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Still A Radical Notion


A powerful sense of gratitude overwhelms me for such a moving retirement party. DEL knows how to have a party. It was touching to see all of you again, to refresh so many rich memories- the enthusiasm of our youthful students in clubs and on teams, our classroom antics, our beautiful campus and sparkling school. It is in an historical wonder that our school survives at all. The Order, founded in 1694, was a novel, radical idea at the time, created to meet a moral and social need, namely to teach poor children to become useful citizens in society.

La Salle combined schooling and decorum. He wrote a treatise called "Christian Decorum and Politeness" so poor students could blend into higher culture. This was a most beneficial development as France was urbanizing. Of course in all ages there were sources of instruction to transmit necessary skills to the next generation- hunting, fishing carving, masonry. But academic learning, actually teaching in classes the hopeless urban children of the lowest classes was most useful. Such children, abandoned to a life of drudgery and misery, of slums and crime, now had a chance, and a chance it was, to nibble at the edge of classical Western culture in a France drifting towards industrialization and revolution. This "schooling" integrated intimately with moral instruction, set a standard that too few can match in our secular age, or any age.

Over the centuries, regardless of social evolution and alterations in the world, the mandate remains and has even taken on an urgent dimension in our fraught days. In recent decades capitalist democracy has shown signs of negative, chronic problems: the one per cent and the ninety-nine, the hollowing out of the middle class, the underclass, precarious work, contract work, internships and much more compounded by inept governments. Ossification advances like a cancer, leading to decline and fall, as too many instances in history readily illustrate, which in the end terrifies even the wealthy.

A healthy, lively democracy allows movement up through the social classes so that society can benefit from the talents, abilities and gifts of the underprivileged who might be doomed to the lower reaches of the state. Ability is widely dispersed through the gene pool, not at all limited to the higher class. Indeed history again is rich with examples of the greatest talents ( Einstein, Shakespeare, DaVinci) coming from very modest families without exceptional traits.

DEL has an influence here. As the founder hoped, his schools would allow poor children to make their way in life, to contribute to society rather than being a burden. DEL alone, to my knowledge, is the only school still in existence that began with and continues to follow, that moral imperative. Over the centuries, our schools widened their scope and range, charging modest tuitions for all (dramatically far less than equivalent schools) to allow poorer pupils to attend an effective school. Thus they propel themselves into the higher reaches and enrich the culture. I have seen this process at work, and it works wonders, as our young students move on to elite universities and very elite careers.

No one has given more though to this matter of social stratification than Bernard Shaw, the founder of the Labour party and the father of Socialism. He clearly saw the dangers in the lack of mobility in society. He ultimately found the matter intractable and essentially gave up, other than writing about it. DEL did not give up, and year by year still has a mighty influence here. I see children from every corner of the city, not the gentrified parts, who graduate from our school ascending to positions of power and influence. That is democratic mobility nurtured with a little push. Think of Eliza Doolittle from Shaw's "Pygmalion" (My Fair Lady) buried in the slums, who given a little boost by Prof. Higgins, flew up to the social and intellectual polish of the upper class.

Consider also that other parents whose children could just barely afford our modest tuition have done as well, too. They could never attend other private schools whose fees are double or triple ours. Thus DEL has an influence here, a mighty influence. Our society is enriched and refreshed, not as much as we would like perhaps, but DEL is doing valuable work while too many others are not. We can put a number on it. "Your generosity and assistance have helped, making possible a human and Christian education for 103 wonderful students" (Bro. Domenic). That is a very, very high number, considering our school enrollment of approx. 650. This number defies gravity and math.

This is the work of salvation- spiritual, intellectual and democratic. It is a noble work, a necessary one, remembering the needs of society. The success of it is astonishing, considering the numbers. So, "We will continue to ask for your help in continuing this great and necessary provision of funding for our needy ones who will benefit from the excellence of our academic and spiritual efforts" (Bro. Domenic). They do, and will go on to do great undertakings in the advanced professions as intelligent, polished and humane personalities. We should sleep better because of them. I know I do.

If you can make a donation to advance, to continue, this great and crucial socially "refreshing" cause, please do. Any assistance you give will help keep our bursary program alive- and a vital, necessary work it is, for all of us.

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