The Preventive education system of John Bosco


STATEMENT: The Preventive System is the synthesis of the complete
thought and pastoral action of St. John Bosco.

It is a Spirituality.  It is a Pedagogy. It is a style of Pastoral action.

More than being some kind of treatise, the Preventive System is something that can be most clearly seen in the life and action of Don Bosco. Nevertheless it can be part of the life and action of one today who would wish to emulate Don Bosco.

An essential characteristic of Don Bosco’s approach is his interest in the young person as person, and in his or her complete formation as human being and Christian.
His total vision of formation is characterized by: 

  • a variety of educational and pastoral offerings.
  • a hierarchy of objectives subordinated to the single aim of the salvation of the individual.
  • his clarity concerning the direction of his educative action.
  • The fundamentals of this total vision of Don Bosco lie in:
    – his own life as priest and educator.
    – his concept of the fullness of salvation as a way of forming young people.
    – his positive view of the human being and human values.
    – his realistic appreciation of sin as something that hinders the full development of the person.
  • To be able to put into practice today Don Bosco’s approach, the following is essential:
    – To maintain as the final purpose of pastoral and educative action the integration of faith and life.
    – To establish a strict relationship between the formation of the person and his or her sanctification.
    – To prepare educators who, through their lives, will be models and witnesses of this whole approach to development. (Note that educators are not only teachers. An educator can be parent or other significant adult in the lives of the young).
    – To create an environment in which all this becomes possible.
    Don Bosco opted for loving-kindness, i.e. a special quality of friendliness on the part of the educator which inspires cooperation and confidence on the part of the one being educated. He based his education on charity: the pedagogy of the heart.
    The basic traits of his approach are to be found in a letter he wrote to Salesians from Rome in November 1884. Here are some of them:
    – education is a thing of the heart.
    – confidence and familiarity are basic to the system.
    – familiar presence is an indispensable element.
    – the environment/surroundings provide for an education as a kind of contagion that goes on between educator and the one being educated.
    – Jesus Christ is the model for this relationship.


  • The real situation that young people find themselves in today spurs us on to put the Preventive System into action. A pedagogy of the heart is more than ever needed given the frequent absence of love.
    More than a simple one-to-one relationship is required. The Preventive System implies – a group of people acting on behalf of the young, and this group
    – develops its own interpersonal relationships.
    – develops relationships between itself and the young.
    – develops relationships between the young themselves.


  • For Don Bosco, love translates into assistance: i.e. a lively participation in the world of the young and a personal interest shown in each one.
    – Assistance for Don Bosco is:
    – the fruit of love.
    – educative presence.
    – a realistic appreciation of the possibilities and limitations of personal development.


  • An educator must:
    – enter into actual meeting with the young.
    – relate empathetically with them.
    – stress the interiorization of values.
    – educate to responsibility in daily life.
    – seek ever new ways of being present.
    – ANIMATION is the way that salesian assistance actually occurs.
    – The assistant, as animator
    – operates according to a way of understanding the human person (see notes on animation).
    – seeks to propose happiness in life as an objective
    – uses a method which frees the individual (i.e. which is not paternalistic or constricting).
    – establishes a youthful style.
    – sets up a strategy which educates in a unified way.


  • Don Bosco insisted on the importance of the environment as a vehicle for values. He saw this environment as:
    – a family spirit between educators and ones being educated.
    – a place where happiness and interior calm reign.
    – where the young can express themselves freely.
    – demanding teamwork and an educative community.
  • To set up such a climate in a world influenced by so many other agents (for good or for ill), it is necessary to:
    – see it as something belonging to the whole community
    – involve the young themselves in the process.
    – keep close contact with their families.
    – look out for gospel elements in that environment.
    – The educational environment becomes a complete reality involving persons, relationships and organization.
    In the characteristic trinomial (reason, religion lovingkindness) of Don Bosco’s Preventive System, reason is the element which binds and regulates the other two. Religion, for example has to be ‘reasonable’. So must affection and kindness.
    The basis for this reasonableness for Don Bosco is the belief in the inner strength of the one being educated, and his openness to goodness and truth.
  • Reasonableness is shown in various ways:
    – by means of clear ideas and aims accompanied by flexibility towards circumstances and persons.
    – the help given to the young to act out of conviction.
    – the calm atmosphere created around them.
    – the importance given to instruction and cultural and technical formation.
  • Don Bosco expressed many of his ideas in a letter all about punishments in which he urges that correction be offered in a spirit of reason and lovingkindness:
    – For correction to be educative it is required that:
    – it not be harsh
    – recourse be had to moral sanctions where possible.
    – look for the right moment.
    – eventual action to be inspired by reason, love and faith.
  • Amongst those elements which can be readily translated into today’s terms are:
    – reason seen as interpersonal dialogue.
    – reason as education to depth.
    – reason as initiation into critical evaluation.
    – reason as personal awareness and respect for individual.
    – reason as a help to the young person in understanding his inner resources.
    – reason as functional, flexible and decentralized structures.
    – reason as a positive offering.


    Don Bosco assigned primary importance to religion both as a system and in its practice; in conjunction with reason and loving kindness it constitutes one of the basic pillars of human selfhood. Its relationship to the other two elements is that it is their deepest expression.
    So, what is meant by “religion”?
    inasmuch as religion is seen as public life, for Don Bosco it meant the living out of the Catholic faith in its doctrine, sacraments, lifestyle….
    in today’s more secularized atmosphere, religion is to be understood as the recognition of God as father and the acceptance of a lifestyle in conformity with this conviction.
    Amongst the manifestations and religious offerings provided by Don Bosco in his system and educational praxis, we can list:
    – the climate or religious environment.
    – the religious viewpoint about life.
    – solid catechetical instruction.
    – religious practice of prayer and sacramental life freely accepted.
    – an apostolic outlook, both personal and group.
    – the proposal of a personal path to holiness.
  • The ideal of holiness presented by Don Bosco is one of youthful holiness, and demonstrates certain basic attitudes:
    – life as a place for encounter with God.
    – Christ to whom life is open and in whom one finds fullness of meaning.
    – Human fullness – happiness and commitment to others.
    – experience of Church as communion and service.
    – vocation..understood as a human and Christian commitment.
    Mary, known as Help of Christians, who has experienced our life and already lived it admirably as a way to holiness.
    These six nuclei of salesian youth spirituality cannot be considered separately. They work together mutually as a unified proposal of a Christian lifestyle.