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 52. A support and guidance in the Pedagogy of Love – Experience in Valparaíso

In our experience we see that in every group there are always some youngsters more difficult than others and we ask ourselves: what must I and can do? We must not be superficial in judging a “difficult” youngster, but be careful to understand where this undisciplined attitude comes from and what is he telling his peers and the teachers with the behavior that is “objectively” beyond or outside the rules. The category of “resilience” the spiritual formation of young people, are elements put in evidence as resources, insofar as they are well used by the educator. Finally, our own josephan-Murialdine charism gives us a set of attitudes that we must not forget especially at times when it becomes more difficult to be educators: to welcome, to accompany… everything for “ne perdantur.” We will not always win, but at least we should not renounce in proposing a process for a fine life.

Carlos Barra

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52. A support and guidance in the Pedagogy of Love – Experience in Valparaíso                                        (Carlos Barra)


If there is any certainty today is that we have many questions and few answers, what was profitable in not too distant past, it is not anymore today, we are facing new forms of subjectivity. We have to have the wisdom of the gospel, the one of the scribe who brings from the treasure what is new and old.

Everything begins when the question arises about what do we do with disruptive students? those vying for the Guinness record of entries in the class book, those who commit to good behavior and after five minutes are “walking through walls”, who spend more time in the corridors than sitting on their chair?. The answer is not easy. Last year, at a faculty meeting held every semester for the analysis of school discipline, they give me the list of 8 students who eventually could withdraw their enrollment because of discipline, however, by regulation the students have the right to appeal, and I have to decide: my answer was a ramshackle laugh (one of my symptoms of nervous breakdown). How can I be the one who decides about the life of a person? To act like the Roman emperor of old who raises or lowers the thumb to condemn or to condone the life of a poor man.

I asked for the background of each student, the interviews with them and with some parents. Conclusion: long charts of quite varied, negative remarks from those which are of major gravity to others that may well not have been registered; some clearly showing the magnitude of the problem and others reflecting more an emotional condition of the teacher than the proper conduct of the student; along with that, long histories of more or less hidden neglect (parents or absent mothers, grandparents, caregivers), loss and grief, depression; In short, it was clear that there was much more than just “misconduct”. In such situation the question again arises: what do we do? Do we leave them in the emptiness, the oblivion, to find a school accepting them, and giving them what they need? Will they find it?, but if they have found it already! Aren’t we been entrusted with the care of the “most abandoned”, “even the rogue” (naughty, who do not behave with docility), at that particular moment the voice of Murialdo rang to my ears “that none should perish”.

The question remains on this regard, what do we do ?, it was not enough to say “stay” and continue for another year with more of the same situation, which could become unsustainable, there was no intention of transforming the school into a “safe house”. “The pedagogy of love” is a nice answer on paper, it sounds great but in practice how it materializes? And the “what do we do?” still hangs around

Trying to understand … in order to know: What to do?

I found some tracks by dusting off my forgotten books of psychoanalysis, and I found in “Deprivation and crime”, (Deprivaciòn y delinquencia )in a compilation of texts by Donald Winnicott, presented from the perspective of psychoanalysis, the origin of the antisocial behavior of children and young people, and on this point I want to clarify that I’m not thinking about our “angels” as criminals or anything else, but keeping the proportions, I received enlightenment on answering to what are we doing?

Winnicott states that the “normal” child finds in his household the tools for controlling the impulses that in adulthood could be defined as antisocial, for example, to get what interests him, cheating in games, try to satisfy his tastes.

We are dealing with children and young people who weary and exhaust their parents, who try to control them, who through a good atmosphere are creating a kind of self-control that integrates and adapts them to the social environment, however, this situation is reversed, i.e., it becomes “deprived” when some certain household characteristics, as control and safety are taken away, then the disruptive behavior will be a kind of SOS for safety and control. By an unconscious mechanism the individual looks for someone who takes care of his “conduct” to fill the void left by him who originally had to. The antisocial behavior, would be based on hope; in other words, the guy (a) through his disruptive behavior looks to feel important again, thus the disruptive behavior is not constant in the child, it manifests itself precisely in the hopeful moments, it is then fundamental for those who have the task of educating these children to understand this, the teacher has to go to meet them in that hopeful moment and behave accordingly.

In trying to dig a little deeper, Winnicott warns that deprivation is not a simple lack of something the child wants, but a real loss of something he once had and no longer has, something that had a positive effect but probably the child no longer remembers.

The symptoms can be varied, from stealing to destructiveness, aggression, or the simple ability to harass, to cause annoyance; the child takes advantage of this capability, not by chance, but with a not always unconscious intentionality.

Winnicott does not give a clear answer on what to do with these children, but gives some indications:

If the source of disruptive behavior is the dispossession of a safe environment, we should provide such an environment; if it is a lack of affection, we would have to provide it; to rediscover the feeling of being guided, to prove that it will not disappear, it will continue to remain and will be stable.

Moreover, the way we face life situations and seek resolutions to the conflicts appear also as a theme. There are many categorizations of coping styles as authors have addressed the issue but we are not dealing with these for now. However there are three coping styles: one, not productive, which includes aspects such as guilt, with actions that are not targeted at solving the problem; another productive, i.e. actions oriented to solve the problem and finally the one oriented towards others: seeking spiritual, social, professional support.

Each coping style is closely linked to the hope the person has to achieve in resolving his conflicts;

in the first case, we are clearly dealing with a hopeless person whose thinking is: “whatever I do, I will not achieve a positive solution “or a magic mentality that thinks,” the situation will resolve by itself “,

therefore nothing is done. In the other two conditions the person hopes to solve the problem on his own or with the help of others.

Given the lack of resources to address the dilemma, far from seeking to correct deficiencies or weaknesses, you should seek the objective of promoting resources and training to facilitate wellness and resilience to adverse circumstances.

Many authors agree that for adolescents the medium term barely exists, and the long term is a utopia, everything has to be now; they expect immediate results. Given the delay, discouragement, frustration, and ultimately rejection arise.

This boundless impatience is partly explained by the absence of limits, the difficulties in self-control and little appreciation for the effort in obtaining the benefits. Moreover, there is often a tendency not to face responsibilities and having had bad experiences in communication, hampering the interventions of the professionals. They never feel like doing something and block, whenever possible, conversations or activities that affect the way they feel and act; this would be an initial chronological aspect, to be repeated at the beginning of many proposals, but which does not prevent making the realization of the same ones.

A final assessment, in my opinion, must be about resilience. The physical, psychological and / or social adversity may lead the human being either to his annihilation, to resist or to emerge stronger. We call the latter situation, resilience, it is unique for each individual and can manifest itself in many different ways, but it is clear that, beyond the different ways in which appears, this can not be achieved without an adequate vital energy. From a spiritual perspective, this energy is the vital center of the human being and this is where I would highlight the value of spiritual formation of young people.

The term “spirituality” comes from Latin “spiritus,” meaning breath of life. It is a way to be, to experience and to act deriving from the recognition of a transcendental dimension, characterized by certain identifiable values about oneself, about others, about nature and life.

For some individuals includes everything that concerns a Superior Being.

Spirituality is the very dimension of human life, which is constituted as a separate component of the human being. It distinguishes itself from religion, since this is defined as the participation to a particular belief, a ritual, which puts the human being in communication with God. While faith is a commitment with a higher being, to have confidence in him and what purpose such adherence gives to one’s life. We can certainly say that transcendence strongly affects the values of the person.

As for the relationship between spirituality and religion, there are two positions for religion and have to do with the image of God the person has, on the one hand a God as a Judge, or, a God as a merciful Father: with the first approach, the person can surely feel worried and tense, but mostly guilty for his lack of commitment in life, especially in a culture like ours, that ignores these gods or declares them nonexistent, while in the second case a more relaxed, less reticent attitude will be expected, more open to feelings, to compassion and mercy towards others.

Two different attitudes may arise towards the experience of self-esteem. In the first case, the person on trial considers himself guilty, while the second will feel a son of God and moved by the Spirit granted by the Father. Such dignity will make him feel more complete and eager to respond in a manner consistent with the circumstances. The link between self-esteem and resilience is known, we can then establish a link between the experience of religiosity and resilient attitudes of people.

We can however, realize the openness of youth to the transcendent, though a plurality of ways surrounds them, many of which are imposed on society today. Numerous, more or less explicit religious signs, printed on clothes and ornaments reveal that youth feels at least a vague sense of transcendence, but it is not so easy, with youth, to move from faith to commitment.

We could go on forever with theoretical descriptions: however this is not the goal at this point, all this contribution is easy to find in different media. Many of the professionals who work with us have a strong background in these areas, however we still fail to produce a transformation in the lives of our youth, and keep doing the same for many years and obviously getting the same results. We apply the Guidelines, apply sanctions on the one hand, on the other hand diagnose the interventions, and surround our youngsters with professionals with little or no results.

We move in a paradigm that continues to emphasize regulations, sanctions, which tend to exclude anyone who does not fit the prototype. We carry out disciplinary meetings as if they were tribunals in which therapeutic models or in the worst cases, sanctions are defined, but rarely our intervention strategies focused on their real needs in order to accompany the processes, often difficult, of our youths.

 With murialdine style…

 We are bearers of an untold wealth, our charism invites us first of all in presenting to the young ones, God the Father who loves us in a merciful, infinite manner, at this moment and in a personal way. What more can we ask? Let us also consider that such teaching is transmitted through a pedagogical model centered precisely in the manifestation of that love through very tangible actions of “gentleness and firmness” for reaching the youths’ heart. We can be pioneers in an educational model that can effectively produce transformations.

We see a need to make a change in our mindset, i.e. we have a clear idea on the model we want to follow, through the pedagogy of love, however, even though we are aware that there is a danger that these would remain just good intentions and beautiful words. Therefore the principles of this pedagogical model need to be strengthened at all educational levels since, more than inviting us, they compel us not to forget, among other things, the welcoming, the acceptance, kindness, firmness, preventive presence, supervision, the accompaniment as a brother friend and father.

What are we doing in our institutions?

 First of all we have a clear intention to welcome students in our institutions so that none should perish, to do everything possible so that the child (boy or girl), whatever the initial background would be, would reach a path of positive transformation when graduating from our institution.

To accompany the professors working in our institution so that together with their knowledge their primary task would be to know and especially to love those boys and girls entrusted to them to be accompanied each year.

To offer opportunities for personal and group support for pupils in difficulty involving, as far as possible, the family or a noteworthy adult, when the family is lacking.

This has also led us to look for changes in the organizational structures, to integrate different pastoral, psychological, pedagogical and tutorial interventions , in an single area that integrates and energizes them, seeking to “avoid the challenge of pathology” in relationship with students and give them an orientation towards the pursuit of happiness. And this has to be a clear conviction that he is not a problem student, but a student who goes through difficult situations or he is embedded in a problematic context.

We have established a department of integration, where students with difficulties affecting their academic performance are accompanied.

We try to avoid, as far as possible, therapeutic dialogues inside the offices by calling students out of classes, providing instead more spontaneous interventions, in patios, walkways and informal spaces. We have decided to hold more group interventions, either in small groups or for entire courses.

To eliminate for one-year major sanctions such as compliance and cancellation of registration, allowing students to start from scratch, without the burden of previous years.

To identify teachers skilled in establishing positive relationships with students for a more personal follow up when necessary. We have begun to use the tools that are used in the world of business to encourage the spirit of identity in the faculty and among students, such as motivational coaching, of a logo.

To establish a system for monitoring and evaluating the achievements.

Finally the question will assail us: What happened to the eight students who were the reason of this reflection?

We must be honest, not everything was successful: Four of them engaged strongly with the proposal: two managed to finish their secondary education successfully and the other two have continued in school without the above difficulties. Two of them, were overwhelmed by the circumstances of their environment, which has led them to a slow, but steady improvement. Finally two of them left the school voluntarily, they refused to continue, preferring a change.

There are no recipes, no magic, we establish changing processes and we support them, however it may be that in some cases the “the drive to death” as Freud would say, is so strong that we have to accept it, nevertheless as educators we should be able to also accompany these processes, but that would the topic for other considerations. Meanwhile, in order to be ourselves, but a little better every day: “Let’s be smart; put the stress on LOVE”.

Carlos Barra

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