When I list the values and principles that are most important to me even today, I realise that most of them were formed in my adoloscence. These were not given as abstract ideals to be followed but one saw them in the personality of people one interacted with - mostly the teachers and friends in high school and close family members. I look around and find that today schools have become more like very efficient training grounds in the various fields of knowledge;Caught in this hectic process,overloaded teachers have no time to concentrate on character building. This void is clearly seen when one comes across phenomenal blunders of high performers - to quote a recent example, Kavya Vishwanathan.
Parents are equally to blame as their expectation from the school is to make their child worthy of IITs and IIMs or any highly paid profession. Perhaps it is time every parent read the mail that Abraham Lincoln sent to his son's headmaster and see if their child is being given an environment where he can imbibe these timeless values:

"He will have to learn. I know that all men are not just and all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every selfish politician there is a dedicated leader. Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend. It will take him, I know, but teach him, if you can, that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found. Teach him to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning, steer him away from envy, if you can; teach him the secret of quiet laughter.

"Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to lick; Teach him, if you can the wonder of books but also give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hillside. In school, teach him it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him he is wrong. Teach him to be gentle with gentle people, and tough with the tough.

"Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is getting on the band wagon. Teach him to listen to all men, but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth, and take only the good that comes through.

"Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness. Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder, but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob and to stand and fight if he thinks he's right.

"Treat him gently, but do not cuddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel. Let him have the courage to be impatient; let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind.
"This is a big order, but see what you can do. He is such a fine little fellow, my son."

All children are such fine little creatures - let us show them not just the goals but also the right way to get there.
(Thanks Shalini, your mail provided the thought for this post!)
10 Responses
  1. Swapnil Says:

    My mom used to carry a Marathi translation of this letter. I think its helped her make some decision in her 28 years of teaching career.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    >>Let him have the courage to be impatient; let him have the patience to be brave

    Life is a beautiful oxymoron. To be good, you have to learn what is not good.. :)

    But... I seriously wonder, what was this Kaavya kid thinking when she started writing her book?

  3. Swapnil Says:

    About the Kavya controversy, I think everyone’s being too harsh on her. After all, she is just a 19-year-old kid who thought she was doing something “cool”. What makes the story big is the big money and big names that were involved. Don’t think the money and fame was part of the plot when the book was actually written.

  4. Mahadevan Says:

    I may sound a little non-secular, but what I observe is that schools maintained by some of the religious denominations do impart moral values and the children imbibe them.It is the value system that distinguishes men from mere boys,says Dr.Narayanamurthy.

    Kavya Vishwanathan is a freak incident. Plagiarism is quite normal in the age group of Kavya. What is abnormal is the high stake of half a million dollars.
    To me it looks like Kavya is the victim in a vicious circle. I share the views of Swapnil on this.I fully agree with you that parents are to be blamed for forcing children to pursue goals without caring for the means.

    Abraham Lincoln' letter to his son's school has to be read, understood and followed by every parent.

    "Let us show them not just the goals, but also the rightway to get there" - I see the stamp of Usha in these lines.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Well! let us not put the whole blame squarly on parents and teachers. Children are growing up in difficult times. The society we live in has seen too many changes in too short a time. And children are falling prey to these so called advancements. Peer group pressure, consumerism and other evils have eroded values. This is a heavy price we are paying for evolution(?)

  6. Preethi Says:

    I completely agree that these days - in the rat race to join the IITs and IIMs, students are completely forgetting the roots. I dont want to blame either the teachers or the parents alone - its the combined responsibility of everyone involved...

    Seriously thinking about that Kaavya girl, what kind of brains did she have? How much ever someone might try to copy, but will someone copy to the extent of page numbers like \'page 176\' and all? Whatever happened to her brains which prompted her to copy in the first place!!!

    And Abe Lincoln\'s letter.. THe first time I read this was when I had an image of how I might treat my kids\' education and their teachers.. :) Might be too early to talk all this though!

  7. Mohan Says:

    The last paragraph of Lincoln's letter is where the punch is. Each sentence is a resounding statement of how times were then.

    As for Kayva Vishwanathan's case, I will go with Swapnil. There is competition for each and every thign in this world and when money is concerned, ppl try to walk some fine lines between bending rules and breaking them. It is unfortunate that a teenage girl has been caught in the controversy where the opinions in the aftermath are going to be suspicious. The scars could run deep and the effect could be a serious warning sign for prospective plagiarists.

    Wonder where is the originality in the world these days?

  8. Revathi R Says:

    This Lincoln's letter is a famous one. But your post is timely, Usha.
    About Kaavya, she is a victim of faulty education system and parental pressure, typically Indian, especially south Indian.

  9. Raj Says:

    Your point about the necessity of imparting the right values at an impressionable age is well made.

    But,the Lincoln letter that you had cited reminded me of an incident. Some years back, someone had sent me an email referring to this letter of Lincoln's and I forwarded it to my friend's father who is a retired headmaster. His reaction was that the letter was no doubt a literary masterpiece, but if he had been the headmaster of the school, he would have replied to Lincoln that being the President did not give him (Lincoln) the authority to 'tell' the school what and how to teach his son. He should 'trust' the school and place his son in their hands. A cynical view but I saw some merit in this reasoning. Lincoln was being rather presumptuous here.

  10. Ram Says:

    Agree readily with Raj. Lincoln was being ungracefully self-righteous & presumptuous...