While Don Bosco was a prolific author, he wrote very little about his own educative style. However, his life, the manner in which he approached his work, and his preaching, indicate that he considered the basic building block of his educative spirit to be love. But love alone was not enough. He was adamant that the young people in his care should not only be loved but that they should also know that they were loved. Therefore, love had to be given practical expression. This was done via the educative method that he himself called the "Preventive System." Building upon the optimistic humanism of his patron, St. Francis de Sales, this style of education was to be contrasted with the "Repressive System."
The Preventive System
The term 'preventive,' which Don Bosco uses to describe his system, is to be understood not so much in its strict linguistic sense as in the richness of the lived experience of Don Bosco's own educative experience and practice. Rather than implying something negative - to stop or hinder something - it incorporates the intention of foreseeing and forestalling anything that would give rise to negative experiences. This is more clearly seen when the derivation of 'preventive' is understood. It derives from the Latin praevenire: 'to precede', 'to anticipate', 'to go before with spiritual help'. In this sense its orientation is positive. The term includes deep intuitions, precise options and methodological criteria, all lived with particular intensity; examples are: the art of positive education by putting forward what is good through appropriate experiences which call for the involvement of the pupil and are attractive; the art of producing growth in the young persons 'from within' by appealing to their inner freedom to oppose external conditioning and formalism; the art of winning the heart of young people so as to inculcate in them a joyful and satisfied attraction to what is good, correcting deviations and preparing them for the future by means of solid character formation. (John Paul II: 1988, #8) At the centre of Don Bosco's Preventive System is "Pastoral charity," of which he wrote: "The practice of the Preventive System is wholly based on the words of St Paul who says, 'Love is patient and kind, it is always ready to excuse, to hope, and to endure whatever comes'." (Don Bosco, 1877). This love, expressed in pastoral action, inclines the educator to love the young person in whatever state he may be found, so as to lead him to the fulness of humanity which is revealed in Christ, to give him the awareness and the opportunity of living the life of an upright citizen as a son of God (John Paul II: 1988, #9). To summarise his Preventive System, Don Bosco used a three-fold formula: Reason, Religion and Loving-kindness. Don Bosco did not use this descriptive trilogy until late in his life when, in 1877, he wrote the brief Treatise on the Preventive System. Rather than providing a philosophical basis upon which his system is constructed, it represents distillation of Don Bosco's thoughts, a snappy slogan which can be used and which will be readily recognised. For this very reason it is the formulation of the Preventive System most commonly presented to staff in Salesian schools.
In line with the optimistic humanism of St Francis de Sales, the term "Reason" refers to that whole range of human activity which is the matter of education. Of its very nature, education is "humanistic" in its aims, processes and outcomes. "Reason" emphasises basic human values such as the freedom and dignity of the individual, the primacy of conscience, the goodness of creation and culture, and the worth of work and social living. The implication is that this whole human project will be enhanced and brought to life through the education that students receive. Don Bosco's own work bears witness to this, as he provided opportunities for his students to experience a broad range of educational activities,...