St. Don Bosco on the Education and Discipline of Youth

Last post, I shared with you St. Don Bosco’s secret to discipline.  Did you read how he could get 500 boys to sit in a hall and study quietly and diligently, without threats or punishment?   If you have boys, St. Don Bosco is the saint for you! He is a shining example for parents and teachers. Today I share with you some of his own words of wisdom on education and discipline:

On the Goal of Education:

For you to become the consolation of your family, the honor of your country, good citizens on earth in order to become one day blessed inhabitants of heaven.

On Religion and Education:

Only religion is capable of beginning and completing the mighty undertaking of an authentic education.

Reason and Religion are the means which the educator ought to apply constantly, which he ought to teach, and which he himself ought to practice, if he wishes to be obeyed and to attain his end.

Frequent Confession, frequent Communion, daily Mass are the pillars that ought to support an educational edifice, from which one would want to keep at bay threats and violence. Never require the youngsters to go to the Holy Sacraments, but just encourage them, and offer them every opportunity to make good use of them.

On Educators:

The educator at work amongst his pupils should make himself loved, if he wishes to be respected.

The educator, having won the loving respect of his protégé, will be able to greatly influence him, warn him, counsel him, and also correct him.

Act like a caring father. You will obtain anything from your children if they realize that you are seeking their own good.

Master your own character, and then you will succeed in mastering those of your pupils.

Remind them that humility is the source of all peace and that they should learn to put up with the failings of others since there is no perfection in this world but only in the next. 

An educator is one devoted to the well-being of his students, and for this reason ought to be ready to face every inconvenience, every fatigue in order to achieve his goal, which is the civil, moral and intellectual education of his students.

On Discipline:

The basic reason (why young people get into trouble) is youthful fickleness which in a moment can forget the rules of discipline and the punishments they threaten.

Give them ample liberty to jump, run, make a din as much as they please. Gymnastics, music, declamation (of poems, etc), theatricals, hikes, are very effective methods for getting discipline; they favour good living and good health. One must only ensure that the plot, the characters and the dialogue are not unsuitable.

Boys should not only be loved; but realize that they are loved.

(Children will know they are loved) by being loved in the things they like, by a sharing in their youthful interests… Let (teachers) like what pleases the youngsters and the youngsters will come to like what pleases the superiors. In this way their work will be made easy.

Punishment should be your last resort. In my long career as an educator, how often this has been brought home to me! No doubt it is ten times easier to lose our patience than to control it, to threaten a boy than to persuade him. No doubt too, it is much more gratifying to our pride to punish those who resist us, than to bear them with firm kindness. Saint Paul often lamented how some converts to the faith too easily returned to their inveterate habits; yet he bore it all with patience as zealous as it was admirable. This is the kind of patience we need in dealing with the young.

Laws which are enforced by punishments stir up hatred and give rise to bitterness, whilst laws which are not enforced at all arouse only contempt for the superiors and cause serious disorders… (Instead), Let the superior be all things to everyone, ready to listen to the troubles or complaints of the boys, watching over their conduct with a father’s care, whole-hearted in his efforts for the spiritual and temporal welfare of those whom Providence has entrusted to him. 

(Note: St. Don Bosco did have rules, but using punishments to enforce them was his last resort.  According to this paper, “Don Boso made use of corrections within a wide range of interventions of ascending seriousness: suggestions, advice, recommendations, reminders, warnings and threats of punishments. These were not ‘punishments’ strictly speaking, but interventions to help the pupils to avoid light-headedness and prevent bad habits from taking root, and at the same time to accustom them to a sense of propriety and help them cultivate good habits in thinking, speaking, and acting. Correction in these terms is of the essense of Don Bosco’s preventative system, because if boys were never to make a mistake, they would hardly be boys and would not be in need of education.” – Joaquim D’Souza)

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.

How to correct children:

Never, as far as possible, correct in public, but in private, apart from others.

Many times an indirect method of correcting is useful. For example, while in the presence of one at fault, speak to another about the folly of those who do lose their self-respect and good sense and so deserve punishment.

Wait until the child is calm. Never correct a boy while he is still under the influence of his own temper. A correction given at that time would only serve to embitter him and make things worse. Give him time to reflect, to enter into himself – he will realize that he is wrong.

Pick the best moment. Correct at the proper time, if you wish correction to do any good. I have often reflected on the story of Saint Paul’s conversion. He had gone to the High Priest “breathing threats of slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” See how our Lord bides his time. He lets the persecutor give vent to his passion. He waits for him to complete his journey. Then at the very gates of Damascus, after Saul has had plenty of time for reflection, when he is far away from those who might encourage him to persist in his resolution to persecute the Christians, Jesus reveals himself in all his authority and power! By the strength of his meekness, he converts Saul’s hatred and opens his eyes to his error; from a persecutor, Saul becomes the apostle of the Gentiles.

Appeal to reason and responsibility. Let the one you correct understand that you act out of duty and according to reason. Try to make him realize his fault and that it deserves punishment. Then mitigate it. In this way he will willingly accept it.

Sweeten correction with comfort. Correction at times brings about anxiety and fear. A word of comfort can easily offset this. A person who forgets and helps the culprit to forget is a true educator.


Want to learn more about St. Don Bosco? Watch St. John Bosco: Mission to Love. It’s available at Formed.org or at Amazon.  It’s a wonderful movie – actually, one of my favorite saint movies.  Some scenes are not appropriate for young children, though, so watch after the littles are in bed.

Sources:

How a Saint Corrected Children

The Preventative System in the Education of the Young

An Exhortation to Educators: Letter from St. John Bosco to his Salesians

 

St. Don Bosco, pray for us!

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