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Teaching the Virtues (includes The Lessons of 9/11) ^ | (February 2003): | WILLIAM J. BENNETT

Posted on 09/02/2011 7:32:59 PM PDT by Salvation

Teaching the Virtues


When I was Secretary of Education under President Reagan, I visited an elementary school in Raleigh, North Carolina. As I did at many of the 120 schools I visited during that period, I taught a lesson there on George Washington. Afterwards, I asked the kids if they had any questions, and one little guy raised his hand and asked, “Mr. Secretary, when you and President Reagan and the other people get together at meetings of the Cabinet, do you really eat Jelly Bellys?”

Bill Bennett

He’d heard about Reagan’s penchant for Jelly Belly jelly beans. I answered, “Yes, the president has a bowl of jelly beans at the meetings, and he eats some and passes them around, and I’ve had a few.” And this kid looked me in the face and said, “I think you’ve had more than a few, Mr. Secretary.”

This was quite funny, and I remember President Reagan laughing when I told him about it. But the story also makes an important point. Do you recall when Gorbachev was visiting the U.S. and trying to figure out what America was like? He went walking up and down Connecticut Avenue, and he went over to the National Archives to look at documents. But he should have gone to that elementary school in Raleigh. I can guarantee you that never in the history of the Soviet Union did an eight-year-old look into the eyes of a heavyset minister of education and say, “I’ll bet you eat all the caviar you can get your hands on.” Maybe the kid’s comment was a little fresh — a little over the top — but it showed that the ethos of liberty is in our hearts, and that is a good and important thing. But of course it’s not the only good and important thing.

Later, when I was director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy — or Drug Czar, as some called me — I visited about 140 communities and heard over and over a much different concern. Whether I was talking to teachers, school administrators, parents, cops or judges, they wanted to know: Who’s raising the children? What kind of character do our kids have? Who’s paying attention to their morals? A judge in Detroit once said to me: “When I ask young men today, ‘Didn’t anyone ever teach you the difference between right and wrong?’ they answer, ‘No sir.’ And you know, Mr. Bennett, I believe them. It is a moral vacuum out there.” I remember teachers in the public schools asking, “Can you help us develop some materials that we can use with our kids to teach them right from wrong?” Isn’t that ironic? The public schools of this country, which were established principally to provide common moral instruction for a nation of immigrants, were now wondering if this was possible. Many people expressed the concern that we had become so enamored of our economic and material success that we were neglecting more important things. Someone wrote me a letter and said, “If we have streets of gold and silver, but our children do not learn to walk with God, what will we have gained?”

Three Ways of Teaching Virtue

Some of us, frankly, had our doubts about whether this moral dilemma could be solved. I authored a series of studies called the “Index of Leading Cultural Indicators,” which, instead of measuring inflation or interest rates, measured things like school dropout rates, drug addiction, illegitimacy, divorce, SAT scores and crime. A lot of the numbers were quite alarming. I wrote in the introduction to one of the studies that if we kept moving in the direction we were going, this great republic — this great experiment in self-government — could conceivably unravel. So “teaching the virtues” seemed very much to me then, and still seems to me today, a concern of prime importance for the American people. And I think the answer regarding how to teach the virtues is pretty straightforward. Aristotle had a good read on it, and modern psychology and other contemporary studies back him up: We teach by habit, we teach by precept, and we teach by example.

Aristotle says that habituation at an early age makes more than a little difference; it can make almost all the difference. So if you want kids to learn what work is, you should have them work. If you want them to learn what responsibility means, you should hold them responsible. If you want them to learn what perseverance is, you should encourage them to persevere. And you should start as early as possible. Of course, this is harder to do than to say. Being a parent and teaching these things is a very rigorous exercise.

Precepts are also important. The Ten Commandments, the principles of American democracy, rules of courteous behavior — these and other lists of rights and wrongs should be provided to young people. But as we provide them, young people need to know that we take these precepts seriously. That leads to the third part of teaching virtue that Aristotle talked about, which is example. And that, probably, is the one we should emphasize the most. I have been to school after school where the administration thinks it can solve its “values problem” by teaching a course in values. I don’t believe in courses in values. I don’t think that’s the way to go about solving the problem. If we want young people to take right and wrong seriously, there is an indispensable condition: They must be in the presence of adults who take right and wrong seriously. Only in this way will they see that virtue is not just a game, not just talk, but rather that it is something that grown-up people, people who have responsibilities in the world and at home, take seriously.

Let me give you an extreme example of the futility of precept in the absence of example. More than once I’ve been in schools where they are teaching a “virtue of the week.” In one such school, the virtue of the week was honesty. There had been a test on honesty, and the teacher told me that she had had to prepare a second test because she had caught so many students cheating on the first. We are missing the point of the enterprise here. Our children won’t take honesty seriously until we grown-ups demand honesty of ourselves and others, including our leaders. Needless to say, the Clinton years were not good years for impressing the virtue of honesty on our kids.

The Lessons of 9/11

Along these same lines, there are many lessons to be drawn, it seems to me, from the events of September 11, 2001. They are teachable events, and there is much in them for young people to learn. Many sophisticated or pseudo-sophisticated people have been nursing the idea for years that concepts like right and wrong and good and evil are outmoded. But we saw these things in full force on 9/11. We saw the face of evil and felt the hand of evil, but we also saw the face of good and felt the many hands of good, and our kids saw and felt these things, too.

We also saw the sinew, the fiber, the character of the American people. I am not just talking about the firefighters and the cops. I’m talking about the people associated with Xavier High School who died trying to rescue and help people. I’m talking about those folks on American Flight 93 — the American businessmen traveling across the country with their laptops. These are the guys who are the butt of humor for every aspiring pseudo-intellectual and every Hollywood filmmaker who wants to run down America. Life in the suburbs, according to these so-called elites, is full of emptiness and desolation and misery. Perhaps I am overstating this, but the middle-class American businessman has been the target of an awful lot of criticism from an awful lot of directions for an awful lot of years. When the chips were down, though, these businessmen did pretty well, didn’t they?

I was reading an updated transcript a couple of weeks ago in which one of the four men who rushed the cockpit on Flight 93 said to the person on the other end of the phone line, “We are waiting until we get over a rural area.” They knew what was likely to happen, so they were waiting in order to minimize the death toll. What extraordinary human beings these ordinary Americans turned out to be.

In the aftermath of 9/11, I am re-thinking some of the things I wrote a couple years ago about the American character. I had feared, frankly, that we had drifted so far from the ideas and principles of our Founding Fathers that their understanding of nobility had become but a dim memory. Certainly it remains true that the words and deeds of George Washington and of the other great figures of American history are not sufficiently vivid in the minds of our kids, or even of too many of our adults. Nevertheless, 9/11 provided pretty compelling evidence of the solid virtues we Americans retain.

The Importance of Learning

In conclusion, let me connect my point about teaching by example to another 9/11 story. You have probably seen Mrs. Beamer on television — Lisa Beamer, the wife of Todd Beamer, who was one of the heroes on Flight 93. She has said that her children will look at the picture of her husband every day, and that she will tell them daily that he is a hero and that they are to try to be like him. This reminded me of a statistic I uncovered in a book that I wrote on the American family a few years back. We all know, based on countless studies as well as common sense, that if you want to raise happy and successful children, the best formula is a two-parent family. Despite the fact that not all of us have that opportunity — my brother and I were raised by a single parent who was married several times — it’s nevertheless true. But the statistic I discovered when writing my book was that children who lose a father in the line of duty — because the father is a police officer or a soldier, for example — are indistinguishable from children who grow up in intact two-parent families. Why is that? It is because the moral example doesn’t have to be there physically. It can be in the mind and in the heart. As a result of Lisa Beamer saying, “Be like him,” then, Todd Beamer will be in the minds and hearts of his kids.

This illustrates one of my favorite themes: the importance of the things we can’t see, of non-material things. Moral examples can exist in the memory of a father or in the memory of the Founding Fathers or in the memory of any of the marvelous heroes in the long history of humankind. The historian Tacitus wrote, “The task of history is to hold out for reprobation every evil word and deed, and to hold out for praise every great and noble word and deed.” So we don’t need courses in values. We need good courses in history. We need to revive the reading of good books. We need to provide good precepts and encourage good habits. Above all we have to teach by example. Nor is this to say that we need to be perfect to be good examples. Our children can see us try and fail from time to time. But then they can see us try again and do better, or get it right, the second time. Thus they learn about human limitations, but also about human perseverance.

It’s an old notion and an old responsibility, the teaching of virtues. Virtues don’t come in our genes, so it is the duty of every generation to pass them on. It is a duty we are not allowed to surrender.


William J. Bennett. "Teaching the Virtues." Imprimis 32, no. 2 (February 2003): 1-4.

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College (, 33 East College St, Hills dale, Michigan 49242. Subscriptions to Imprimis, are free upon request, ISBN 0277-8432. 800/437-2268.

TOPICS: Catholic; Current Events; Moral Issues; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: catholic; wot
Something to think about as we approach another anniversary of 9/11.
1 posted on 09/02/2011 7:33:03 PM PDT by Salvation
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To: nickcarraway; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; ArrogantBustard; Catholicguy; RobbyS; marshmallow; ...

Have we learned the lessons of 9?11?

Can we really walk with God?

Catholic Ping!

2 posted on 09/02/2011 7:36:36 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation
The statistic I discovered when writing my book was that children who lose a father in the line of duty — because the father is a police officer or a soldier, for example — are indistinguishable from children who grow up in intact two-parent families. Why is that? It is because the moral example doesn’t have to be there physically. It can be in the mind and in the heart.


3 posted on 09/02/2011 7:56:35 PM PDT by lightman (Adjutorium nostrum (+) in nomine Domini)
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To: Salvation

He makes great points as usual. Everything he says is so true.

4 posted on 09/02/2011 7:59:25 PM PDT by savagesusie
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To: lightman

Great points!

5 posted on 09/02/2011 8:14:58 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation


6 posted on 09/02/2011 9:16:29 PM PDT by Christian4Bush (PSA. As of 9/2/11, 431/506 days 'til we vote out/take out the trash. (Nov 6 2012))
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To: Salvation

fantastic piece... thanks for the ping.

7 posted on 09/02/2011 10:08:38 PM PDT by rwilson99 (Please tell me how the words "shall not perish and have everlasting life" would NOT apply to Mary.)
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To: Salvation
On 9-11 this year no clergy will be allowed to be at the remembrance. Because it would be too much to get clergy from all faiths. What bunk!

I would not be surprised to see this hurricane Katia cancel this event in N. Y. this year. By the time this hurricane shifts to a proper direction within days of 9-11. Just amazing.

8 posted on 09/03/2011 7:32:32 AM PDT by johngrace (1 John 4)
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To: Salvation

I think that perhaps some of us can; those who choose to do so will. For the rest of the U.S. it isn’t possible. Bennet is, as usual quite correct. But it’s important to remember he was the Secretary of Education of a secular humanist public school system, utlimately consumed by the evil. For them, there isn’t any hope; they will be left to be consumed by the evil they’ve embraced.

9 posted on 09/03/2011 7:56:23 AM PDT by Rich21IE
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To: johngrace

That would be something else! We’ll have to watch.

10 posted on 09/07/2011 8:42:47 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation
How about the other that is forming called Maria. If God does not have a sense of humor that is very strange. Just amazing.

The experts are putting it in alignment with the Irene Path. It is sad I have family up there in North east. My brother was mad that they did not have a vote for same sex marriage. It was all the stinkin politicians vote. Not residents.

I watched a stunned Governor Coumo looking at a town being washed away last week.

11 posted on 09/07/2011 9:06:20 PM PDT by johngrace (1 John 4)
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To: Salvation

My cousin Dan lives upstate NY. He messaged me he had 10 inches in basement but he was one of the lucky ones. It rained 35 inches across the land evenly like in 3 to 4 hours. Brooks were overflowing like the grand rapids. That’s a record up there.

12 posted on 09/07/2011 9:11:36 PM PDT by johngrace (1 John 4)
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To: Salvation

God’s Final Warning To America
Amos 3:7
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing,
but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
I felt the need to issue an urgent warning. The disasters are hitting now literally every week. Louisiana is drowning while Texas, which it borders, is burning up with drought caused fires. Vermont was just smashed with the worst disaster in its history. Please pray and intercede because America has kindled the anger of the LORD. The sodomite marriage and open homosexuality in the military were the issues the Lord is calling America on.
The collision between a sinful “in your face” rebellious nation with the Holy God of Israel is about to take place. The warnings are over, the confrontation is now here. I know the LORD has kept 7,000 from bending their knee to baal, but for the most part the church has been anesthetized by sin and worldliness. This is a direct result of not fearing the LORD nor understanding His holiness. Individuals can be protected by the Holy Spirit, but the nation is now defenseless before the LORD in judgment.
This coming September 20 appears ominous as the issues of America promoting sodomy and bullying Israel converge. On this date, the United States military will be officially sodomized with open homosexuality in the ranks. On this date, the Palestinians will officially appeal to the United Nations Generally Assembly for statehood. It is also the day they are going to start the third intifada. Obama has already agreed to the UN position of going back to the pre-1967 borders and dividing Jerusalem. He is in full agreement with the United Nations!
Right now, the world economy and the US stock market are reeling. The market is in convulsions since the decree to sodomize the military on July 20, effective September 20. The world is coming against Israel at the exact time the world economy is starting to unravel! The disasters are multiplying rapidly as this date approaches. The only way the judgment can be stayed is if the UN shelves the Palestinian application for statehood.
I am making an appeal to be spiritually grounded and anchored in the LORD because when the full judgment hits, it will be like nothing you have ever seen. You need to be established in your heart and anchored in the coming of the Lord Jesus for His church no matter what happens.
You need to be prepared physically with food and supplies or you are going to depend on others or the government. You do not want to trust the government. The window is very short now.
US counts the cost of nine months of unprecedented weather extremes 09/05/11 “Ever since a massive blizzard causing $2bn of damage paralysed cities from Chicago to the north-east in January, nearly every month has been marked by a $1b+-weather catastrophe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (Noaa), there have been 10 major disasters already this year, leaving more than 700 people dead and property damage of over $35bn.”

13 posted on 09/07/2011 9:25:31 PM PDT by johngrace (1 John 4)
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To: johngrace

14 posted on 09/07/2011 9:26:23 PM PDT by johngrace (1 John 4)
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