Bl. Basil Moreau Confraternity of Teachers

February 2021

Reading: From The Preventative System in the Education of the Young
Critical Edition: P. Braido – Translation & Notes: P. Laws Introduction
by St. John Bosco


On March 12, 1877, there took place the solemn opening in new quarters of the Patronage de Saint Pierre, St Peter’s Youth Centre, at Nice. Don Bosco gave the occasional address. For many reasons it was important that the event should go well; for this reason, Don Bosco took as his subject-matter his system of education, to which he had begun to give the title “Preventive”. Upon Don Bosco’s return to Turin, he had his address written up in more polished form, with also a French translation: he had spoken on the occasion itself in a mixture of Italian and French. It underwent various re-editings. Originally published together with the account of the solemn opening – it began life essentially as a propaganda document – it eventually acquired a life of its own, representing as it does Don Bosco’s only attempt at setting out his educational principles in systematic form. The translation is based on Braido’s ‘Document R’, which contains later refinements to the text, and which was printed together with the Regulations For The Houses Of The Society Of St Francis Of Sales, in 1877.  §


On a number of occasions I have been asked to express, verbally or in writing, a few thoughts concerning the so-called Preventive System which we are accustomed to use in our houses. Until now I have not been able to comply with this wish for lack of time, but since at the present moment we are preparing to print the regulations which now have been observed as it were by tradition, I have thought fit to give here an outline of it, which however will serve as a sketch for a small work which I am preparing, if God will give me life enough to be able to complete it. I do this solely to help in the difficult art of the education of the young. Therefore I will say: in what the Preventive System consists, and why it should be preferred; its practical application, and its advantages.

I: In what the Preventive System consists, and why it should be preferred. Through the ages there have been two systems used in the education of the young: preventive and repressive. The repressive approach consists in making the law known to the students and then supervising them in order to detect transgressions, inflicting, wherever necessary, the merited punishment. Using this system the words and the appearance of the Superior must always be severe, and somewhat menacing, and he himself must avoid all friendly relationships with his dependants. To give greater weight to his authority, the Director would need to be seen but rarely among his subjects, and generally speaking only when it was a question of punishing or threatening. This system is easy, less demanding and is especially useful in the army and among adult and sensible people who ought of themselves to know and remember what is according to the law and other regulations. Quite otherwise, I would say its very opposite, is the preventive system. It consists in making known the rules and regulations of an Institute, and then supervising in such a way that the students are always under the vigilant eye of the Director and the assistants, who like loving fathers will converse with them, act as guides in every event, counsel them and lovingly correct them, which is as much as to say, will put the students into a situation where they cannot do wrong. This system is all based on reason, religion and loving-kindness. Because of this it excludes every violent punishment, and tries to do without even mild punishments. It seems that this system is preferable for the following reasons: 

1: Being forewarned, the pupil is not disheartened when he does something wrong, as happens when such things are reported to the one in charge. Nor does he get angry from being corrected, or threatened with punishment, or even from actually being punished, because there has always been through the affair a friendly voice forewarning him, which reasons with him and generally manages to win his friendship, so that the pupil knows there must be a punishment, and almost wants it.

2: 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. For this reason, a child often commits a fault and deserves punishment, to which he had not given a thought, which he did not remember at all in the act of committing the fault, and which he certainly would have avoided had a friendly voice warned him.

3: The Repressive system can stop a disorder, but only with difficulty can it improve offenders. One observes that young people do not forget the punishments they have suffered, and generally remain embittered, wanting to throw off the yoke, and even to take revenge. It seems at times they pay no heed, but anyone who follows them up in later life knows that the recollections of the young are dreadful, and that they forget the punishments inflicted by their parents, but only with great difficulty those given by their teachers. Episodes are known of some who in their old age have exacted an ugly revenge for certain punishments justly inflicted during their school days. On the other hand, the Preventive system makes a friend of the student, who in the assistant sees a benefactor who gives him good advice, wants to make him good, to shield him from unpleasantness, from punishment, from dishonour.

4: The Preventive system offers the student previous warning, in a way that the educator can still speak to him in the language of the heart, whether during the time of his education, or later. 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, even when he is employed, whether it is in the civil service, or in commerce. For these and many other reasons it seems that the preventive system should prevail over the repressive. §


Several years ago, we led a group of thirty students on a bus trip to the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, from St. John Bosco Schools in East Rochester, New York.  This is a completely peaceful event, but while marching we heard a joyful uproar from a crowd of students nearby.  It was a familiar sound, since our own students had a well-established tradition of exuberance.  All our heads turned, and we saw their banner: “Don Bosco.”  Continuing our march, we later heard another harmless ruckus, and again we all turned: “Salesian” was the sign they carried (St. John Bosco founded the Salesian order).  And later, another boisterous but benign group we encountered was bearing their “BOSCO” banner.  We were surrounded by kindred spirits!

It’s no accident that this Saint’s name is still associated with enthusiastic and happy youth.  St. John Bosco carefully taught his Salesians not to guide the youth through repression; he never mentioned “classroom management.”  St. John Bosco’s way, which he called “preventive,” was the way of friendship.

“Reason, religion, and kindness” were his methods.  And also, “It is not enough that you love your students; the students must know that they are loved.”  Controlling one’s class was not his requirement; rather the teacher’s role is to build confidence in the students, reminding them before they impulsively chose the immediate reward.  Such friendship, truly willing the good of the other, is a seed of influence that can last a lifetime, even past the years of schooling.

The art of education is difficult, as St. John Bosco acknowledges.  The natural consequences of students’ choices and the necessity to make up for what one has done must still be present in the life of the school.  But they are to be preceded by the efforts of these friends of the youth, who will help them in their moment of decision, so their “youthful fickleness” has the reason, religion, and kindness of their teachers to lean on for support.


Do I aim to “control” my class, perhaps out of vanity?

Do I anticipate where my students are likely to fall?  Do I plan for those situations?  Do I make myself present to students in the times and places where they are likely to fall?

Do I seriously consider my task of developing the will of my students?

Do I build up my students in the “language of the heart,” so they have confidence in my care for them?  When correcting a student, do I take care not to dishearten them?


Dear Lord Jesus, Your words create and heal; Your presence supports us.  Guide us to our own highest calling to union with You.  Then our presence will bring Your presence; our words will be Your words.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Please also offer one Mass and one Rosary some time this month for the intentions of the members of the Confraternity.