September 13, 2003
Manly virtue

Interesting New York Times article about how to breed and educate leaders, focusing on the Deans and the Bushes:

… If you look at Bush and Dean, even more than prep school boys like John Kerry (St. Paul's and Harvard), Al Gore (St. Alban's and Harvard) and Bill Frist (Montgomery Bell Academy and Princeton), you detect certain common traits.

The first is self-assurance. Both Bush and Dean have amazing faith in their gut instincts. Both have self-esteem that is impregnable because it derives not from what they are accomplishing but from who they ineffably are. Both appear unplagued by the sensation, which destroyed Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, that there is some group in society higher than themselves.

Both are bold. Bush is an ambitious war leader, and Dean has set himself off from all the cautious, poll-molded campaigns of his rivals.

Both were inculcated with something else, a sense of chivalry. Unlike today's top schools, which are often factories for producing Résumé Gods, the WASP prep schools were built to take the sons of privilege and toughen them into paragons of manly virtue. Rich boys were sent away from their families and shoved into a harsh environment that put tremendous emphasis on athletic competition, social competition and character building.

As Peter W. Cookson Jr. and Caroline Hodges Persell write in "Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools," students in traditional schools "had to be made tough, loyal to each other, and ready to take command without self-doubt. Boarding schools were not founded to produce Hamlets, but Dukes of Wellington who could stand above the carnage with a clear head and an unflinching will to win."

As anyone who has read George Orwell knows, this had ruinous effects on some boys, but those who thrived, as John F. Kennedy did, believed that life was a knightly quest to perform service and achieve greatness, through virility, courage, self-discipline and toughness.

Manly virtue, greatness, virility, courage, self-discipline. Usually such words are used nowadays with more of an ironic sneer than you see here. Interesting. The 9/11 effect on educational thinking?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:31 PM
Category: Boys will be boys