First Proposition

These public Contests, in general, prevent Teachers from carrying out the duties of their state, namely, to teach all their students equally and to give special attention to those among them who are most in need of instruction, whether because of their lack of natural ability or their poverty, which deprives them of any other source of schooling except the Charity School, whose principal objective is the instruction of the children of artisans and the poor.

First Abuse. Out of some 300 to 400 children, only twenty or so (and every year practically all the same ones, along with some others added to their number) are chosen to shine in these public Contests; however, it is obvious that the end proposed to us is not to instruct only a small number of children but to ensure the instruction of all.

Second Abuse. The students chosen for these Contests are usually those most gifted with natural talent. With little effort they obtain prizes that should be awarded only after greater effort. Moreover, this selection introduces a certain division that should not be made among the children.

Third Abuse. If to the children most endowed with natural talent and likely to shine there are added others who lack talent, these latter are admitted to sharing the glory of the first group only through friendship, particular affection, or the recommendation of their friends or of persons interested in showing them some kindness. But with regard to these protégés, making up for what nature has failed to give them requires extraordinary attention on the part of the Teachers. These signs of favoritism can have the most dangerous consequences, since all students in a class have an equal right to the care and attention of the Teachers.

Fourth Abuse. The students chosen to figure in these public spectacles are usually selected soon after the beginning of the school year, and from then on they are designated as those who have potential as actors. From then on, also, the Teachers give constant attention to these contestants for glory. They are never lost sight of; their work in and out of class is uninterrupted. Special lessons are added before and after class, on holidays, and on Sundays and feasts. The first consequence of this choice by the Teachers in favor of the privileged students is to have even less esteem for the others, all of whom have the right to the same means of encouragement used by the Teachers toward those who attract their particular care.

Fifth Abuse. Those less favored by nature and lacking the qualities that are capable of being developed successfully—being ordinarily little impressed by the advantages to be gained from attending school, since they are not aware of any—resent the distinction made between them and the chosen ones. This distinction shocks them, and they consider themselves debased and totally neglected. They become discouraged, develop an aversion to school and to their Teachers, and to justify their disgust and dissatisfaction, every means is vindicated. They tell lies; they exaggerate; they resort to calumny so that as a result they leave school and abandon instruction.7 This is a too common result of these unjust preferences.

Sixth Abuse. Experience shows that children at a certain age who come to realize that they will never be chosen to appear in these Contests become discouraged and develop an aversion for everything concerning the duties associated with school. They consider themselves both disgraced at not being allowed to appear in public with the others and publicly humiliated by the Teachers and by those preferred to themselves—sentiments that they do not fail to express at the least opportunity. Thus instead of encouraging a spirit of competition among the children, the selection has a completely opposite effect on the majority of them.

Seventh Abuse. Very many students who are not destined to take part in these Contests—not wishing to assume that their failure to advance is due either to their lacking application or to their having little natural talent—attribute their lack of progress to the favoritism of the Teachers, whom they accuse of giving all their attention to the chosen children. Nevertheless, to tell the truth, as we have already remarked, those favored by natural talent joined to other advantages obtained by their parents make far more rapid progress in a shorter time than those others would after the greatest effort.

Eighth Abuse. Poor parents have no other possibility of educating their children except through the help of the Charity Schools, and because of the small services that they often must derive from their children, they indeed have only a limited period of time in which to send them to school. These poor children, given the brief time they attend, can draw only limited profit from school. Will not the parents, however, even though unjustifiably so, be led to complain and to believe that their offspring are making less progress because of the greater attention given by the Teachers to their companions, the ones destined for the Contests, who will bring more public applause, rewards, and honor to those who teach them?

Ninth Abuse. Everyone knows that a given student, without much time or application, will make enough progress so as to be judged worthy of the first prize, while another, with fewer natural advantages and therefore incapable of shining in certain kinds of study included in their common education, will be judged unworthy of competing. Nevertheless, even with the most dogged work, this second student, not being capable of overcoming the natural obstacles to brilliant success, will be put to one side precisely because his progress cannot be compared with those with whom he is competing. He will thus be deprived of any motive for encouragement, even though his effort far exceeded that of the person preferred to him. Now, I ask, has distributive justice been safeguarded? If a child who lacks great natural qualities fails to find in his courage and in his reason the motives to sustain his application, will he not be tempted to give up everything and remain wrapped in the darkness of his ignorance? This outcome is undoubtedly opposed to the goal that is proposed in awarding prizes according to merit.

Tenth Abuse. Parents sometimes make real sacrifices in depriving themselves of their children's help during the entire school year so as not to interfere with their application to school lessons. If they see their own children to be hardworking and well behaved for the whole year but in no way recognized publicly for such effort and when they learn, moreover, that students with less work and application are preferred to their own children in the prize distribution, do not these fathers and mothers, mindful of the sacrifices they have made in supporting the application of their children, believe that they have grounds for complaint? Would they not consider themselves justified in withdrawing their children from school and leaving them in ignorance?

Eleventh Abuse. A father of a family, very poor himself, seeing that his child is never admitted among the prize winners, may judge that it is because his son is poor and badly dressed that he is not well regarded, being incapable of offering presents to his Teachers, while the more favored rich, who easily make a good impression, are the Teachers’ darlings.

The preceding, then, is an overview of the main abuses of these public Contests that we are discussing. As we have seen, such abuses are obviously very prejudicial to the well-being of education in general. Nothing more is needed to prove the truthfulness of our first proposition.