Thursday, February 05, 2015

Our Core Curriculum Must Value Valor

". . . the demonstration of bravery is a reflection of personal character." Major General James Livingston, USMC (ret.) fgrom the Preface to The Search For The Forgotten Thirty-Four , Terence Barrett
 Everything that is done by reason of ignorance is not voluntary; it is only what produces pain and repentance that is involuntary. For the man who has done something owing to ignorance, and feels not the least vexation at his action, has not acted voluntarily, since he did not know what he was doing, nor yet involuntarily, since he is not pained. Of people, then, who act by reason of ignorance he who repents is thought an involuntary agent, and the man who does not repent may, since he is different, be called a not voluntary agent; for, since he differs from the other, it is better that he should have a name of his own.  Aristotle -Nichomachean Ethics

If I were to plan a school for young men in 2015, it would be important to make sure that every lesson and every objective meet the test of Valor.

I am not a particularly brave person, but I know bravery and honor bravery, not in some crypto-Rahmbo homage to cruelty and acts of violence, but the underlying gentleness required of any brave act. My Dad, God rest him, fought in three brutal campaigns of the south Pacific, but bravest thing he ever did was hang laundry in the yard, when my Mom was laid up in the hospital with kidney failure in 1960.  He worked three jobs and took care of three little kids which meant laundry, cooking and cleaning during the Ozzie and Harriet epoch, when real men had dens, volumes of Playboys and 'the liitle woman' for such deeds.

My Dad, who was generally as combative as an old nun going through change of life, took the taunts from the Dads over fences. All but old man, Phil Bellina

Aristotle made the distinction between a brave man and crazy man, "   We ought presumably to call not what a fool or a madman would deliberate about, but what a sensible man would deliberate about, a subject of deliberation.: NE Book III.

We must deliberate.  Not always a possibility. How then do we act and how do we train generations of young men to act with grace, dignity, piety and deliberation if possible. Terence Barrett explains:
Brave acts occur every day. Great numbers of humans possess qualities of moral strength, purpose of mind, and courage. Finding themselves in the right difficult circumstances they demonstrate bravery. Most brave individuals go unheralded because their lives seem unremarkable or because they perform unwitnessed acts of bravery. Sometimes the witnesses to their bravery do not survive the circumstances.
Bravery is a personal quality, usually understood to be an inner core of strength and courage. Bravery is demonstrated by a deliberate and conscious choice to quickly, perhaps immediately, initiate an action in a difficult and challenging situation. That action will be in a manner uncommon (perhaps) to most people and performed in a socially accepted and respected way. Put simply, bravery is the demonstration of courage.  

Dr. Barrett's wonderful book The Search for the Forgotten Thirty Four examines the lives thirty four men who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for acts of conspicuous bravery.and who died in relative obscurity even in their own home towns. Barrett write, "  Examination of Medal of Honor Citations suggests that Marines repeatedly perform in certain ways in their demonstration of heroic bravery."

He goes on with this  tem[late of brave actions "Nine general actions were identified to be ways in which Marines earned the nation’s highest award for bravery in battle:
1) Do what is asked for or required and more.
2) Fend off an enemy assault, especially one of unequal odds.
3) Volunteer for a challenging task potentially dangerous to oneself.
4) Turn the outcome of an engagement with the enemy by initiating an assault.
5) Demonstrate leadership that inspires others to take action despite imminent danger.
6) Sustain deliberateness of purpose despite extended duress.
7) Carry on one’s duty in spite of grievous, debilitating, and life-threatening wounds.
8) Put self in harm’s way, disregarding danger, to rescue others.
9) Act in defense of fellow combatants, even to the risk of one’s self.

A hero’s age at the time of action does not determine bravery."

If we graduate a student with Honors, but without an understanding of the nature of valor, I believe we might as well not teach at all.

Bravery is observable and self-evident and requires no parsing, or context management.  To do what is virtuous requires brave deliberation.  This is a cross-disciplinary imperative for a good school. Every book, every essay, every quiz and every activity should be dedicated to giving young men the outlet for bravery. Lessons should focus on examples of valor : in Geometry and Mathematics the Bravery of Archimedes;
Biology and Physics the Self Sacrifice of Pierre Currie and intellectual courage of Gregor Mendel and the Internet can provide halls of learning beyond the walls of the school.

All students come to school with fears. Those should be addressed and Barrett does a wonderful job of it -

Bravery does not mean fearlessness.
American author Mark Twain had traveled, worked on the Mississippi steamboats, and watched the Civil War nearly tear the nation apart. When he wrote the following comment, he was 59-years-old. He was not trying to be funny; he was serious when he said; “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear–not absence of fear.” 6
Mark Twain and others have long understood that fear and bravery go hand-in-hand.
Acting with bravery means that a person must perceive a danger or threat, real or imagined. Bravery is then demonstrated by an admirable human action, an indifference to fear, and a disregard for the personal danger. Note, however, that indifference to fear does not mean the absence of it. A person recognized to possess bravery consciously rises to meet a challenge that triggers fear, draws upon this personal quality, and takes an initiative few might endeavor.
The award Citations for the recipients repeatedly describe their heroic actions with specific words: included among these are admirable, bold, courageous, daring, dauntless, fearless, gallant, honorable, indomitable, intrepid, resolute, stout hearted, tenacious, unfaltering, unwavering, valiant, and valorous. The words impart a certain sense to the actions of these men.
Can we accept the implied meaning as accurate? Is dauntless a measurable and quantifiable personal quality? How might courage best be defined? A person described to be dauntless is believed to be without fear, unintimidated by danger. The words dauntless and courageous are often used interchangeably. Both are considered synonymous with brave. Yet, dauntless and courageous do not mean the same thing.
There can be no question that the Marines described in this book acted courageously. That they acted without fear at the same time is not accurate. A person does not have to be dauntless to be brave.
Dare I work toward this?  

Just a thought.

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