promised to pray the holy rosary all their life while some offered to only eat bread just so Don Bosco would retain his health.

Hence, when he miraculously got well, one of the first things he had to do was to change something manageable all the vows and promises which many had, without due thought, when his life was at stake.

Blessed Michael Rua, a young by who grew up beside Don Bosco and who would succeed him after his death has to say: “Don Bosco took no step, spoke no word, undertook no work that did not have the salvation of the young as their object. He left it to others to go after money, comforts and honors. As for himself, he never had anything truly at heart, except the salvation of souls. In word above and above all in deed did he live by the motto ‘Give me souls take away the rest.’”

Don Bosco’s earthly sojourn ended for more than 120 years now. But we still hear the repeated cries of the young people all over the world “I am 16… and I don’t know anything.”

He responded to this plea by providing them education, not only by teaching them how to read or write, nor by merely teaching them some basic skills in order to live. More importantly, he taught them how to love by exactly showing them a clear example how.

[1] Peter Braido, Don Bosco’s Pedagogical Experience

[2] Pope John Paul II,  Iuvenum Patris, 1988, 8.


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