Be convinced that, provided you are willing, you can do more with the help of God’s grace than you imagine.”
– St. John Baptist de La Salle –
Why is it that this particular educational vision and approach–what we call Lasallian education–has stood the test of time, going strong 340 years down the line. What is it about this unique educational movement that has allowed it, has driven it, to adapt to so many places and contexts, taking on a variety of education-related works, and persisting through so many challenges and difficulties?
Here are what might be called five transformative operational dimensions of our Lasallian network and charism. Others exist, and you may (and should) highlight your own. But these for me seem to be some of the key aspects that have helped ensure its ongoing vitality.
- De La Salle Himself. John Baptist de La Salle’s personality and approach shape the DNA of this apostolate, this charism. His spirit and story imbue our educational vision, approach, and execution. He was a dedicated, hard worker who persisted in what he set out to do, with a solid faith life, genuine humility, a streak of stubbornness, and natural leadership abilities. He “was content to lead the teachers by the hand, so to speak, to let them see from their own experience and from his exhortations and example what was the best course to follow.” He allowed his trust in God’s presence in and through others to guide the future of the work that they shared.
- Focus on Education. We do one thing, and we work very hard to do it well. The focus of those in the Lasallian world is on education, writ large. This is meant both literally and figuratively. Our apostolate is education, education, and education. AND such education is not confined to the classroom, to lessons and tests, or only to knowledge and skills. Education for us is a sacred project, a holy endeavor, a privileged encounter. If it deals with teaching and learning, education, schools and services for kids and families, we want to be part of it. Education is our primary vocation, and we are more than content with that reality. It fills our lives and vocations very well.
- Self-Adjusting, Adaptable, & Relevant. Lasallian education is essentially experience-driven, using what might be called a “monitor and adjust” process for ensuring success. The early Brothers worked together so that the best methodologies for the time were being used, creating new ones when required. They paid attention to what students really needed in their specific context and worked hard to provide it; e.g., teaching navigation and seamanship courses at the school in Calais; teaching ledgers and invoices to inner-city students and life-skills to those working students attending the Sunday school. The “franchise binder” called The Conduct of Christian Schools, was a practical school manual, built over 40 years and constantly revised and updated via a collaborative, experience-driven methodology. It went through 23 editions over 250 years.
- Community & Association. “The decisive innovation of the Founder is that education is conducted within the context of community.” De La Salle came to see that trained, dedicated, faith-led teachers in community were the transformative driver. He insisted that “union in community is a precious gem, [and] if we lose this, we lose everything.” This community thing is not just a nice-to-have for us. In defining themselves as brothers to one another and older brothers to the young people confided to them by God, they stated both their identity and their mission. The engine for effective Lasallian education, from the very beginning, was a genuine, living, educational community. Lasallian education revolves around what Lasallian scholar Leon Lauraire calls a “pedagogy of fraternity,” and association is a focused expression of community.
- A Spirit of Faith & Zeal. De La Salle became involved in the work of educating the young in order “to make the loving and saving presence of Christ a visible and active reality”  in the lives of those God confides to our care. He came to see that his teachers were to “preach” an alternative way of life, living the Gospel for and with their students. The addition he made to the Brothers Rule just before he died identified Faith & Zeal as the primary Spirit of the Institute, and “those who do not possess it and those who have lost it, should be looked upon as dead members.”