Abuses that these inflated Contests bring about with regard to the Teachers
In order to make known the abuses of these Contests with regard to the Teachers, we will content ourselves with setting out one proposition whose development will afford the greatest evidence of the truth of these abuses.
The annual public Contests are harmful to the rest and tranquillity of the Brothers and disturb the order and calm of our communities. They banish the spirit of retreat and recollection. They are in opposition to the humble and simple spirit of our state of life. They affect the health of the Brothers by the extra care and work that they bring. Finally, they are bad in themselves, either by the nature of certain matter they deal with or by the end they suggest. These truths, learned from experience, will be demonstrated.
1) The students chosen for these Contests receive various kinds of exemptions. Among others, they have the privilege of being able to come to class before the prescribed time, to remain after the other students have left, and to return at different times of the day as they consider appropriate. They are often unsupervised, a situation that should never happen. They come and go, play, and make lots of noise, thus disturbing order, silence, and the calm of the Brothers, who lose time that should have been used in preparing lessons or carrying out some duty. Thus it is that these students are an occasion of upset, waste of time, and distraction with regard to the Brothers spiritual exercises. Those who favor the Contests become, perhaps without realizing it, dupes of a self-love that blinds them. Because they believe in their talents and in their ability to succeed in public, they make of this insignificant event a major affair to which they devote all their time and attention, perhaps even that of their devotional exercises. At the least, there seem to be some grounds for fearing that the community exercises of those who wish to appear with honor suffer considerably. Thus everything is directed toward this prized objective of their own vanity.
2) Plans are made well beforehand; actors are selected, and the material to be dealt with in the public Competitions is chosen. From now on, compliments are prepared; catalogues of different historical situations appropriate for the ceremony are carefully assembled; the various sections of catechism, grammar, and arithmetic are distributed among the students most likely to succeed in those sections. Those who are to question and those who are to answer are designated, different actors being needed, as the one who can question well does not himself give the answer. The same attention is given to those who will shine through writing and to those chosen only to read. When these arrangements have been made, the only concern from this time on is to take the appropriate means to ensure the greatest possible success.
3) Throughout the entire time of class outside the common lessons, as we have already noted, the Teacher never loses sight of the ones chosen to act in the proposed Contest. Everything is employed for their advancement. In the section assigned to him, each contestant is pressuredsometimes forcedto become skilled. Even punishments are employed when they are thought necessary. Parents are asked to take the children in hand. This is an important matter; this is the public event itself! It is not only the part of instruction with which each actor is concerned that is, all things considered, the most necessary; the well-being of the Contest demands it, and this must be preferred to the good of any individual!
4) As the big day approaches, activities are multiplied; greater efforts are made. It is then that people are convinced that the urgency not to fail in the Contest must take precedence over every other consideration and even every community duty. Any orders and prohibitions of a Superior on this matter are no longer respected. The example that each Brother is called to give to his Brothers by his fervor in carrying out common duties is sacrificed. The order of the community is turned upside down. Brothers remain in distant classes with students, going there ahead of time and returning, alone, very late. There is no end to these departures, comings, and goings, since Brothers are completely occupied with frivolous aims that distort their judgment against every rule and order.
5) It is also at this time that the Brothers begin to prepare or to have prepared by others, in what concerns gestures and declamation, the students destined for the Contests. This means that the Brothers are preoccupied by matters absolutely foreign to their state while carrying out their own strictest duties very imperfectly. It is also worth noting that wherever these Contests are established in schools, the beginning of this extensive preparation, which lasts for months, is always the moment when good order and attention to teaching decline. It is true that if the Brother Visitor comes at this embarrassing time, things are momentarily restored to order both in the school and in the community. But from early morning until night, once he departs, the students are never left. The Director, through either connivance or weakness, pays no heed to it, and so the abuse prevails and is perpetuated.
6) Experience shows, my very dear Brothers, that toward the end of the school year, students lose their taste for work, relax their attention to duty, and long for vacation. They are not only less disposed to apply themselves; they are also less likely than at any other time of the year to be satisfied with order. No matter what attention their Teachers wish to bring, the students draw little profit. Now if in addition to the natural difficulties arising from the nearness of vacation in having students do their duty, we add the extreme embarrassment and great distractions that the Contests necessarily entail, is it not obvious that general teaching is practically reduced to nothing?
7) If it happens that through illness or some other cause, some students already prepared and ready for the Contests are withdrawn from the school, what a surplus of difficulties this produces for the Teacher and what new trouble does it not bring with regard to order in the classroom! For the gap has to be filled; efforts have to be redoubled, and rehearsals of the parts assigned have to continue all the time. These students will be coached and drilled during prayers, during catechism, and even while the others are at Mass. It cannot be denied that this unfortunate occurrence increases disorder. But no matter the cost, it is necessary to repair the losses that affect these public Competitions. Everything must be subordinated to this important objective.
8) A Brother who has mastered every aspect of our teaching, who has the advantage of being able to do it well along with the precious talent of inspiring students to piety and love of virtue, but who, in addition to these fine qualities, does not have the ability to train them to perform well in the Contests, will be looked upon as someone of little ability, and his students, although better taught, will be regarded as uncouth and ignorant. It will be the same for a naturally timid Teacher, one who is never more embarrassed than when he has to display his knowledge. Such a Teacher, although capable of honoring his profession and acquitting himself zealously, will not know how to perform; he will lack the manners and poise to make himself appreciated and will bring himself little honor in the public Contests. Another Teacher, however, of very mediocre ability, often with no other merit than that of being able to impose himself by his boldness, his chattering, and his dexterity, will pass for a great man and win all the applause of the assembly.
9) A young Brother who has all the success envisaged in the Contests is dazzled by the praise heaped on him and the compliments and congratulations given him in the public recognition by parents and all those who honor and flatter him. This Brother, being perhaps of ordinary talent, is tempted to believe himself someone of importance. If he is not solidly grounded in virtue, has he not to fear that his humility, modesty, simplicity, and love of his state will come to an unfortunate shipwreck? If his head is not completely turned by this high point of glory, has he not at least to fear that from now on he will be disdainful of ordinary tasks and even of teaching the poor, considering himself deserving of some more exalted task? Will he not become more sensitive and delicate on this point of honor? Will he not lose by this single public act everything he has acquired over many years? This disadvantage alone is enough to distance himself as far away as possible from these Competitions.
10) Might not the care taken to train students in declamation, in the art of public speaking, in charm, harangues, and the singing of flattering songs in honor of the dignitaries assisting at the Contests be inspired by the ridiculous motive, at least in this regard, of equality with the Colleges10 and of sharing in the applause they attract by their literary Competitions? Is it not in view of this that rooms are prepared and theatres set up for these Contests, that those chosen to play certain roles are dressed up, that the principal celebrities of a place are invited personally or by note, that we hasten to multiply admirers, or rather, critics, perhaps even scoffers? For we should not hide the fact that if in these public Contests some sincere praise is received, how many other expressions are only contrived, trivial, and intended solely to intoxicate the foolish. When the pompous feast is over and the applause has been given and received, there is still need of a ceremony to go to thank the personalities who honored the occasion by their presence. If some distinguished persons in the town were unable to be present with others at this public spectacle and wish to see it repeated, the Teachers and the students go to them, and each takes his role and plays his part once again. When the presentation is over, the applause begins anew. The satisfied assembly praises the children once more and offers further compliments to the Teachers. Such is the end of this scene that is proclaimed soon afterward in other towns where these Competitions are established. The Brothers write to one another and share in their mutual success. They generally give a report on all they have done and the satisfaction received. It is in this way that vain objectives keep the Brothers busy both before and after the Contests.
11) The end of the Christian and
Gratuitous Schoolswe can never repeat it too oftenis to bring up the children
who frequent them in a Christian manner, that is to say, to educate them in the fear and
the love of God.
The means given to the Teachers to attain such a noble end are to fill the youthful hearts of these children with Christian precepts, to engrave on their hearts the Commandments of God and of the Church and everything else needed for their salvation. Furthermore, Teachers are to instruct these same children to read, write, spell, and do arithmetic. Such are the boundaries of our teaching. Departing from these is to adopt a style of teaching that is not really our own. The method we are to follow without straying from it has enough breadth to occupy fully the teachers employed to do so. Now a Christian and religious Teacher who finds that the time intended for school is hardly enough to discharge his essential obligations is very far from using the time to train students for declamation and other theatrical practices that are only too likely to give them a taste for secular plays, from which children cannot be too far removed. Moreover, what use would it be for the children of artisans and the poor, for whom the Gratuitous Schools were specifically founded, to know how to recite compliments gracefully, give harangues, and reel off other pieces of eloquence while these same children often remain ignorant of what they need as essential, whether it be religion or those elements of knowledge necessary for their state? Would not the praise received by the children for having starred in these useless presentations, however, give them the idea that things concerning religion are not worth retaining or, furthermore, that they rank only second in the esteem of the people?
12) The extreme trouble associated with public Contests and the excessive amount of work demanded of Teachers in order to succeed can appear to very many a legitimate reason for not carrying out certain community spiritual exercises, on the basis that they cannot help the preferred work. They leave them aside. If there is a Brother Director zealous for the order and regularity of the community who wishes to rebuke this concession, how are his reproaches received? How is this zeal interpreted? From this unfavorable situation, can there not be reason to fear some act of disobedience or scandal? If the situation does not go as far as that, it will at least be difficult not to be followed by coldness, bad feeling, and discontent.
13) The excessive work and the anxieties imposed by the heavy tasks associated with the Contests may appear to a Brother to be sufficient justification to fail to get up at the normal rising time of the community, to omit his meditation and even his assistance at Holy Mass. He believes he can sufficiently justify his conduct and repair the damage he does to himself and the bad example given to the community by exaggerating the burdens of the night before and complaining of his lot, seeing himself, so to say, as the victim of his own zeal for the public good and the honor of the community. This is how someone is pleased to delude himself.
14) The fatigue brought about by the Contests is not only the source of a thousand distractions to the Brothers spirit; it is also an occasion for exhausting his body and catching many illnesses that little by little ruin the best temperaments. Indeed, after having experienced many incidents of this type in the course of a year, a Brother feels his health considerably altered when vacation time has hardly arrived. He must therefore have recourse to remedies, begin dieting, and receive special consideration outside the common order, such as forbidding himself all concentration and spiritual exercises, which are most damaging to the state in which he finds himself. These exercises are replaced by frequent brief pleasure trips, walks through one town or another, and so forth. The exercises of the annual retreat made during the vacation are absolutely forbidden to the Brothers of whom we are speaking, worn out by their zeal. Their whole concern is to regain their strength and to put themselves in a position to be able to apply themselves to what they call the Main Event,11 that is to say, to teach school after the vacation is over. Nevertheless, this retreat, so useful for the fervent, is even more so for those whom the Contests have thrown into such a state of distraction that deficiencies from which they have suffered throughout a great part of the year can have serious consequences for their health. Everyone knows how important it is to profit by this time of retreat to make up for spiritual losses and to renew the interior spirit, the very soul that guides a religious. It is during these holy exercises that there can be discovered the hundred frivolities that strengthen the passions and overwhelm the spirit to the detriment of our perfection and of the holiness to which our vocation calls us. Finally, it is during the retreat that after recognizing the tricks of self-love and the vanity of all that distracts us, we take effective means for a wise reform of our way of thinking and of acting. Piety reclaims its rights. A soul pierced by a religious spirit is an appropriate instrument to communicate piety and a love of virtue to the hearts of children.
15) The numerous inconveniences
of the Contests have already inspired very many Brothers with a distinct aversion for
those of our communities where they have been introduced, so much so that they go there
only with difficulty and remain there only with repugnance by whatever means they can.
Those among the Brothers who have nothing to do with these disturbing Competitions justly
complain about the troubles they bring to our communities and the upsets they cause. From
every side the Brothers complain that the long painful preparations for the Contests dry
up the spirit of devotion in them, ruin their health, and take away the time they need
either to prepare their daily lessons or to create examples of writing.
Very many young Brothers do not dare to commit themselves to the Institute because of their fear of being subjected to these Contests, which are so harmful to their vocation and so contrary to recollection. These Competitions have really been carried to such a level of difficulty and variety in several towns that they have become a heavy burden on the Brothers. It is too arduous a counterweight to satisfying self-love, especially when it is contrary to a persons wishes.
16) The competitiveness that arises naturally among the Teachers who have a taste for Contests can become a source of jealousy, discontent, and coldness toward one another. Each Teacher wishes to succeed in his plan, even so far as to sweep away his imitator, hence the efforts of work and attention by one and the other to obtain the advancement of those chosen to compete for the prize. This doubling of zeal would be quite praiseworthy if it were aimed at the advancement of all his students.
17) If one Teacher has an advantage over another, the latter sees this superiority of his confrere only with despondency. He tries in every way to persuade himselfand to have others understandthat the former has, despite all the advantages over him, certain weaknesses that would have left the two of them equal from a certain viewpoint, at least if the matter had been seen from another angle. To justify himself, he projects a part of the humiliation he is experiencing onto the fortunate disposition or age of his rivals student. However, if the merit of the successful one is so plain as not to be in doubt, he is upset, disconcerted, and discouraged. He can be relieved of his difficulty by the change of community that he asks for, not taking any account of the damage that frequent changes among the Teachers can cause for the advancement of students.
18) The Teacher of one class will persuade himself that his students are on the same level as those of another class and consequently should be equally represented in the distribution of prizes. If it happens, nevertheless, that those who judge the prizes think otherwise, the Teacher can believe himself wronged; he calls it unjust, because all the care he has taken goes unrewarded. Indeed, the bitterness he feels and maintains is the most likely result.
19) In the competitive atmosphere of the Contests, it is not easy to see others having more success than ourselves. If humility does not come to the rescue, it will be difficult to see the talents of our Brothers justly and pardon them for their merited superiority. Self-love is wounded; people remain offended. If someone cannot gain or win some degree of consideration against those of whom he is jealous, there seems to be no other cure for the evil than to shrink from the view of those who injure the eyes by the sight of their merit or to find reasons for a change of community. If this cannot be obtained, the Brother falls into a bad mood, and everyone in the community is likely to suffer all the disagreements, as though a person had the right to blame everyone else for not having all the talents he wishes.
20) It sometimes happens among Teachers that the desire to surpass one another in the public Competitions leads a person to make use of little tricks and underhanded intrigues that are likely to reduce or cut across what others are doing. All of this activity is intended to find a way for personal relief, and from this there follow sharp reprimands and other offensive remarks, all equally opposed to union, peace, charity, and honesty.
21) A Teacher who would have been happy to present his students at the highest rank in the Contests and who has not received the desired reward will doubtless feel the supposed injustice committed toward him and his students. If he has the discretion to be content publicly, will he have the prudence not to allow his grief and resentment to burst out when those who distributed the prizes are no longer present and to impute faults of judgment or justice to them?
22) Finally, someone who has had certain difficulties in these Contests is easily persuaded, no matter the source of these sufferings, that there is ample justification for not wanting to remain in a town that can no longer please him, because of the rebuffs that he experienced from these public Competitions; the situation is no longer supportable.
The development of this multitude of abuses originating from the Contests proves beyond any doubt the truth of the proposition that we have set out. But in order to make it even more striking, we are going to state the reasons alleged by Brothers who disapprove of these kinds of public Competitions. These reasons are drawn, in part, from what has been said in a number of points already cited.