The Preventive System in the education of the young (1877) is one of the most important and widespread documents by the founder of the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. It is the first more or less complete account—despite its small size—that Don Bosco had put together on his educational approach. It is with this “small treatise” that his reputation as educator and pedagogue became so intimately linked.
With regard to the origin of the document, there are some pointers to be found in the unpublished diary of one of Don Bosco’s most attentive collaborators: Giulio Barberis. On March 12, 1877, the opening of the new site of the Patronage de Saint-Pierre took place in Nice. Don Bosco gave a speech or ‘exposé’ which he then completed shortly after returning to Italy. After describing the celebration and after the text of his speech he followed up with a “summary” of what had to do with the “education system we use, which we call preventive.” The work cost Don Bosco “several days. He redid it three times and was complaining that he just could not find the right way to put things as he wanted.”
In autumn 1877, the Salesian press at San Pier d’Arena printed a booklet containing all the material and details of the event in Nice, “with an appendix on the Preventive System in the education of the young.” From then on translations, reprintings and new editions multiplied. An ‘occasional’ work, then, became a pedagogical text of general interest in the light of the facts.
No traces of the handwritten original dossier on The Preventive System in the education of the young have been found as yet. “But there is no doubting Don Bosco’s authorship of this item. Other than Fr Barberis’ clear testimony, a careful lexical, syntactic and stylistic study of the text is more than sufficient when compared with similar writings by Don Bosco.”
But he did not intend to draw up a systematic pedagogical treatise nor an original excursus on education. He considered the work as “a sketch” of something he was thinking of publishing. He then adds that “two systems have been used throughout time in educating the young: Preventive and Repressive”, and he states without any hesitation that he follows the former, the “Preventive system” which “is usually used” in Salesian houses, and—he emphasises—“which is based completely on reason, religion and loving kindness.”
The work which Don Bosco thought of completing remained simply as a planned one but the little booklet on pedagogy in 1877 is more than a simple “sketch”. Reflected in it are ideas and guidelines from the pedagogical culture of the time, assimilated and re-presented in a characteristic and original way, and located within authentic Christian and Catholic tradition.
“Alongside the value of the Preventive System as a formulation of pedagogical teachings we also need to recall its value in the history of educational praxis. The Preventive System incorporated into the Regulations of the Salesian Society became the basic document for pedagogical formation, was commented on and developed while Don Bosco was still alive by Fr Barberis in his notes on “sacred pedagogy”, and by Fr Francis Cerruti in brief essays and talks, and by Fr Dominic Giordano in various pedagogical writings.”
After careful research, Pietro Braido came to this conclusion regarding the “short history” of the Preventive System: “Its first explicit literary formulation is due to Don Bosco, who put it into practice and gave it a sufficiently recognisable shape amongst all the other models of pedagogy. We are not dealing with a perfectly complete and closed system but something open to additions and developments, theoretical and historical, which enrich it without distorting its essential original features.”
Reference time period: 1877 – 1878
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 486-498.
Istituto Storico Salesiano