Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher is a reminder of many things we forget to teach our kids, Suhail Ahmad writes

Famous US president, Abraham Lincoln once wrote a letter to his son’s headmaster. The letter, which is quite famous in itself, has a universal appeal and is perhaps more relevant today than ever before. The letter underlines the importance to inculcate values among children to turn them into strong and responsible human beings.

Unfortunately, the need for imparting moral or value education is felt only after some untoward incident takes place.  Following the December 2012 Nirbhaya rape case, the Prime Minister’s Office asked the HRD Ministry to emphasise on teaching moral science at the school level and include chapters on value education in textbooks. While the National Curriculum Framework does stress on value education, there has been a demand to include it as a full-fledged subject.

In his letter, Lincoln talks about qualities like faith, love, courage, honesty, patience and hard work. He expected to see his son grow into an adult with all these qualities besides the routine stuff they teach at schools. There is indeed much more to this world than English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. It is worth to go through the letter before drawing a lesson or two from it.

 “My son starts school today. It is all going to be strange and new to him for a while and I wish you would treat him gently. It is an adventure that might take him across continents. All adventures that probably include wars, tragedy and sorrow. To live this life will require faith, love and courage.

So dear Teacher, will you please take him by his hand and teach him things he will have to know, teaching him – but gently, if you can. Teach him that for every enemy, there is a friend. He will have to know that all men are not just, that all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero, that for every crooked politician, there is a dedicated leader.

Teach him if you can that 10 cents earned is of far more value than a dollar found. It is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to learn how to gracefully lose, and enjoy winning when he does win.

Teach him to be gentle with people, tough with tough people. Steer him away from envy if you can and teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Teach him if you can – how to laugh when he is sad, teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him there can be glory in failure and despair in success. Teach him to scoff at cynics.

Teach him if you can the wonders of books, but also give time to ponder the extreme mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hill. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong.

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

Teach him to sell his talents and brains to the highest bidder but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind, in God.”

 

One can read this letter again and again, and each time it feels like a fulfilling exercise. Lincoln draws the headmaster’s attention to the lessons which can only be learnt through holistic education. According to one of the definitions, holistic education is a philosophy of education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace.

Unfortunately, we are so pre-occupied with grades of our children that we seldom think about their personality development, which entails much more than just academics.  Textbook education has taken precedence over everything else. We expect our children to excel in their studies and in the process put them under undue pressure. We don’t really bother much about their attitude and behaviour. As long as they are good at studies, everything is fine for us. How they fare in Maths is more important than how they behave with their classmates. This obsession with academic excellence may help in building a successful career for our child, but it does not guarantee in raising a good human being in him.

Success is a buzzword in today’s world. It is mostly measured in terms of career accomplishment, good income and related things. We all want to be successful even if it means compromising on values like integrity and character. We pass on this materialistic approach to our children.

So who should impart value education? Most people think that it is the teachers’ responsibility. Even parents tend to believe so, but teachers are not the only stakeholders here. The role of parents is as much or perhaps more important.

From the moment a baby is born, s/he learns to adapt and respond to the people around her/him. For a large part, a child’s adult personality is determined by childhood. A child’s mind is like soft clay and can be moulded to any desired shape. It is the right time and age to inculcate values which can stand him in good stead throughout his life.

Back to Abraham Lincoln’s letter, the reason he could think of writing it is that he was himself an inspiring individual. His rise from humble beginnings to the highest office of President of America is a remarkable story. Though it is not easy to be a Lincoln, but we can still be role models for our children in our own little ways. The kids need inspiration before we expect them to be successful individuals as well as good human beings at the same time.

The author can be mailed at suhaillife@gmail.com

 

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