Young People Without Integrity
Although most of the young people you educate will have an admirable candor, a purity, and an innocence, be sure that there are others who, even if still quite young, have already tasted the fatal fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The demon has already had access to the souls of these young people, and in an age so young they know a thousand secrets and have aged in the path of depravity. We even find parents, often religious ones, who in blind security are asleep in this regard and indirectly foster the vices of their children by laziness. These poor parents abandon their children to take care of themselves, give them liberty to visit anyone, or make no choice of the companions that show up. They are unaware that it is enough to have one dissolute character in their children’s midst to spread the poison of malice and corrupt weak or impressionable natures.
Among the many young people in a school, it is hardly possible not to find some affected with this poison. It is your task as the shepherd of the young flock to redouble your care, attention, and vigilance in order to keep these sheep from spreading their evil to all those who are healthy and doing well. You will never be able to display too much zeal and activity in discerning the young people who are the plague of your school and whose influence you must at all price prevent and destroy. Look on them as devouring wolves that the devil has introduced into the sheepfold confided to your care, in order to surprise and kill the tender lambs who rely on you for their security. Experience will also teach you that these hearts have a particular skill in recognizing one another, guess at and attract one another. Surely the nature of evil favors these unions and friendships, for they quite soon have an understanding. A few words uttered by chance are enough to be understood; they already know one another and their friendship is formed. Since crime is the principle and bond of this union, your duty is to break it and prevent the results.
By what characteristics, then, will you recognize these young truants, and by what means will you be able to keep them apart, foil their tricks, or, if possible, work to remedy the situation? At first you will be aware of them from a certain desire they have to be together, to be a separate group, with an air of defiance and a certain separation from their teachers or prefects. You will also know them by their gestures and their attitude, by a type of isolation and staying apart, by an air too calm and quiet to be ordinarily associated with healthy young people of their age. Undoubtedly that will not be enough to let you make a sure judgment or allow your suspicions to become evident facts, but it will be enough to awaken your attention and further open your eyes.
Even if you have suspicion, do not give in to spying. That is tantamount to remedying one evil with another. By acting in that way you would spread among them the seeds of defiance, disunion, and hypocrisy. But try to see and hear everything yourself; try to surprise them at times when they see themselves not in view of a teacher and are not keeping up any sort of guard. Times of recreation, extracurricular events, field trips-those are the times that you must especially exercise vigilance. If you are vigilant, you will succeed in clarifying your suspicions and reaching a good judgment or a reasonable opinion about the condition of these young people. If their inclinations are well enough known to you, you should at once bring it to the attention of the school administration.
Administrators then will need to work with the father and mother of the student, in order to help them improve their son’s or daughter’s state by purifying the heart and enlightening the intelligence. For that, there will be a need for continued surveillance. To give this heart the goodness it has lost and to inspire in it hatred of whatever eats at the goodness, you must have recourse to all means of prudence, to all the resources of charity, and, above all, to the efficacy of prayer. If, in spite of all that, the student is unable to correct his or her condition or if you are seriously concerned that the student will have a bad affect upon the other students, it will be necessary for the student to be dismissed from the school. §
Immature Young People
The greatest number of your students will be immature and giddy. That is a mark of youth and a characteristic proper to it. Do not be alarmed then, and keep from wanting always to bring students to a seriousness that is against nature. In connection with this, most of them resemble those butterflies in our garden that are always flying but whose flight is not regulated at all. They leave one flower, return to it, and then quit it to go to another, finding their nourishment and enjoyment in all sorts of places. You should take into consideration their immaturity and act toward them as a wise parent toward a child, with great kindness, patience, and tenderness. Rarely does a wise parent chastise, but a look and tone of voice take the place of reprimands and punishments, making known what the parent really thinks. These are the delicate devices that truly form the hearts of young people and give them nobility of character and loftiness of feelings.
Learn to put yourself within reach of immature young people, treating them with the indulgence that their age deserves, while distinguishing slight faults from those that reflect malice and dangerous tendencies. An immature young person should not be led by way of penalties, because, being susceptible only to transitory impressions, the memory of the correction is soon lost. The young person shortly after falls into the same fault, while not showing real obstinacy. As for these natures, the art of education consists in removing from them the occasions in which they most often fail; thus, in class, be careful to place them between the best behaved and most serious students, in order to remove from them all the small objects that distract and amuse them.
Generally these students have a good heart. Make use of this excellent quality to win their affection and confidence so that they will consider you less as a teacher than as a father or a friend. Above all, know how to arouse their striving by promising and giving them, at opportune times, rewards that flatter them. A skillful teacher knows how to draw a lot of gain from this procedure, for young people are easily led in this way. Wisely used, small rewards and praise can produce the most astonishing results in students.
Also consider how consoling it is for a teacher to be appreciated by the students, to see that they obey less out of fear of penalties than out of fear of displeasing or of not earning the small rewards and praises that are handed out to those students who behave well. It is indeed easy for the teacher who really knows how to educate children to get immature young people to this goal. Most of the time the majority of them need only reflection and more developed reasoning to become excellent students. §
MEDITATION — SR. BENEDICTA MARIE, OCD
But it’s hard! It’s so, so hard! Integrity that is. And maturity – well that’s just plain impossible! How do you get these things across – really? I don’t know if ‘lack of integrity’ and significant immaturity are really more common today than in the 1800’s, but I do strongly suspect the ‘proportion’ of students with these problems in any random classroom has increased. We can blame it on any 97 causes. The more ‘timely’ culprits are helicopter parents followed by snow-plow parents, dysfunctional families in general, substance abuse and addictions, screen addiction, and just plain lack of parenting. Maybe the hardest part for teachers is not so much dealing with it as knowing we can’t deal with it. Maybe we can help to some extent, but you and I can’t be that mom or dad or ‘Gram’ or ‘Dutch uncle’ that the child in front of us so desperately needs. We are ‘just teachers’.
But I believe I have found a cadre of friends with just the right gifts and training to answer the screaming need. Heroes. Heroines. I have determined that if my students are not learning honor, courage, nobility, generosity and just plain decency from their milieu, I am going to flood their educational milieu with heroes. History, Literature, Science and the Fine Arts are replete with these wonder workers just as ‘Religion’ is.
My students move daily in a world mundane, disappointing and tawdry. No exhortation, no collection of facts and information will reverse the literally ‘de-moral-izing’ influence of the too often crass and ignoble entertainers and authority figures on their screens. But for a few privileged years you and I can give them heroes. We can give them the stories and heroes, historical and created, that will do noble battle for their hearts and minds and dreams. I have a lot of study to do! I am going to find and draft the men and women of every age and station who slay the dragons of narcissism and chain the demons of skepticism. Let’s give our children one of the few things they do lack. Heroes! Heroes galore!
Lord our God, Your Word teaches us that “Your eyes are too pure to look upon wickedness, and the sight of evil you cannot endure.” But we have allowed all manner of pollution to fill the world that children must grow up in. Purify our vision with the sight of heroes. Teach us to help our children to look up.
Please also offer one Mass and one Rosary some time this month for the intentions of the members of the Confraternity.