©2010 NewFoundations

The Educational Theory of John Baptist de La Salle

JoAnna Fecker,
Kristina Greenwood and
Jeslin Harrigan




To touch the hearts of your pupils and to inspire them with the Christian spirit is the greatest miracle you can perform, and one which God expects of you."
- Saint John Baptist de La Salle

Born April 30, 1651 to one of few wealthy families in France, John Baptist de La Salle was privileged enough to receive formal schooling. (Saint Jean-Baptiste, n.d.). By age 16, La Salle was appointed Canon of the Cathedral at Reims. He studied theology at the College Des Bons Enfants and after receiving a Masters in Arts was sent to Paris to attend the seminary of Saint- Sulpice. La Salle reached status of ordained priest in 1678 and two years later earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Reims.

Unlike many members of the privileged class of the time, La Salle did not use his education, wealth and status to keep others in submission to the upper class. On the contrary, he devoted much of his life to narrowing the gap in educational opportunities for the people of France and around the world as the founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, “the first Roman Catholic congregation of male nonclerics devoted solely to schools, learning and teaching” (Saint Jean-Baptiste, n.d.).

Upon earning his doctorate, La Salle became the protector of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, a school run charity for girls. He then invited Adrien Nyel into his home, marking the beginning of his gradual involvement in charity schools for boys (Hotek, 2003). La Salle began training Nyel’s school masters, and afterwards admitted that “those whom I was obliged to employ as teachers, I ranked below my own valet, hence the very thought of having to live with them was unbearable” (Hotek, 2003). Over time, La Salle’s attitude would change.

At this time in France’s history, most people lived in extreme poverty and few had the opportunity to pursue education. This began to bother La Salle as he felt that poor, uneducated children remained “far from salvation” (Saint John Baptist, 2010). For this reason, La Salle made the decision to work to extend educational opportunities to underprivileged individuals. This change in La Salle’s attitude toward underprivileged individuals surprised even him. He stated,

Indeed, if I had ever thought that the care I was taking of the schoolmasters out of pure charity would ever have made it my duty to live with them, I would have dropped the whole project…God, who guides all things with wisdom and serenity, whose way it is not to force the inclinations of persons, willed to commit me entirely to the development of the schools. He did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning” (Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, n.d.).

In order to be more effective in his charitable endeavor, and possibly to better understand the circumstances of those whom he aimed to serve, La Salle renounced his position as Canon and left his family’s home and wealth to move in with teachers, forming a community that became known as the Brothers of the Christian Schools, or the de La Salle Brothers (Saint John Baptist, 2010).

Not surprisingly, La Salle’s efforts to educate and therefore enfranchise a new group of people were met with opposition from certain groups in positions of power. Some church authorities were reluctant to accept the creation of a novel sort of religious life including laymen conducting free education (Saint John Baptist, 2010). The educational establishment took exception to La Salle’s schools providing free education to all who wanted it, whether they could afford education or not.

Despite dissent from certain groups, La Salle succeeded in establishing this novel type of school. These schools were unique in their place and time for several reasons. For one, students were taught in colloquial language rather than in the language of the wealthy and the clergy. Within the schools, students were divided into groups based on ability and were taught an integrated curriculum of religious and secular instruction (Saint John Baptist, 2010). Students were taught by nonclerics who believed in La Salle’s mission. In order to outfit his schools with competent instructors, La Salle instituted programs for training “lay teachers,” and even offered education class on Sunday for those who worked during the week (Saint John Baptist, 2010). La Salle also became famous for developing a teaching method known as “the Simultaneous Method.” This current day class method involves one person (the teacher) reading while others follow along pointing to the words and reading them silently (Knight, 2009).

Since La Salle began his efforts in the 1600s, his idea has inspired the creation of La Sallian schools in 35 countries and by 1900 there were 14,631 Christian Brothers (Saint John Baptist, 2010). Saint John Baptist de La Salle died on April 7, 1719 in Rouen, France and was Canonized in 1900 (Saint Jean-Baptiste, n.d.).

I. Theory of Value

What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?

Education in France during the 17th century was reserved for the wealthy and noble class. The lack of education of the working class and the poor became a concern for La Salle. It was this sector of the population that would receive his full attention. La Salle’s primary interest was the education of male teachers, who would later be employed as teachers of working class and poor boys.

La Salle’s greatest message to his disciples was to develop the spirit of religion in the souls of their pupils. He also believed that everything learned in life must be functional, in that one would be able to use the knowledge later in life. In his teachings, he emphasized a practical approach to all subjects. To this end, La Salle had his teachers teach in the vernacular, rather than in the language of the church or the upper class (Saint Jean Baptist de la Salle, 2010.) This allowed the students to share what they had learned with their parents, extending the knowledge to more people. This seems to suggest that La Salle valued the dissemination of knowledge among people of all social classes. Also, the fact that La Salle chose to educate lay people to become teachers suggests that he valued well-prepared teachers who were educated in foundations of Education.

Based on the population that La Salle aimed to serve in the schools that he founded, it is possible that his goals for education were socially motivated and aimed at creating equity among the people of France and the world through equal opportunities for education. However, because La Salle’s curriculum included religious as well as secular instruction, La Salle held religious guidance as a goal of education. These goals hold true today in many Lasallian schools around the world.

II. Theory of Knowledge

What is knowledge?

When considering La Salle’s views of knowledge and belief, one must disregard the typical definition of belief such as given in the study of epistemology. For La Salle the definition of belief does not refer to having confidence in knowledge (believing something to be true). Rather, for La Salle belief is inseparable from faith. Belief speaks directly to the belief in God, salvation, and the Church. While Sa Salle was not an educational theorist in the sense of today’s definition, we can make many inferences concerning his thoughts of knowledge and belief based on his writings.

As previously mentioned, La Salle was ever practical in his view of education. By this we mean that he always had an eye on the usefulness of a particular lesson served. However, he also had an all-encompassing view of education. La Salle believed that through education, a student would become not just educated, but a better human. More specifically, in de la Salle’s opinion, knowledge allowed students to become better Christians (La Salle J., 1720, p. 37).

It should also be mentioned that at the time of La Salle, boys of the poor and working classes were denied education as it was deemed unnecessary. At best they received training only in manual labor type vocations. La Salle met with continued resistance to his plan to educate these children& -- and fought many court battles to continue providing this education (Battersby, 1958, pp. 186-198). Higher classes were threatened by La Salle providing tuition-free education and also were threatened by the mere fact of having an uneducated underclass. However, La Salle believed that rather than undermining society, the education of the poor and working class would lift all of society. Knowledge, in the sense of Christian knowledge, plays a role in not only improving the life of the one receiving an education, but also in uplifting society as a whole.

`In Duties of a Christian, La Salle writes that there are only two duties of a Christian& -- knowing God and loving God (La Salle, 1703, p. 11). Without the fulfillment of these obligations a person cannot achieve salvation and therefore, cannot be fully Christian in the eyes of La Salle. To accomplish these duties, students needed knowledge and most importantly, catechism that would both instruct them and provide the socialization that would add to them becoming “better Christians.” In fact, de La Salle charges teachers with the responsibility “to inspire them [students] with the Christian spirit” and calls this “the greatest miracle one can perform.”

How does knowledge differ from belief?

La Salle was very clear that the students of his schools would receive both academic and religious instruction. For La Salle, one could not exist without the others However, La Salle is clear that the true purpose of the Christian Schools is to “teach the boys to lead good lives by instructing them in their religion, by inspiring them with Christian maxims, and by giving them a suitable education (Battersby, 1958).” La Salle believed that all of the ills that plagued the poor and working class were the direct result of a poor upbringing. Children, left alone while their parents struggled to make a living was, in La Salle’s mind, the problem& -- the answer to which was the Christian Schools and the instruction that the brothers would provide. Battersby writes:

Hence, however important it might be to teach the pupils reading, writing, and arithmetic, it was far more important, in his view, to train them to piety.

For La Salle, belief and knowledge are so closely related and dependent upon one another that it

is difficult to separate the two.

According to La Salle, there are two kinds of faith. Divine faith is “a virtue that makes us adhere with submission of mind and heart to whatever God has revealed and to profess with firm conviction whatever the Church proposes for our belief” (de la Salle, 1703, p. 23). This type of faith specifically involves knowledge and belief working together to serve as a functional purpose in one’s pursuit to becoming a better Christian. If an individual believes in God, and wants to properly serve Him, he or she must first accept the knowledge and belief with all their mind and hear that it is true. The second kind of faith, as expressed by La Salle, is Human faith. It is what controls our belief of things that other people affirm.

What is a lie? What is a mistake?

La Salle would likely say that the difference between a lie and a mistake would be the intention. We are basing this on the fact that in Conduct of the Christian Schools he outlines, in significant detail, the manner of punishment for lying and the manner of correction when a student makes a mistake.

La Salle considers lying to be one of five vices that should not be excused. In addressing the vice of lying he writes:

Liars must be punished for their lies, even the least, to make students understand that there are no little lies in the sight of God, for the devil is the father of lies…Let them rather be pardoned or punished less severely when they frankly acknowledge their faults…they will be persuaded to ask pardon humbly of God while kneeling in the middle of the classroom (de La Salle J., 1720, p. 145).

Mistakes, on the other hand, are things that are simply corrected. La Salle goes on at quite great length about the corrections of mistakes. Reading through this section in Conduct of Christian Schools, one can readily see that he views mistakes as part of the learning process. In fact, he expects them to occur.

The beginners’ level for each lesson will consist of those who still make many mistakes in reading. The intermediate level will consist of those who make few mistakes in this reading, that is to say, one or two mistakes at most each time. The section of the advanced and perfect will consist of those who ordinarily make no mistakes in reading their lessons (de La Salle J., 1720, p. 57).

III. Theory of Human Nature

What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?

La Salle answers these questions in his writings and is quite clear about the attributes and purpose of humans. In Duties of a Christian to God, he writes:

The most excellent and important creatures that God brought intobeing are angels and humans; in fact, he created all the rest for their sake…As for us humans, we are rational creatures composed of a body and a soul created in the image of God. Our principal and primary occupation should be to know and to love God; we are in this world for nothing else. We are an image of God also in this regard: we must resemble him in this life… (La Salle J. , 1703, p. 31)

La Salle was greatly influenced by the surrounding social, political, and economic circumstances that derived from the late 16th century; particularly the circumstances that led to the French Religious School. It is this school of thought that most influences La Salle’s theories of humanity and it’s innate goodness/sinfulness. France, at the end of the 16th century, was a very wealthy country& -- the upper classes wallowing in decadence. The Church in the late 16th century was also incredibly wealthy, with a worth equal to one-third of the total national wealth of France (La Salle J. , Meditations, 1994, p. 4). A Church so wealthy and powerful could potentially lead to an unfavorable climate for the monarchy. In an attempt to balance this situation the king, through a process called commendam, established in the Concordat of 1516, assigned ownership of Church property and made assignments of positions.

By assignment of ownership to those that were considered “good servants of the state,” the monarchy could then gain control of a large chunk of the Church’s wealth. Assignment went to those that were not eligible to hold positions according to Church law; young children and women were made titulars and most bishops were members of the king’s court (La Salle J. , Meditations, 1994, p. 5). The consequence of this was a clergy more interested in their own fortunes and positions than in the spiritual well-being of their congregations. The spiritual life of most Christians at this time became a “for show only” endeavor with no real religious meaning. This situation leads to the reform of spirituality that causes the 17th century in France to be called “the golden age of spirituality” (La Salle J. , 1994, p. 7).

In this period of reform, the French School of Spirituality is born. Reform is led by religious men such as Pierre de Bérulle, called the founder of the French School of spirituality, Charles de Condren, successor to Bérulle as Superior of the French Congregation of the Oratory, Jean-Jacques Olier (1628 - 1657), Founder of the Sulpicians, and John Eudes (1601 - 1680), Founder of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. These were also the leaders that were most influential on La Salle (La Salle J. , 1994, p. 7).

In the introduction to Meditations, the editors Augustine Loes and Francis Huether, write on four topics of influence on La Salle from the French School: Christocentrism, the action of the Holy Spirit, theocentrism, and the human person before God. For our discussion, we are concerned only with the latter two topics.

Theocentrism refers to the position of God in relation to the rest of creation. Bérulle, Condren, and Olier would all agree that God is majestic and there is nothing great save for God. In fact, the basis of the spirituality of the French School stems from the greatness and majesty that is God, something that was sorely neglected during the 16th century when decadence and humanism ruled supreme. La Salle also would agree with this initial statement. Where La Salle deviates from these earlier thinkers is in the adoration of God. Here, La Salle follows Bérulle’s thinking in that it is natural for any creature to adore God, and to abandon oneself to the will of God. Condren and Olier speak of a destruction/sacrifice of the creature when in adoration of the Divine& -- nothing but this destruction of the creature is worthy of the glorification of God (La Salle J. , Meditations, 1994, p. 10). La Salle is far from this thought. La Salle’s view of proper adoration is best seen in his examination of the Virgin Mary’s response to God:

By a special privilege, she already enjoyed the use of reason [at the moment of her birth] and made use of it to adore God and to thank him for all his goodness. She professed her nothingness profoundly in the depths of her soul, acknowledging that she owed everything to God. She admired interiorly what God had done in her, saying to herself what she later declared in her Canticle, God has done great things in me (La Salle J. , Meditations, 1994, p. 10).

Concerning the topic of the human person before God, again we have an influence in that La Salle does not accept the pessimism of Bérulle nor the very dark view of Condren and Olier. In the French School nothingness and weakness of humans as they confront God are central themes. Bérulle, Condren, and Olier preach a spirituality where a human, confronted by the majesty of God, isso very unworthy that the mere presence of God would destroy the creature. La Salle, does not take so harsh a view. While he believes that the human is sinful, he does not preach the self-destruction present in the aforementioned theologians’ thoughts. Instead, humans must recognize their total dependence upon God. This will lead he says to “a feeling of adoration at the thought of God’s presence” (La Salle J., 1994, p. 12). Common to La Salle’s writings are phrases such as “emptying oneself” and “stripping away” but never the language of destruction or annihilation present in Bérulle, Condren, and Olier.

All of this, the possession of rationality and a soul, the ability to adore a majestic God, and the purpose of knowing and loving God, is what, collectively, distinguishes humans from other species.

Concerning the limits of human potential, La Salle would say that humans are self-limiting. It is La Salle’s belief, as stated many times previously, that the purpose of humans is to know and love God. Humans, La Salle would argue, limit themselves from completing their purpose and achieving salvation by their unwillingness to abandon self-concern, pride, and sinfulness& -- their refusal to abandon themselves, acknowledge their “nothingness”, and realize their dependence on God, limits their fulfillment of their purpose .

IV. Theory of Learning

What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?

Despite the status quo of his place and time, La Salle believed that everyone deserved to have a meaningful, useful school experience no matter their class or social standing. For La Salle, a meaningful, useful school experience would have taken the form of the School as Temple learning model.

Learning models can be categorized into three distinct images, including the School as a Factory, the School as a Town Meeting, and the School as a Temple. The oldest is the image of the school as a Temple. In schools that operate in this image, the mind and spirit are cultivated through character instruction. Religious leaders are viewed as inarguable authorities and negotiation is not usually an option. Here distinct qualities of mind and feelings are developed through character education by religious authorities. Because of his strong religious affiliation, La Salle would most likely favor this image of schooling.

In order to promote the acquisition of knowledge in his schools, La Salle introduced the “Simultaneous Method” in his schools. By this method, “he transformed education into a group learning event and curtailed the great amount of time spent by the teacher in supervising the solitary recitation of individual students” (La Salle, 1720, p. 21). This method involved grading students according to their learning potential and forming class rosters based on ability. Students were to listen and follow along while pointing at the words being read and reading them silently as the teacher read aloud (Knight, 2009). With this method, La Salle identified a strong teacher-student relationship as the key to learning (La Salle, 1720, p. 21).

La Salle also seemed to agree with the current belief that knowledge is more effectively gained through authentic experience. He proposed a very practical way of learning for his students and believed that children should be taught in the vernacular language rather than the language of the wealthy. La Salle would agree that it was useless if a child could count to 10 in class, but failed to be able to count his 10 marbles at home or understand how to purchase something for 10 dollars in the local store. He wanted his students to be able to use what was learned at home and in their communities.

For La Salle, learning was a functional tool, not only used in the classroom for the attainment of grades, but in the everyday lives of these students. It allowed for them to be better individuals on the path to becoming better Christians. Keeping in mind the religious aspect of La Salle’s schools, one must be aware that the ultimate goal of Lasallian education was to become a better Christian. The knowledge and skills taught in the classroom were a means for these students to become better individuals and Christians. La Salle believed that knowledge was a tool provided to one by God so that they could carry out their duties to Him.

V. Theory of Transmission

Who is to teach?

Jean Baptiste de la Salle founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a Catholic teaching order. During La Salle’s time in France, the training of male teachers was the weakest component of primary education. (La Salle, 1720, p.21) As stated in the Conduite, “Teaching the poor in primary schools was an unattractive, often part-time position filled by those unable to do better elsewhere” (p.21) The lack of preparation of these teachers also provoked this negative attitude about primary education amongst the French. This was also a time poor children, whom La Salle wanted to educate, were looked upon as “scum” who would run the streets instead of receive proper education. It was because of this, that La Salle dedicated his life to training male teachers for his Christian schools.

La Salle wished to train these male schoolteachers with “an evangelical spirit and total dedication to the instruction and Christian education of the children of the working class and the poor” (La Salle, 2002, p.21). This was the foundation for the start of the Institute of the Christian Brothers. The nature of the work of the Brothers was primarily spiritual. (Writings of La Salle, 1964. p. 90) With God as the teacher, La Salle lived and modeled a life of poverty and obedience. In making God’s word the most important knowledge, La Salle insisted that the Christian Brothers maintain certain virtues. Among these virtues were community, faith, zeal, practicality and spirituality. His writings on “The Conduct of Schools” included school practices and how they should be carried out, beginning with entering the school in the morning (both children and instructors) to dismissal.

By What Methods?

The teaching methods of La Salle would most likely be first and foremost, modeling (Poutet, 1997, p. 139). Teachers were required to be models of virtue. In the course of the day, they were to follow strict rules of conduct for themselves and their students. For example, all instructors would be asked to take off their hats and bless themselves with holy water upon entering the classroom. In addition to the practices for teachers, The Conduct of the Christian Schools included rules for teachers to use with children. Observing silence, not playing during meals, and requiring everyone to clean up after him/her self, were examples set up in the writings of La Salle. Rewards were given to students for piety, ability and assiduity. Assiduity would be rewarded above ability, and piety always received the best award. The actual gift a child would receive was usually a religious item or book. Children were also reprimanded when the occasion required it. La Salle wrote much about how children should be respected while being corrected. In The Conduct of the Christian Schools La Salle noted that corrections should be timely and purposeful, and should avoid too much harshness, but also too much gentleness. At a time when corporal punishment was considered the norm, La Salle required that his teachers use the rod or ferule sparingly, especially the amount of times a child could be hit with either of these objects.

What will the Curriculum be?

The essential part of the curriculum in the Christian schools was learning prayers and Catechism. Academic subjects such as reading and writing were also taught, as well as practical skills, but children were required to learn prayers that would be recited at various times during the day. La Salle taught that through prayer one could become closer to God, and, it was the goal of a Christian brother to educate his students to love and serve God. La Salle also introduced the “Simultaneous Method” as a part of his curriculum. By this method, “he transformed education into a group learning event and curtailed the great amount of time spent by the teacher in supervising the solitary recitation of individual students” (La Salle, 1720, p.21) The Simultaneous Method involves grading students according to their learning potential while having equal learners in the same class. By using this method, La Salle identified a strong teacher-student relationship as the key to learning (p.21).

VI. Theory of Society

What is society?

In order to understand La Salle’s views concerning society, one must first understand the conditions preceding La Salle’s lifetime and the changes that occurred in society during his lifetime. These changes in society directly influenced La Salle’s work and opinions.

Prior to La Salle’s lifetime, France’s upper class was immersed in a lifestyle of extravagance and splendor. At the end of the 16th century there exists an odd relationship between religion and wealth, power, and greed. This relationship comes about through an extremely wealthy church and a monarchy threatened by that wealth. The monarchy, in order to maintain power, begins to give away positions within the church that are associated with property holdings and ownership. Religion in society then becomes merely a vehicle for advancement& -- no true spirituality is evident. This period of extreme humanism is followed by a period of spirituality where God is returned to a position of majesty. Much of La Salle’s spirituality is influenced by these two periods.

La Salle lived during the reign of Louis XIV, known for his excess in all things fine. At the end of 1683, Louis was rumored to have married one of his mistresses, Mademoiselle de Maintenon. Mme. Maintenon was known for being religious and in turn, convinced Louis to forsake his other mistresses and lead a more Christian existence. The King acquiesced, and yet another surge of spirituality began where the court and other nobles followed the lead of their King.

This return to spirituality relates directly to La Salle’s views of society in that society must have a religious component in order to be a highly functioning society. Manners, civility, and decorum contributed essentially to living a good Christian life. In the introduction to The Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility, editor Gregory Wright writes:

He believed that although good manners were not always the expression of good morals, they could contribute strongly to building them. While he envisioned acts of decorum and civility as observing the established customs and thereby protecting the established social order, he envisioned them more profoundly as expressions of sincere charity (La Salle, 1703, p. xiii).

In addition to the standard view or definition of society, La Salle viewed Christians as a society unto themselves, though not separated from society at large. In The Duties of a Christian to God, La Salle writes:

It [liturgy] must be public because as Christians we are a society, and we must gather together 1) to have a chance to live and act as a society, 2) to show that we belong to it, and 3) to render God our collective homage.

La Salle would stress that while he views Christians as a separate society, they should serve as examples to the greater society. Gregory Wright comments:

…the refinement of the gentleman would become a restraint on and an antidote to self-centeredness, the root of individual moral transgressions as well as the collective evil in human society. The ideal gentleman personified the acceptance of the existing religious, political, and social order and showed how all citizens could find their places without disorder and without revolution, so that all could be happy or, at least, contented (La Salle, 1703, pp. xi,xii).

What institutions are involved in the educational process?

As mentioned above, La Salle would not seek to educate the children of the poor and working classes in standard academics alone. Without a religious component, the work of La Salle would have been abandoned. Thus, the Church is a significant factor in education according to La Salle. It is however not the only factor. Home (parents) and school also have their own roles to play. In The Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility editor Wright states:

De La Salle insists that parents and teachers must teach the many details of politeness in a manner that will motivate children to be courteous and civil… (La Salle, 1703, p. xviii)

However, it must also be pointed out that to La Salle good manners and civility have a deepermeaning:

It is surprising that most Christians look upon decorum and politeness as merely human and worldly qualities and do not think of raising their minds to any higher views by considering them as virtues that have reference to God, to their neighbor, and to themselves. This illustrates very well how little true Christianity is found in the world and how few among those who live in the world are guided by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Still, it is this Spirit alone which ought to inspire all our actions, making them holy and agreeable to God (La Salle, 1703, p. xviii).

VII. Theory of Opportunity

Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?

First, we must differentiate between education and schooling. Education involves the acquisition of knowledge and skills through instruction. Schooling is much more specific in that it requires that learning take place in a school. This seems a subtle difference, for both definitions involve learning. The differences are not so subtle however when we look at La Salle’s point of view.

Born in the 17th century to an aristocratic family, La Salle did not experience firsthand what his students experienced. His students, the children of the poor and working classes, were accustomed to being left to roam the streets while their parents worked to provide food and shelter often working up to eleven hours a day in the winter and up to sixteen in the summer months (La Salle, 1696-1706, p. 8). These were children denied both the opportunity for schooling, as primary charity schools were non-existent, and education, as their parents had neither the time nor the background to teach them.

It is one of the principal duties of fathers and mothers to raise their children in a Christian manner and to teach them their religion, but since the majority are not sufficiently enlightened in this matter, and because on the one hand, there are those who are busy with temporal matters and the care of their family, and on the other hand, those whose constant worry is to gain the necessities of life for themselves and their family, they cannot make time to teach them the duties of a Christian (Poutet, 1997, p. 129) .

La Salle opens his Christian Schools to provide the opportunity for both education and schooling for the boys of working class and poor families. La Salle firmly believed in providing both schooling and education by incorporating manners, civility, and most importantly, religion into the curriculum. La Salle was well aware of the position that working class and poor parents were in. The following, from La Salle, explains the situation that he is eager to change:

It is a practice…common with lowly paid workers and the poor simply to let their children grow up…like vagabonds who wander here and there while they cannot employ them in any useful way… being obliged to look for work away from their home, they simply leave the children to their own devices. The consequences, however, are disastrous because the children, grown accustomed to a life of idleness for several years, have a good deal of trouble settling down to work. In addition, they develop bad habits since they often mix with evil company (Poutet, 1997, p. 130).

La Salle’s aim to educate the parents through their children was accomplished by publishing books that served to educate not only the boys in his classrooms but their parents as well (La Salle, Religious Instructions and Exercises of Piety for the Christian Schools, 1696-1706, p. 8).

In conclusion, one can easily see that according to La Salle all of society should have the opportunity to be both educated and schooled& -- even the lowest members. La Salle may however question the value of simply schooling. To La Salle this would not be advantageous to society, as schooling does not help a person to become fully Christian and therefore fully human.

VIII. Theory of Consensus

Why do people disagree?

For this question we will concentrate solely on the main disagreement surrounding La Salle& -- that of opening charity schools and educating the poor.

La Salle follows the model of the Teaching Sisters who educated poor and orphaned girls at convent schools. While teaching young girls was acceptable, poor, underprivileged boys went uneducated, with no hope of attaining a higher social status.

La Salle’s only concern was to open primary schools. People who were in disagreement with La Salle were likely aware of the success of the Jesuit-operated charity secondary schools and the high quality education that older boys received. Given the success of the Jesuit schools, La Salle was likely to provide quality primary education tuition free. This would have posed a threat to school masters employed at high-tuition primary schools.

Problems began in earnest in the school on the rue du Bac. This school, staffed by La Salle, was in direct competition to area parish schools called the Little Schools. The Little Schools were not charity schools. Battersby writes:

The charity schools of Saint Sulpice [local parish] were attracting all the children of the neighborhood, with the result that the teachers of the Little Schools were left without pupils and therefore without means of livelihood. Had every boy in De La Salle’s classes been destitute and incapable of paying the smallest fees, no objection would have been raised, but because it was suspected that there were some whose parents could afford to send them to the Little Schools, it was held that the charity school was a menace. De La Salle, in fact, had no discriminated between the pupils who came to him because he felt it was not his business to decide which boys should enter and which should not. This, he thought, was clearly a matter for the parish priest, who knew the parents and could form some idea as to their financial circumstances (Battersby, 1958, p. 108)

Additionally, there was general disagreement among upper classes when it came to providing an education to lower classes. Perhaps deeply rooted, is an intrinsic fear that upper class individuals have of educating the lowest class of society. To educate the lowest class would make them aware of disequilibrium between the classes. This is not difficult to understand, and, 300 plus years later, we still battle this fear (e.g. recent health care issues, NCLB).

How is consensus achieved?

Normally, consensus is achieved through the education of the disagreeing parties - informed people can make informed decisions. In addition, having a common goal eases the way for consensus. In this case, consensus is never achieved.

La Salle faced countless lawsuits with regard to the charity schools and was eventually forced out of Paris. In addition, as mentioned above, 300 years later we still cannot achieve consensus.

For La Salle consensus is the submission to God’s will. Despite the surges of spirituality that had come since the 16th century, De La Salle found himself constantly struggling to make people understand the will of God. To him, teaching the poor was not simply charity, but rather imitatio dei (imitation of God). La Salle, in both Duties of a Christian and Meditations, repeatedly quotes scripture concerning care of the poor as being the will of God. To disagree with this would be, in La Salle’s eyes, a sin. To achieve consensus then, would mean simply living a truly Christian life and adhering to the will of God.

Whose opinion takes precedence?

It comes as no surprise that La Salle would say the only opinion that matters is the opinion of God. According to La Salle, and as we have mentioned throughout this paper, there are only two duties of a Christian -- to know God and to love God. How does one know when they have accomplished these duties? La Salle answers with the following:

Although we cannot be certain as long as we live on this earth whether we possess true love for God, there are various signs that to some extent can give us some assurance. The first sign is when we ardently desire to do the will of God in all things. The second is when we fulfill exactly what we know God demands of us… (La Salle, 1703, p. 63)


Battersby, W. J. (1958). St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle. Winona: St. Mary's College Press.

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Hotek, D.L. (2003). John Baptiste de La Salle Patron of Christian Educators. Retrieved from www.cbservices.org/shareware.nsf/...key.htm

Knight, K. (2009). St. John Baptiste de la Salle. New Advent. Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08444a.htm

La Salle, J. (1994). Meditations. (R. Arnandez, Trans.) Rome: Christian Brothers Congress.

La Salle, J. (1696-1706). Religious Instructions and Exercises of Piety for the Christian Schools. (E. Lappin, Ed., & R. Arnandez, Trans.) Rhiems: La Salle.

La Salle, J. (1703). The Duties of a Christian to God (Vol. 1). (F. R. Arnandez, Trans.) Paris: Antoine Chrétien.

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Web Resources

Hotek, D.L. (2003). John Baptiste de La Salle Patron of Christian Educators. Retrieved from www.cbservices.org/shareware.nsf/...key.htm

Knight, K. (2009). St. John Baptiste de la Salle. New Advent. Retrieved from


(2010). Saint John Baptist de La Salle (1651-1719). Retrieved from http://www.lasalle.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=50&Itemid=59&lang=en (n.d.). Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. Retrieved from http://en.allexperts.com/e/j/je/jean-baptiste_de_la_salle.htm

Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle. (n.d.). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/326517/Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-La-Salle