In the past few bulletins, I have focused on the “Many Midwives of Learning.” It is my multi-part homage to Socrates who called his method of learning maieutic from the Greek word for midwife, his mother’s profession. The majority of the leading figures in education since have followed in his footsteps.
The subject of this week’s bulletin clearly birthed a way of teaching that had rarely been seen before, except in the elites of society. Don Bosco looked upon poor children as the least of his brethren and saw it as his duty to show them unconditional lovingkindness of the Gospels. They deserved it because each one was a unique child of God. That approach had a profound impact on me.
Giovanni Bosco (1815 – 1888) was born into a northern Italian sheepherding family in the aftermath of yet another European-wide war, this one sparked by Napoleon.
In his thirties he began working as a street priest in Turin at a time when the Industrial Revolution was taking its toll on the city’s vulnerable youth who were caught up in its frenzy. He organized shelter, education, and apprenticeships for street children, orphans, and those in trouble with the police. He persuaded employers to sign detailed apprenticeship contracts guaranteeing his boys would be dealt with fairly. And he inspected shelters and workplaces personally. He was a pioneer in the formation of organized Mutual Aid Societies which were initiated as collaborative financial support to young migrant workers in the city of Turin.
He formed his Salesian order 1869. In 1874 he and Sister Mary Mazzarello founded the Salesian Sisters to help poor girls.
Blighted cityscapes dominated by heavy industries and struggling in the aftermath of war, are echoes of my north of England childhood too. A mutual aid society helped my family too.
After World War II, the British government enacted a law to open up what were then called the professions to the working class. Two world wars had taken their toll on three generations of white collar professionals, so for the first time those lower down the economic ladder were offered a suitable education in what were called Grammar Schools. The curriculum was based on the traditional British private schools and stressed the Great Books.
To qualify, children had to pass the Eleven Plus Exam. I was one of the lucky ones and I was enrolled in a Grammar School near my home, which happened to be run by the Salesians of Don Bosco. What followed sparked a passion for learning; especially learning about learning. And it has not diminished with age.
Don Bosco was not an educational theorist. He was a loving pragmatist. His rule for guiding children who came to him for safety, shelter, food, and education was based on three pillars: Reason, Religion, and Amorevolezza or Lovingkindness. He publicly opposed the repressive, regressive education method common in Italy at that time, which was based on discipline, in realty punishment. He pioneered the idea of teaching through love not harm; an idea built upon later by Maria Montessori. Within a couple of decades, hundreds of Salesian schools were opened worldwide. There are now 4500 schools and 85 universities run by his order.
He called his system the Salesian Preventive System. He described it in a small essay. There are two preventive aspects. And both are still relevant 150 years later. The first is a timely awareness of the dangers to which youths may be exposed, because this awareness allows educators to help their young charges avoid such harmful experiences in the future. The second aspect is the immediate rehabilitation of youths who have already been victims of such dangers before the consequential onset of bad habits. He included lessons on personal hygiene, how to use one’s native abilities to become empowered, and how to find work opportunities. And always lovingkindness.
The 90 or so other Scholarship Boys who joined me on that first autumnal day, with crests emblazoned on our blazers and caps, and proudly clutching leather briefcases were mostly from underprivileged backgrounds. That did not matter. The expectations were set on the first day. And they were high. Make no mistake, the headmaster told us, you are all bound for university, and it is a privilege not a right. He also told us that we were encouraged to see this as an opportunity to help one another to achieve our joint mission. And we did. And only a handful didn’t make it to university.
We were told on day one that our teachers were there to help. But we were left in no doubt that we were the main participants in our own education. We were reminded that the word education comes from a Latin word Educere which means to draw out, which led me to wonder what it was that the teachers were drawing out. Now I know. It’s all those hybrid learning skills we all possess.
It was telling that our very first lesson was delivered by a librarian. After a bus ride to the town centre library, we were taught how to use the Dewey Decimal System. The Google of its day. That was how we first became infoliterate. As Einstein once said, “The only thing you absolutely need to know is how to get to the library.”
On our classroom walls, alongside pictures of the Blessed Mother, the Queen, the Pope, Don Bosco, and a huge Mercator map of the world colored mostly red showing just how big our empire was, there was also a picture of Socrates with the twin admonishments, “Know thyself” and “All things in moderation” written underneath. Socrates represented the Reason part of Don Bosco’s three pillars.
It took a while, but I have since realized that all this was a different learning experience than most. I have also realized that a different learning experience can only begin if teachers have the freedom, or the courage, to teach in fundamentally different ways. The attitude of my teachers towards me is best described as, you’re-in-charge-get-on-with-it. I’m here to help. More than once I was told I was on a mission to use my skills to help others.
This is how it went in class. I put my hand up and asked why history matters, Father Livesey, my history teacher, replied, “I don’t know.” At age eleven that is either a puzzling end to the conversation or a chance to realize that the teacher wanted me to form my own opinion. Lovingkindness and reason in one response. And that was the key. The youngest child from a working class family was shown that his opinion was valued, and he was respected. There are probably better gifts that I have been given, but this kind of classroom experience set me up for life. It was transcendental. And it can be for others; maybe that’s my mission.
The outcome required in all our classes was an essay. We learned through practice to shape our essays as we argued for our point of view. We would present our first draft essays to a subset of our peers, and if there were flaws my fellow pupils would let me know. It was all conducted in an amicable manner, expectations of lovingkindness again. Tempers were responded to by a suggestion that a lone walk around the cloisters would let us meditate on our transgressions. I spent a long time pacing the cloisters.
The essay was never graded as much as critiqued collaboratively, and then reworked by me, my classmates, and the teacher. Until, after several iterations, I got the almost magical award signified with the letters Q.E.D. Quod erat demonstrandum. I had finally proved my point to everyone’s satisfaction, including me. That essay was my justified belief. I had an idea, or problem. I used whatever gifts I had to research the topic. I synthesized facts and new information into an opinion. And then I first convinced myself, and then others of its validity.
Decades later, I was teaching at a graduate school of business, and I realized that none of my students had been exposed to the kind of loving, Socratic, collaborative problem solving I had. So, I designed the Terego Ideation Method™.
I have taught it hundreds of times since, from 1st through 12th grade, and at graduate schools, and in businesses. Younger children especially find joy in being asked what they think about something, and pride from mastering how to think that something through thoroughly everytime. So do adults.
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“Finally, a program that provides an elegant solution to utilize what we know about learning and the teaching and learning process.” Stephen B. Graves, PhD, Professor of Education, University of South Florida
The Terego Ideation Method™ is designed to ensure that children will think things through thoroughly, before making decisions.
Still waiting to try my ideation method and unleash your children’s potential? Watch this this video. The topic being examined happens to be “Why Does Math Matter?” But the subject could be anything, the method still works across all subjects and all ages.
See Tim Seldin, President of the Montessori Foundation, explain why Maria Montessori would approve of the Terego Ideation Method™.