Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Teacher's Saint

"Hold fast to what is of faith"
~ St. John Baptist de la Salle

On the Catholic calendar, Friday, April 7, is the feast day of St. John Baptist de la Salle. De la Salle is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Modern Education,” and with good reason.

St. John Baptist de la Salle founded the teaching order of Christian Brothers, also known as Brothers of the Christian Schools . He was the first educator to use what is called the “Simultaneous Method” of teaching. This process groups together students at the same level of learning—today, we would say “in the same grade”—and issues them the same text books to study from. More than 300 years later, this practice has proven most effective over time and continues across the world to the present day.

De la Salle also pioneered teaching children in their native language, rather than requiring that all education be conducted in Latin. This opened wide the doors of learning to a much larger student body. In St. John’s view, poor and middle class families should not be excluded from education, especially reading and writing, simply because they couldn’t afford Latin lessons. This revolutionary philosophy was considered quite radical in 17th century France, when he lived and taught.

My father was educated by Christian Brothers, and, as a young man, Dad served as a teaching Christian Brother in Detroit, Michigan. His passion and reverence for learning was firmly set after this youthful experience. When my first child was born, his first grandchild, Dad gave me a handwritten copy of this Christian Brothers prayer he had begun praying at the start of his teaching career:

Prayer for Mothers, Fathers, and Teachers

Thou, O Lord, art my strength, my patience, my light, and my counsel. It is You who make submissive to me the children You have confided to my care.

Grant them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of knowledge and piety, the spirit of a holy fear of Thee, so that what they hear me say and see me do, they may apply to Thy greater honor and glory.

In his note to me, my father told me that he had recited this prayer each day for his children, from the day of our birth. Upon the occasion of their becoming parents, I sent each of my siblings a photocopy of our Dad’s handwritten prayer. Photocopies of the teacher’s prayer are also pasted into my own children’s baby books.

St. John Baptist de La Salle would most likely agree with me that parents are the first, and most important, teachers of their children. If we are parents, we are also teachers. As such, we do well to keep in mind that our children hear and watch our behavior, then act accordingly.