To Educate the Heart
A Well-Rounded Philosophy of Education
Mother Cabrini’s first job was as a schoolteacher, and she remained an educator the rest of her life. She ultimately founded over 30 schools, each of which reflected her philosophy on education.
To Mother Cabrini, an educated person is someone in whom all facets of life – spiritual, intellectual, cultural, physical, moral, economic, political, and social – are deeply developed. This deep yet broad understanding of education was unusual during her lifetime (1850-1917) and remains uncommon today.
The Role of the Teacher
Mother Cabrini saw education as involving far more than acquiring knowledge, and teaching as more than a means of earning a living. To her, being an educator was an act of love. “Yours is not a vain science that puffs up,” she wrote to students at her teaching college in Rome, “But that which reforms manners, educates the heart, and forms character.”
She believed that to teach as an act of love requires first and foremost a strong relationship with Jesus Christ. When grounded in prayer, educators naturally become role models of a God-directed life, and are able to teach with their actions as well as their words.
Honoring the Individual Student’s Abilities
Mother Cabrini urged teachers to be attentive to the needs of each individual student, to honor personal abilities and difficulties, and to treat pupils with respect. Teachers were counseled to balance firmness with warmth and compassion.
There was no place in Mother Cabrini’s schema for corporal punishment, shame, or harsh rebukes. Working with the poorest and most deprived children had taught her that children must sense they are loved to acquire sufficient confidence to learn and improve.
One of Mother Cabrini’s educational priorities was to transform students into engaged and active agents of their own education.
She felt this began with a teacher’s intellectual zeal and solid lesson preparation. Once interest was sparked in a student, the teacher then needed to gently adjust his or her teaching method to the needs of the child. That had to be combined with showing genuine interest in the student’s progress in order to engage both heart and the mind. This cycle of teaching, adapting, and encouraging built
Goals for Students
Mother Cabrini wanted children to grow up to be “fruitful to the Church, country, and society.” For this to happen she knew they needed to acquire virtue while seeking to cultivate their minds.
Courtesy was obligatory in all Cabrini schools, and kindness towards classmates was a high priority. Students were expected to study diligently, be honest, and live lives of prayer. Academic achievement was expected, but intellectual humility was held in high esteem.