The Novelties and the Academic Tradition of the Piarist Educational System in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Toward the end of second decade of the 18th century, the cultural life of Lithuanian society was enriched by the Piarist Congregation, which sought to educate the youth in the spirit of Catholicism. Piarists came to Vilnius in 1722, upon the invitation of Konstanty Kazimierz Brzostowski, Bishop of Vilnius. In 1726, Piarists established the first school in Vilnius. Members of this religious congregation highlighted the practical benefit of education, therefore the reform of educational programmes initiated by them was devised as a certain resistance to the rigid educational programme advocated by Jesuits, which no longer met the new expectations. The subjects taught in the schools run by Piarists were the following: the native language (Polish), Latin and foreign languages, history, law and social sciences, subjects of natural sciences and mathematics. Special focus was placed on aesthetic education. Without questioning the historiographic evaluation of Piarist (regarded as Reformers) activities, we would like to focus on the details of the school curriculum, characteristic of the Lithuanian Piarist province.

The Lithuanian adaptation

Piarist curriculum and education-related issues were first defined in the treatise Ordinationes Visitationis Apostolicae, targeted at the Polish province of Piarists. These pedagogical methodological instructions were published in Warsaw in 1753–1754 (taking effect in 1756); their main promoter and developer is believed to be the Piarist Stanislav Konarski.

The Lithuanian province of Piarists was very cautious in evaluating the school reform introduced by Stanisław Konarski; on the one hand, they did not approve of it; on the other hand, they were unable to oppose it. Based on the Ordinationes Visitationis Apostolicae, Lithuanian Piarists developed their own regulation on Methodus docendi pro Scholis Piis provinciae Litvaniae, to be used in the schools of the Lithuanian province of Piarists. The Regulation, printed in the Piarists’ printing-house in Vilnius in 1762, should not be regarded as an original piece of work. It was an abridged adaptation of Stanisław Konarski’s Ordinationes Visitationis Apostolicae (a summary of the fourth part), adapted to the needs of the Lithuanian province. The adaptation was performed by the Piarist Georgii Ciapiński, secretary of the Lithuanian province, and Kaspar Trzeszkowski, praepositus of the province.

Piarist teachers did spare the rod

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Methodus docendi consists of seven chapters. In the first chapter, teacher and pupil behavioural norms and their interaction is defined. Due warning is given about teacher inappropriateness to go beyond the limits of scolding; corporal punishment could only be used in cases of special stubbornness and only as the measure of last resort. Instructions are also given about inappropriateness to insult pupils, discipline them with a rod or other tools of punishment over the hands and on the back, push them around, slap on the back of the head, grab them by the hair, the ears or pinch their nose. In this chapter, the following teacher vices are denounced: sluggishness, physical neglect, indifference or continuously manifested dissatisfaction. Emphasis is placed on the need for cleanliness and hygiene amongst students; instructions are given on good manners and etiquette and proper behaviour in church.

The second chapter of Methodus docendi is dedicated to methodological aspects. It starts with the instructions for teachers to diligently prepare for lessons.

Special attention is given to particularities of language instruction: “Let teachers see to it that their students do not speak distorted Latin; those making mistakes should be corrected.”

To improve the knowledge of the Latin language, a textbook Conversations, or Exercises in Latin by the Spaniard Juan Luis Vives is highly recommended. It is obvious that one of Europe’s most eminent humanists, philosophers and pedagogues, whose   methodological instructions served as the basis for Jesuits, did not lose relevance in the 18th century schools run by Lithuanian Piarists. The second paragraph of the chapter states that the students who are not good in Latin “would better speak their mother tongue rather than distorted Latin.” The chapter ends with recommendations for teaching arithmetic.

Latin – the “mother tongue”

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The third – sixth chapters of Methodus docendi, regulating humanitarian studies, show an obvious transferability and adaptation of the teaching model developed by Jesuits. The Piarist framework of humanitarian studies consisted of a grammar class, divided into three stages (the lowest, intermediary and advanced grammar class), a class in poetics and rhetoric.

In the lowest grammar class, students were taught reading and writing skills; basics of Latin grammar was taught (without any mention of Konarski’s name, it was recommended to use the Latin textbook written namely by this author; furthermore, the grammar by Juan Luis Vives was also recommended). Apart from the aforementioned subjects, Catechism was taught in this class, using atlases; foundations of geography were taught, Holy Scripture was analysed and spiritual issues were discussed (e.g., who is God, who is the Holy Trinity, etc.). Basics of arithmetic was also taught. The intermediate and advanced grammar classes focused on further improving the student skills of Latin grammar, geography and arithmetic. Students were familiarized with the basics of epistolography, that is, the theory of writing letters, stylistics and phraseology. In this class, a new subject of the Polish history was introduced, with instruction in the mother tongue (Polish).

The importance of rhetoric

In the poetry class, syntaxis and versification was revised; the works by Ovid, Virgil, Martial and other Roman authors were read. Based on the works by these authors, periods, tropes and figures of speech were explained; particularities of an epigram, ode, elegy and poem were discussed. Furthermore, the subjects of cosmography (general knowledge of astronomy, geography, geology and meteorology), ancient history and Polish State law were taught. To master the latter, following Konarski’s instructions, recommendations were given to use the textbooks written by the Protestant authors Christopher Harthnoch and Gottfried Lengnich. The focus in this class was placed on the revision of universal geography and arithmetic; skills of Latin were further improved.

Particular attention was given to the theory and practice of writing letters.

The syllabus of a class in rhetoric is discussed in particular detail. This part accounts for about 40 percent of the Methodus docendi text (!). It is highlighted that it is important for the professor to make sure his students have understood the theory of rhetoric. A comprehensive list of salutatory political and public topics, recommended for preparing speeches, is presented. Clear instructions are given on the number and type of poetry pieces to be created by the students, followed by a list of orators and poets to be used as references. The school syllabus also includes geography, arithmetic, state law and history. 

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In their adaptation of Ordinationes Visitationis Apostolicae, the Lithuanian Piarists adhered to the most important provisions stated in the treatise. Notwithstanding this, in eliding relevant information about the new philosophical, theological and historical works recommended by Konarski (with the exception of textbooks written by Christopher Harthnoch and Gottfried Lengnich), they actually revealed their conservative standpoint. Compared to the numerous congregations in Poland, the Lithuanian brotherhood had far fewer members. Consequently, the network of schools they ran was much smaller was far less. All this suggests that the Lithuanian Piarists found it difficult to resist the tradition of humanistic education advocated by Jesuits, still prevalent in the cultural life of the country.

Asta Vaškelienė