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As Long as We Remember...

August 14, 2007

Sound Character Building

Farrell Keough

Those halcyon days of summer are quickly coming to an end. The lazy days of little responsibility, long evenings of late sunsets, and friends available at all times of the day. Yep, just around the corner is another year when school books and dirty looks will abound.

My household has a last fling in one of our bucolic western states and then a radical change. Our son will not be in attendance at a government based public school, but rather, a military academy; to be specific, Massanutten Military Academy in beautiful Woodstock, Virginia.

It was a difficult decision until we began learning about and experiencing what this school has to offer. Unlike our public government based schools, Massanutten offers not only a fine education, but character building traits like discipline, gratitude, and service. In other words, traits we used to take for granted, traits we actually made fun of, calling them a "Leave it to Beaver" paradigm, traits we now bemoan are missing from our culture. In short, traits that develop the kind of people we want our young men and women to become.

We all desire to give to our children more than we had; that is one of the aspects of the American Way. Our children are to do better and have better than we did. While this is laudable, we often do not realize that it is the pursuit which builds the character and offers the appreciation and gratitude.

My wife and I are not unusual in our perception of a lack of gratitude in this generation. In our home, we have established significant chores, values, and expectations. But, as we have so much more in this current day and age than ever before, it is difficult to instill a sense of striving towards a goal. An overabundance of any one thing lessens the appreciation of most everything.

To that end, these traits must be taught. Schools, church programs, peers, and family friends are but a few of the outside sources our young people have to access these traits. If a school develops a program which instills these qualities, it is well worth pursuing. Military schools have been around for many, many years. Hence, exploring those with the knowledge, technique, and experience to train our young people is a valuable investigation.

That all students wear uniforms, (military style with a variety of hats, shirts, jackets, and trousers) is one of many specifics which differentiate these schools from our public government schools. Unlike my days, where torn jeans, tie-dye shirts, and long hair were in style, this school puts everyone on an equal footing. No one of higher social status has fancier clothes, only those who have accomplishments can wear pins, special emblems, or other insignia.

Accomplishments define the person. Your self-esteem is based upon what you do, and opportunity to do something special or unique abounds. This school recognizes the truth of what defines a person and promotes those actions.

Developing strength of character is paramount to this and other military academies. "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal nor tolerate those who do."

When one sees the results of cheating in colleges and universities every year, we see how very important and sorely lacking this character trait is in our current society. Something as simple as lying is central to a character. Once a person is okay with telling lies, the next steps are never towards better character. We fail to realize how seriously important this trait is in our children. It is fundamental to the development of an honorable and respectful citizen.

Athletics are also strongly stressed. My wife was an all around athlete in her school years including college. I was very good at changing the television channel and picking just the right snack to go with my viewing pleasure. These schools require some form of athletic participation every term. While the student may not be the star athlete, they learn the importance of participation, sportsmanship, teamwork, and a lifelong opportunity to remain in good physical condition.

We, as parents, can and should instill these values in our children. But, once they enter the government-run schools, these character traits may or may not be instilled. With such a plethora of requirements in today's society, things like respect for women seem to slide by the wayside. Not only are these traits taught by the staff, but the cadets as well. Students move up in rank based upon maturity and accomplishment - not simply because they are next in line. Hence, these students must live by these same principals and pass them onto others either through peer pressure or simple everyday interaction. When you live what you preach, others pick that up and many will follow.

As the year progresses, other benefits will rear their head. We are ecstatic with this decision and cannot wait to see the young man who will unfurl from this education. You can be sure it will not be the same young man who first entered in 2007.

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