According to these Brothers,
1) Their state in life does not
oblige them to do this;
2) They do not have sufficient health to support the surcharge of work that the preparation of students destined for the Contests requires;
3) These extra concerns rob them of the time needed to prepare the obligatory teaching and to pause for their spiritual exercises;
4) It is impossible to do both things at the same time without sacrificing many obligations of the Rule;
5) Very few results are obtained from the multiple cares exacted by the public Competitions;
6) Some do not believe they have the talent necessary to shine, although they have sufficient talent for whatever good is required of them by their state;
7) Others, endowed with the qualities needed to succeed in the Contests and less distrustful of their own abilities, are not prepared to take on work that is too difficult;
8) Others, from the viewpoint of modesty and humility, prefer virtue to vanity;
9) There are those who dread the censure and the mockery of critics who find it ridiculous for the Brothers to be mixed up in things that have nothing to do with their state;
10) Balancing the pros and cons leads some to reject completely these Contests that have such little utility and so many abuses;
11) The distinction accorded to the small number of students chosen for the Contests and the particular attention given to them are a kind of injustice for which they do not wish to be reproached;
12) There are too many visits by parents who ask the Teachers to put their children where they can shine with honor and be distinguished among the troupe;
13) The upset and trouble brought to ordinary class duties and the study of particular subjects foreign to our teaching displease those who love order;
14) Very many Brothers in favor of Contests, having successfully added and considerably increased the task from year to year, have eventually found themselves at the end of their tether, with the result that they have been obliged to change community. Their successors, not wishing to be less distinguished, do not wish to risk failing in taking on more than they can do with distinction.
After this account, it is easy to conclude that the feelings of those who are opposed to the Contests deserve to be considered.
We think it appropriate to remark that none of the zealous partisans of these illustrious Competitions has noticed at the same time or in the same place all the above-mentioned abuses. Nevertheless, all these inconveniences have arisen, plus many others that we will cloak over in silence. In certain towns they have been more plentiful, and in others, fewer. We are convinced that after reading our observations, the vast majority of Brothers will believe that we still do not know everything reprehensible in these Contests.
As for the rest, let no one believe that Competitions are a proper means for sustaining and extending the reputation of our schools. No, experience has already dissipated the charm of that illusion. It is recognized that these Contests obtain for the children destined to figure in them only a particular teaching, very imperfect and more harmful than useful.
A happier experience has already proven that our teaching, when practiced in the spirit of and according to the rules established among us, can produce and has produced the greatest benefits and blessings. Teachers need to strengthen themselves in the spirit and the simplicity of their vocation. Consequently, they should distance themselves from the world and its folly. All Contests foreign to their profession that take them away from their community spiritual exercises will make them also leave their state and cause the loss of schools.
We should not fear that the suppression of the Contests will attract unfavorable comments on the Brothers or that they will be lacking means of encouragement, so long as they carry out all the duties of their profession exactly. Will it be objected that the public will be able to think that this suppression has no other cause on the part of the Brothers than a lack of zeal, a love of rest, and a desire to shield themselves from a searching examination of the progress of their students and the care taken by Teachers to teach them well? These difficulties have nothing to fear from a judicious public aware that things have never been better and that society never draws more profit from its members than when each of them contributes in the way he should to the general good, in which are necessarily enclosed the particular advantages of each individual.
If we accept this indisputable maxim, it follows that these public Competitions, which are required neither by the Brothers duties nor by the founders of our establishments, can only be harmful in every way and, as such, ought to be suppressed.
As for examining the progress of students and the way in which Teachers carry out their teaching, our regulations have provided for this in establishing an Inspector who must visit the classes at least once each month and promote those students who are ready to pass to a higher grade. Moreover, once each year, a Visitor entrusted with examining everything passes through. Furthermore, Brothers carry out their teaching as a matter of conscience and by a special dedication to this good work. They cannot be suspected of any lack of zeal or of justice toward the public by blameworthy neglect of their task.
There are means of encouragement established in the schools; for example, small presents are distributed; there are places and marks of distinction; there are exemptions granted for merit and for application. There are penances to be accepted, a certain shame to be cleansed, so as to stimulate and wake up the lazy and slothful.
All the means made use of with respect to zeal sustained by work are within the reach of the Teachers, the only means at their disposal. For to give more importance to the prizes founded to stir up competition, it has been thought appropriate that some very distinguished persons, by the fact of distributing the prizes, assure themselves that they are carrying out the intention of the founders. But this way of distributing prizes, although more flattering for the children who receive them, does not have all the usefulness of which the foundation is capable, for several students have been deprived of it whose application deserves a reward but who are compelled to leave school before the prize distribution. These kinds of foundations do not give the Teachers other means for thanking the students who have distinguished themselves in the different competitions held in the classes during the course of the year. They produce, as it is easy to understand, only a portion of the advantages that can be drawn if the Teachers were at liberty to make use of them to encourage competition and to thank the students who are outstanding, above all, for their piety and assiduity in Christian instruction.
Yes, if to the means established in our schools to stir up competition among students and to sustain the zeal of the Teachers there was added to the prize distribution a general examination of the progress of the students, above all in religion, experience would prove that Teachers and disciples would be led to carry out their duties. But the way of conducting the general examination at the end of the scholastic year deserves to be treated with some breadth and with particular attention.
It belongs doubtless to the reverend parish priests and to other ecclesiastical superiors to examine whether the children who attend our schools are instructed as they should be in everything concerning Christian doctrine. But the large-scale pompous Contests carried out in church or classrooms on the letter of the catechism, accompanied by dialogues and lectures, certainly do not offer the best way of being assured that children are well taught.
Indeed, a word-for-word repetition of the whole catechism and a number of dialogues on certain moral questions may very well prove that those who recite with fluency what they were given to learn by heart are endowed with good memories, but it in no way proves that they have been well taught, since it can happenand is quite commonthat children recite from memory many things that they do not understand. This is how they recite the discourses and instructions in these pompous Contests: they reel off the speeches and recite all the roles they have been given to learn without having anything more in their minds than the words.
Therefore, if the reverend parish priests are content with a literal recitation of the catechism in these Contests of which we speak, it will inevitably happen that the children will never come to know more. It could also happen that some Teachers will be led to believe that this literal repetition of the diocesan catechism would satisfy their obligation to teach religion in depth to their students. This would be a dangerous opinion.
To know with certainty whether the children have been in fact well taught, they need to be questioned in class or in church but without following the order of the content, the sequence of questions, or the order of the rows of students. They should be questioned first on one topic, then on another, some students in sequence and others without any order. When it is certain that the children know the text of the diocesan catechism, which is the first thing they should know, it is important to examine whether they understand the meaning, since without that understanding, the whole point of teaching them would have been missed. Now the way to make sure that students understand the meaning of the text is to ask them many subquestions, changing them, presenting them in different ways, but always within their understanding in relation to the topic they have been given for instruction. Other means of teaching, more or less related to their age and to their greater or lesser natural intelligence, can be used. The way of presenting children with the truths of which we wish to be assured they have a complete understanding can even help them to grasp them if they did not do so previously. The answers given by the students to these kinds of subquestions are always to be crystal clear with regard to the point of the instruction being offered or to the things on which they are being examined.
We should not be satisfied to have such an examination at the end of the school year or to wait until then to distribute all the competition prizes. Some students, who leave immediately after their First Communion, before the end of the year, cannot profit from the advantages procured by these well-prepared examinations or obtain the prizes or rewards that are the result of their application and merit.
In the type of examination of which we have just been speaking, after concentrating on the progress of the students in every aspect of Christian instruction, we should not neglect to examine whether all of the children read correctly with pauses, whether they have been taught the rules of punctuation and accents, whether they can understand old-style [Gothic] and new-style writing, whether the students at the highest level can write dictation, whether they can spell accurately. To be sure that they possess the principles of French grammar, they can be examined in the principal rules, the different parts of speech, the conjugation of verbs, and the formation of tenses.
As for arithmetic, they can be questioned on the definition of the principal operations. Some small problems to be solved can be proposed that they should be asked to work out, explaining what they are doing and giving reasons for each operation. Writing is the easiest thing to judge. Looking at the writing books, giving preference to the style that is the freest, lightest, best formed, and most correctly spelled, can quickly decide the merit of the competitors.