More than 40 years spent in the education of boys have left me with faith in the dignity of man and the ultimate destiny of the human race. What wins the headlines in the newspapers is the wildness of teenagers and the exploits of adolescent bank robbers. But actually in schools I have found everywhere thoughtfulness, sympathy, and generosity, especially among quiet students, who go unobtrusively about their business and have no desire for reward. Consequently, I am what might be termed a “long-range optimist,” well aware of some of the shortcoming of the younger generation but confident that progress, though often slow and perhaps at moments imperceptible, is really being made. What fun would there be anyhow in a perfect world? There must be struggle and even failure if we are to appreciate success. There must be shadows if we are to know light.
In a democracy, the most important factor is the education of the average voter. But it must emphasize moral, as well as intellectual, training. That’s why I rejoiced when my boys brought me a secret contribution of 50 dollars to buy a new coat for a classmate. That’s why I was proud when Tom Hudner, one of my former students who had been voted by his class the most reliable, later was awarded the Congressional Medal for heroism in rescuing a wounded comrade in Korea. My school had in its constitution the significant statement, “Knowledge without goodness is dangerous.” We have, today, plenty of clever men in our legislatures and in public affairs. What we need is more honest men.
In my experience, also, I have found that hard work is an acceptable substitute for genius and that much is being done, day by day, through the efforts of men and women who, with undramatic determination, are trying to make this a better world. Dire predictions have been made by prophets of gloom that our civilization is falling apart. Changes have taken place, of course, and more may be expected. But change does not necessarily mean decay. And the fact that boys and girls do not behave precisely like their ancestors does not indicate that we are growing worse.
I believe that giving is more exciting than getting, that every man or woman, regardless of color or creed, is my neighbor, and that life is really more than meat, and the body more than raiment. And this simple creed is strengthened by my years as a teacher and a headmaster. The boys I knew at Andover were amazingly free from racial or religious prejudice. They had a deep, although inarticulate, belief in justice and fair play. And although it might have been difficult for them to phrase it, they had their own conception of decent living.
I am inclined to think that they taught me as much as I taught them. They knew in their hearts what are the durable satisfactions: the thrill of music and poetry and art; the blessings of home and family; the stimulus of intellectual labor; the joy of kindly deeds; the peace which comes from trust in God. I have watched hundreds of them fulfill, as citizens, what they only vaguely felt as schoolchildren. This, perhaps, is the lasting reward of being a teacher.