The “document that properly begins the representation of Don Bosco’s real experience as an educator is The Sway of a Good Upbringing. Here we find the Director of the Oratory of St Francis de Sales as catechist, counsellor and confidant of young Peter”, even if he “is in the shade and not fully defined.”
Well-known and authoritative Salesian scholar, Pietro Stella, in the passage just transcribed, refers to the account published in the “Catholic Readings” in 1855. It is precisely with this document, The Sway of a Good Upbringing, with its historical and biographical background, that we have decided to open this second part regarding Don Bosco’s educational experience.
An “exemplary child” called Peter, and “a model mother” are the main characters in the story. The work consists of a popular pedagogical story—“A curious contemporary episode” as the subtitle of the document puts it—which particularly reflects the narrator’s concerns given the social and political circumstances of his time where religion is increasingly less recognised as the essential basis for education and where traditional religious practices are being questioned more and more.
The importance of education [it is best understood as ‘upbringing’ in English, since Peter never did any formal schooling] in the family emerges in the circumstance mentioned in this story, “especially at a tender age.” The important pedagogical elements here are: duty, study, cheerfulness, piety.
Don Bosco notes in his introduction that he does not intend to offer the reader a completely original presentation: “This book,” he states “was modelled on one entitled: Un mari comme il y en a beaucoup, une femme comme il y en a peu, meaning: A husband like many others: a wife like few others.” But Don Bosco goes on telling us “honestly … that the facts recounted here really happened; I myself saw or heard almost all of them” and he adds: “Here we will see the sway that a good upbringing has on a child’s future; we will see a model mother, an exemplary child. A mother who amidst a thousand difficulties succeeds in giving her child the best upbringing, and leads a wayward husband back to the straight and narrow path. A child who responds to the maternal concerns of his affectionate mother … and at the same time becomes the support of his family, a model for his peers.”
The presentation of the facts closes with a keen appeal to parents, insisting on their role in good upbringing including with a view to social transformation: “if children are raised well this growing generation will love order and work …. “In short,” Don Bosco concludes “we will have better times, children who will be an honour to their country, the support of their families as well as being to the glory and honour of their religion.”
Reference time period: 1855
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 413-464.
Istituto Storico Salesiano